Is a College Degree Worth it?

Since the early 00s, there’s been an ongoing debate about the value of proper university education.

Is a university degree worth half a decade of your life or are you better off skilling up with an alternative path that costs a quarter of the price and time?

As a University graduate myself, I am partial to the first group.

After all, I worked damn hard for my degree, but I know not everyone feels and thinks the same way.

Riding on the coattails of my first post, I carried out another small survey consulting a small group of working professionals in various industries. Despite most of them being University graduates, they had vastly different opinions about their time at University so far.

The questions

I asked the three big questions via a message through Whatsapp

  1. Do you think a University degree is (was) a waste of your time?
  2. Has it helped you achieve any of your career goals or will it help you do that at some point in the future?
  3. Do you think you’d have been better off skipping university entirely or would a relevant degree have been better?

Part 1: University: What it is vs. what it’s supposed to be?

After listening to a few of the recorded answers, I started to notice a pattern. It was fairly obvious, but still surprised me all the same:

For most interviewees, a University education did not deliver on its singular purpose– to train students for a career in the labor force.

Question 1 — Do you think a University degree is (was) a waste of your time?

Nearly every participant answered “No,” to Question 1. They did not think their time at University was a waste of their time.

“You gain much in exposure, meet different types of people, and grow as a person,” the first interviewee said.

He and nearly every person I interviewed talked about the intangible benefits their time in the university allowed them — the lessons they learned, the discipline the experience instilled, the connections they made, and the passions they developed.

Very few talked about the education itself.

Part 2: It gives me credibility

Question 2 — Has it helped you achieve any of your career goals or will it help you do that at some point in the future?

Every professional answered Question two with some variation of the phrase, “it gives me credibility.”

A professional 3D artist told me that his degree in architecture gave him the credibility and prestige to approach other professionals in his industry. And health and fitness copywriter mentioned that his medical degree gave him the background knowledge and authority to pitch to new clients.

Other professionals with degrees also mentioned that it had helped them or was helping them achieve their career goals.

Lawyers, doctors, communications professionals, and artists thought that their degrees had and would continue to help them in the future.

The rest leaned hard on Question 1, insisting it was not a waste of their time.

Part 3: Skipping University?

Question three — Do you think you’d have been better off skipping University or would have a relevant degree been better?

The answers recorded for Question 3 were polarizing.

A few said they would’ve chosen another path, given the time and opportunity, and others genuinely thought another degree would have not improved their prospects.

“I used to think about that before, but I don’t think another degree would’ve helped me,” the copywriter said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I entered University, and honestly I am still figuring that part out 4+ years after graduation. I would’ve liked some time to think things over before Uni — gap year maybe — but I think I made the best decision I could’ve at the time.”

A student in his final year insisted he’d have been better off with a computer science degree or something in tech. It’s where the world is headed right now,” he said, “and having a decent background would’ve helped me, coming out of University. I honestly feel like I have wasted four years of my life.”

So, is University worth it?

Probably. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other more traditional career paths need University degrees to practice their given professions, but other career paths might benefit forms something more expedient and less expensive.

College is a big investment regardless of what country you’re from.

Tuition, groceries, textbooks, equipment, class projects, walk-around money, etc. All these costs add up in the four years you spend at University.

Graduating with outdated knowledge and a degree that offers little competitive advantage seems like a poor investment, intangible benefits and all.

When you factor in the cost of reeducation, college seems like a less efficient way to achieve your career goals.

A More Expedient Path

Online colleges and online professional courses are the new-age solutions to the modern tertiary education crises. They are cheaper, last a fraction of the time, and are often taught by career professionals turned teachers.

Like modern colleges and institutions, they also award certificates, and most would argue that in technical fields like Data Science, Computer Engineering, and web design, they offer an exceptional introduction.

However, they are not perfect. There are hundreds, if not potentially thousands of courses on any subject or field you’re interested in. Finding one that is worth your money can be a nightmare, so much so that the four-year alternative looks like a better deal in comparison.

Replacing The Intangibles

A huge part of my and the interviewees’ college experience was learning soft skills like communication, time management, work ethic, teamwork, digital literacy, and emotional maturity.

Regardless of how poor the quality of the education was– for most graduates– the four-year introduction to the non-technical side of working in the labor force is somewhat justified, in retrospect.

So, do you have to go to college to learn soft skills and enjoy other emotional benefits.

I think graduates put University life on a pedestal because of how…different and challenging it can be.

You meet people from all walks of life, push yourself to the very limit academically, and learn more about yourself along the way. While I’ll admit that nothing is a substitute for the real thing, I’d argue that you can replicate most of the benefits without the time or money sacrifice.

The majority of the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had were at social events with friends. Visting a bar or attending a social function in a sufficiently interesting city would give you a similar experience.

As for soft skills like time management, pressure, professionalism, etc., they can be baked into a candidate while attending any online college. Granted, they would have to provide structure for themselves, but I’d argue that’d be better in the long run.

College also doesn’t guarantee that their students will “find themselves,” people and experiences do.

Dealing with Reality

Before I attended University, I wouldn’t have entertained thoughts about opting for an online degree.

My father would have smacked the black off me if I told him I wanted to skip university and study at home instead.

16 year old me would’ve read this, and it would’ve changed nothing. Because, like most African children my age, my parents decided everything for me.

If you have more autonomy than I did, I think you should consider your goals and options carefully before you commit your resources to full University education.

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