Update Your College MO
Higher education’s 20-year identity crisis is verging on an acute case of multiple personality disorder. Degrees are increasingly costly and increasingly expected, but the payoff for having one is steeply declining.
And this state of flux isn’t going to be slowing down any time soon. So how do we deal?
It’s time to give the tired old college advice you’ve heard a million times a major face lift.
Old: What degree you get isn’t as important as long as you get a degree.
New: Don’t get a degree until you’re clear on why you’re doing it and where it can take you.
As we’ve discussed in The Decline of the Higher Degree Part 1 and Part 2, having a degree for the sake of having one is immensely expensive in terms of time and money, and won’t necessarily make you attractive to employers.
Old: Study what you love.
New: Study what will lead to a life that you love.
For most of us, an important part of the life we love is making good money. Some of us make money having fun, and others make money doing something rewarding to pay for our fun. If you’re already doing something you love, career outlook resources can shed light on how likely it is that you can make money doing it. If you haven’t had the opportunity to get neck-deep into a passion project, or lots of things seem interesting to you, then career coaching tools (like our signature career assessment) are key. They will help you figure out what work you will enjoy and make good money doing, so you don’t end up with a PhD and mounds of debt in something that seemed like a good idea.
Old: Community colleges don’t offer the same quality experience as 4-year institutions.
New: Completing your first two years at a community college is almost always a good idea.
It’s true that going away to a 4-year institution offers maturity and life skills that sticking with your local community college simply doesn’t. If you’ve managed a full ride scholarship, definitely take it. However, if you’re paying out of pocket or with loans, the cost of delaying those life lessons for 2 years is minimal compared to the huge cost savings in dollars. And the classes are nearly identical.
Hungry to get out on your own? Select a community college near your coveted 4-year university, or pick one from this list of the best in the country, and move there. A part-time job will make the additional expenses doable.
Old: The reputation of your school doesn’t matter, just make sure it’s a good fit for you.
New: Choose an institution that has a great reputation in your chosen field.
Name dropping works. Having the name of an institution that is widely respected in your field on your resume is a big flashing sign for potential employers that you can run with the big dogs and keep up. Note, this is not the same as going to a school that is generally well known, like Ivy league institutions, and figuring out your major later. The key is the reputation of your specific major/program, not the school in general. Not sure what your field/major/program is? Stick with the community college classes until you’ve figured it out.
Old: Colleges are just as good as universities, and sometimes even better.
New: Universities generally offer more opportunity than colleges.
Small schools like to tout class sizes and student-professor relationships as exceeding the opportunities of large institutions. In fact, those large classes have break-out sessions with teacher aides who are often more helpful than the professor anyway. This is just one small example of how universities do a better job of showing you what you can do with your degree. Being around world-class researchers, published academics, cutting-edge research institutions, international conferences, and graduate students in your field makes a huge difference in your vision of where you’d like to go from here, and the tangible opportunities that open up to you.
Old: You’ll probably have to pay out of pocket for a Master degree.
New: Get paid to complete a Masters or PhD program.
Or at least talk to us before you do it.
Old: Go straight from undergrad to graduate school, just get it over with.
New: Don’t start grad school until you know precisely what you want from it and why.
Check out our recent articles on this. Believe us, we’ve been there done that.
You feel stuck where you are, but we’re telling you not to get another degree. So what do you do? Check out our article Should You Get a Grad Degree?
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