90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:

Question 2

Do you think that your college education was a good investment?

Photo prompt #2: A picture from graduation.

When I look at the wall in the living room of my house, I see three framed diplomas that look exactly the same except for the years and names. They are Bachelor’s of Arts degrees from the University of Delaware and they belong to me and my two older sisters.

My dad used to be an employee of the University of Delaware, and the benefit of not having to pay tuition was the main determinant for where we went to school.

Now that I’m through with college, I often feel the whole thing was pointless because it’s just another piece of paper and, like the high school diploma, you don’t come away with applicable skills for the workplace and you learn things you will never again have to use.

But, ultimately, for the average person, a college degree continues to be a basic requirement for anyone who expects to earn a decent salary in their professional career. As much as I feel disappointment and frustration that employers don’t value college degrees as much as they did twenty years ago — as more and more people have them and certain job markets have become saturated with the same kind of credentials of higher education — it’s still necessary in order to “climb the professional ladder” and, overall, to get ahead in life.

If you’re a computer genius, have exceptional business savvy, or are very well-connected in an industry, then maybe you are an exception to that rule.

I try not to regret anything in my life, but there are things that I could have done differently. Perhaps there were summer jobs positions I could have seized that I did not. I do not regret having gone to college, as it allowed me opportunities to grow and learn in unexpected ways. I was able to escape a somewhat conservative hometown, become politically involved, and interact with people as passionate about their convictions as I am.

Through the semester study abroad program, I had the opportunity to submerge myself in another culture, came close to mastering another language, and acquired a sense of independence and self-confidence that I would not have found in the hallways of my crowded high school.

My most important learning did not happen while I was sitting in a classroom.

Though it’s often said that picking the wrong major is not going to screw up the rest of your life, I think that in my case, because my major — Italian Language and Literature — does not reflect my career aspirations, I’ve had to work even harder for relevant experience in a field that was only my minor — English Literature.

I do plan on getting a Master’s degree at some point, and I don’t regret not having gone straight to graduate school after college. I want to take the time to be one hundred percent sure of my career choice and that it will yield useful, applicable skills for whatever job that may follow.

Finding the money to go ahead with that plan is another issue.

Hopefully, after a few years of relevant work experience in the publishing industry or policy research, options for financing my education will expand. My goal is to avoid taking out a loan at all costs. It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible. I know that having a graduate degree isn’t going to guarantee me the job of my dreams, but I may be more likely to succeed in the face of such intense job competition if I am armed with strong credentials.

On the other hand, in this economy, for so many people it has not made a difference in their ability to find work or has proven to be a hindrance to finding employment because of the risk of being considered overqualified.

I was not well prepared for life after college, and I don’t think anyone is. Sorry John Mayer, but there IS such thing as the real world and our generation, the stuck generation, has yet to experience its long term rewards.

Even without this wretched economy or the changing nature of our job market, I know that isn’t supposed to come easily or quickly.

One comment:

  1. Vincent Capone at 9:49 pm, October 3, 2012

    Amazing post! Well written and completely accurate.