(Editor’s note: This is Being Libertarian’s new series, curated to help anyone who is beginning their journey through university.
As Jordan Peterson alludes to in many of his lectures, the university can help a person read great books, absorb great thought, and develop their unique human ability to speak, argue, and articulate. However, often students face a situation where rather than being taught how to critically think, they are instead being shown one-sided arguments, or being told what to think.
This series intends to prepare future and current students so that they can move forward confidently into their university experience; one that will open their minds and challenge their presuppositions and arm them with critical thought, logic and reason.)
Do I Need A Degree?
All our lives we have always been told that they key to financial success is to get a college degree. So much so, that college degrees have flooded the labor market.
For Generation X, relatively few people had a degree, and therefore, degrees were something that could separate you from other job applicants. However, now there are so many degrees that they add less value than before.
It’s a matter of simple economics. Scarcity often equals higher value. A greater supply of college degrees with mostly unchanged demand equals less value for those degrees.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to college to get a degree. It means you have to consider it as a factor in your career choice when thinking about making yourself valuable in the marketplace.
From the moment you leave high school (and often times while you are in high school), you are actually in business for yourself. You are a contractor available to supply your labor to businesses. How do you want to increase your value to pursue that work, and how are you going to market yourself and maintain good customer service?
The mistake most often made by college graduates is the idea that immediately upon leaving college, there will be a dream job somewhere lined up for them, and that they can have a job that really fulfills them. The first reality anyone entering into the job market should accept is that you are not going to have a job that fulfills you completely. No one does. People eventually land in a job that is better than all the other jobs they have had, but you certainly don’t get to start there, and you will never have a “perfect” job.
When you are considering your education, you have to stop thinking about searching until you find a perfect job, and you have to stop thinking about a career path in terms of what is really fulfilling. You aren’t likely to keep the career you’ve originally chosen.
On average, people change careers three times during their lifetime. When considering your future, don’t freeze up and get stuck on something you think you will be spending the rest of your life doing. Instead focus on what jobs are most available and what jobs are in most demand by employers.
If you look at the job market and decide that the best available opportunities don’t require a degree, then don’t go to college. Go to work instead or go to a vocational school or get into an apprenticeship. Many tech jobs don’t prefer any formal schooling, but are focused more on experience and on projects in which you’ve been involved. Silicon Valley cares less and less about education these days.
If you’re interested in a particular field, check first to see if employers require a degree in that field. If they value experience above degrees, then go for experience instead of a degree.
Once again, the best thing you can do, career-wise, is to think about how to make yourself more valuable, which applies to your education considerations. Seek out scarce benefits you can offer that not everyone has available, but also understand not all scarce abilities have value.
If you can curl your tongue, nobody pays extra for that. If you get a degree in some obscure social subject, you’re likely to get no credit for it in the work place, and you will have wasted money.
If you don’t want or need a degree, the skills you should seek that are the most important are the same as the most important skills you can seek if you don’t go to college. In other words, the skills employers value the most don’t involve schooling.
While many professions do require a degree, what recent college graduates sometimes fail to realize is that there are skill sets that are far more valuable than a degree and while some can be addressed and learned in school to an extent, they require a lot more experience in “the real world.”
Skills employers look for in order of their importance:
- Integrity. If you are the sort of person I can’t trust, I cannot afford to keep you employed at my business.
- The ability to communicate effectively. Both written and verbal communication are important. If your primary means of communication is electronic (texts, emails, etc.) then you are in for a rude awakening.
In order to be as effective as you can as a good contractor of employment, you have to be able to get people to really understand you well, and you have to understand other people really well.
The people who can best communicate always go further than people who can’t. That means learning how to write, how to speak in a way that effectively conveys thoughts and persuades, and the ability to read and understand body language.
- Critical thinking. You must be able to effectively solve problems. That means lots of logic and reason and the ability to understand “if x then y, and if y then z”; that means being able to understand if something doesn’t work, then here are the other available options and likely outcomes.
- Work ethic. You need to be mindful that you are indeed in charge of your own personal business. You are selling yourself and your services, so you must provide good customer service for your employer, and that means doing more than others would do. Imagine yourself as your own customer and what things you’d like to see that would really impress you.
- Required knowledge for the job. This is where a degree might come in. It’s obvious that if you don’t know how to design a bridge you’re not a good candidate to be an engineer. However, not all jobs require college learning, and not all jobs require a lot of uncommon knowledge. Acquire the knowledge you need for the job and don’t bother with more. If the job requires a degree then get the degree.
Notice that the top four things have very little to do with schooling. However, schooling can still be very useful in some of these areas.
For example, it may feel like you would never use trigonometry or calculus, but they certainly do force you to think through logic and give you plenty of practice to learn to think critically.
You can read online how to improve your writing and communication, but a class on business writing and classes on English composition provide great foundations into effective writing and speech and debate are very good for improving verbal communication.
If you want to start a business, you’re going to drown in your lack of knowledge in accounting and finance, so those sorts of classes can be useful.
College learning, short of degrees, is not necessarily wasted money. There’s nothing wrong with an unfinished degree if it acquires the knowledge you need to get to where you’re going.
If you’d like to work in engineering, then get a degree. If you’d like to be in the field of finance or accounting, then get a degree for the knowledge that requires. Get a law degree if you want to enter the field of law. Get a doctorate in medicine if you want to cut into people to fix them. But, in the majority of fields, experience trumps education.
However, it’s important to understand the paradox that has always existed in trying to find work.
Businesses want people to have experience, but you can’t gain experience until you have work. It’s something that’s incredibly frustrating, but there are ways to gain experience. You just have to check your ego and go after jobs that are unpleasant at first and jobs that aren’t necessarily where you want to go.
Every job gives you some sort of experience, and as long as you aren’t constantly job hopping over short periods of time, then you learn something from each job, that can be a significant part of your education. It takes patience and recognition that nobody loves their job as much as they might say. Nobody has a perfect job, and you should never leave a job until you have gained all that you can from it, even with the little things of menial tasks that train you to follow through on even the things you hate to do.
So, college or university isn’t for everyone, and a college degree is not always going to be as valuable as the cost of going to college. Study a few fields that are in demand and aren’t likely to become obsolete in the near future.
What field has the most in demand opportunities, even if you don’t necessarily like those fields? One day you will end up in a good position.
There are a huge number of jobs going unfilled because everyone thinks they have to have a degree and jobs that don’t require them are somehow beneath you. They aren’t. They’re either just stepping stones to more prosperous opportunities or they are great opportunities in themselves. Maybe you will end up in a trade you don’t necessarily like, but there is something that can be more fulfilling than that job, and that is securely being able to keep food on the table and have a comfortable level of earnings that allows you to save.
Fulfillment and success aren’t always tied to work and career. Success can be measured in may ways that have nothing to do with how much you make or what you do for a living. Family life and successful relationships, helping others in ways you can’t make money doing, time outside of work, etc.
If you really need a degree to accomplish what you want in life, then by all means go for it! But, if the best opportunities available are ones that don’t require a degree, then go for the experience first. But understand that your career is not a good source for your happiness. The best sources for your happiness come from within.
You will never find the perfect job, but you can find happiness no matter what you’re doing. Just consider these things before you go off to college to pay for a degree, and make sure that the degree will add
the value you’re seeking.