As a relatively recent grad(4.5 years ago), I know all about the pressure of applying to college and getting into a great school. And believe it or not, it’s getting even tougher. It’s now more competitive than ever and there’s also more pressure than ever on students to get in to one of the top universities.
We all know that there’s a high correlation between going to college and making more money, becoming more successful, etc. But is there anything special that’s being taught at these elite universities that isn’t being taught at your average state school? I started thinking about this a lot during college because I had some of the worst professors you could imagine. I’m sure they were doing some brilliant research but they couldn’t teach worth a damn. Their lectures consisted of reading straight from the book and re-using the same tests from the year prior(some of them at least changed the numbers around). I actually started doing better in school when I stopped going to lectures and spent that time studying instead.
Surface Value Only
I honestly believe that I could have gotten the exact same education on my own. A lot of the old tests were available online and you could easily buy all the textbooks required for my degree in aerospace engineering yourself. It would have taken a lot of self-motivation but it definitely could have been done. The only problem with that route is that I wouldn’t get that little piece of paper that says I graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of California at San Diego. That little piece of paper is what my parents and the government paid nearly $100k for.
I would argue that my college degree started not to matter even before I even got it. As a senior, I applied to all sorts of companies in the San Diego area and even though I had an above average GPA from an above average school, I didn’t even get an interview with any of them. I ended up having to take a job in Palmdale, CA – a city most famous for the Afroman song.
Luckily, at the very last moment, I got an interview with a top San Diego engineering company through a networking contact I made at a party. The guy who connected me was very well respected at this company and I truly believe that he was the main reason why I ended up getting hired. When it comes to getting a job, it really is who you know but when it comes to holding a job and excelling at a job it’s what you know.
Expecting a Lot
One of the main benefits I’ve gotten from attending a top school is that people think very highly of me now. When I tell people I graduated from UC San Diego and I work as an aerospace engineer, they say “Oh you must be pretty smart”(that’s an exact quote from a guy I played golf with today!). That’s nice and all but it really doesn’t do much for me other than boost my self-esteem. And if you ask anyone who knows me, I don’t need any more of that.
I remember several instances at my old job where my boss made references to the fact that I went to a top UC school. Apparently, this meant that I should be able to figure things out faster and do better work. In this case, attending a top school might have actually hurt me because now my boss expected a lot more out of me.
Since it’s hard to quantitatively measure an engineer’s level of expertise, they are judged more based on impressions than anything else. There were guys at my work who were just plainly disliked and no matter what they did, there was nothing they could do to change those impressions. There were other guys at my work who had 20 years experience so they must know what they’re doing, right? In the end, these impressions had a lot more impact than where they went to college.
When it Starts to Mean Nothing
Within a year or two of getting hired, I could clearly tell that there were those who excelled at their job and those who didn’t. Once I had a couple years experience under my belt, where I got my degree meant nothing. My boss and my boss’ boss didn’t care where I went to school. They cared about the quality of my work and wanted to make sure I was meeting all my program deadlines.
I think where you went to school is extremely over rated. I honestly don’t care how people got to where they are today, I care about where they are today. As you gain more experience, where you went to school will matter less and less. It’s hard to be gainfully employed for 20 years and still suck at your job. If you do somehow slip through the cracks though, I’d say that’s a feat in itself!
What It All Means
One thing I’ve learned about working for myself online is that where you went to school means very little in this industry. Most of the advertisers and blogs that I write for could care less where I went to school. They only care about the quality of my blogs(defined by quantitative measures like page rank and domain authority) and my writing skills. In fact, where I went to college means absolutely nothing for my blogs. I do include it on my resumes when I apply for freelancing gigs but most of the jobs I apply for only want to see samples of your writing.
In general, I think our society puts a little too much emphasis on the surface. If you make a million dollars a year, but also spend a million, that means nothing. If you have an awesome degree from a top school that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. It shows that you have a habit of working hard in the past but I still want to see you prove it today. You might be great at getting A’s and scoring well on tests but how does that relate to the field I want to hire you for?
Readers, what do you think about college degrees and how much they matter? It’s obviously better to have an awesome degree than not have one but does it make much of a difference?
-Harry @ PF Pro