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Don’t Go To College To Get A Degree

Or “What you should think about before and during college.”

Don’t go to college to get a degree.

What does that degree do for us? Is it worth the cost?

If the degree alone does not change our lives or give us a marketable edge then what are we paying for?

Skills.  Life experience.  Fun. A shelter from the working world. Bad food. Life stories about shenanigans and bad roommates. Excellent professors. The discovery of things we are passionate about.

So why don’t we judge an educational institution by these standards? And what can we do to help make sure we’re getting our money’s worth?

Teach yourself.

It doesn’t matter how many lectures you go to — if you’re not interested in the topic and not willing to invest extra time to pursue a topic that  interests you,  then this is a waste of time and money.

Get passionate about learning or get out of college. You’re better off coming back when you know what you want from this experience.

How can you teach yourself?

Ask around. There might be a fellow student or a professor that is also interested in the molecular structure of glass or how feminists expressed themselves in 19th century literature.  Follow those leads and start asking questions.

Get curious. You’re at an accredited institution with access to tons of information.  Spend a little time each week gathering information and summarizing what you’ve learned.

Practice. Whether you want to be the master of Github  or produce the finest research paper the field of psychology has ever read,  you need to practice.  Get good at what you want to learn.  Master it.

Unsure how much to study or practice? Pick up a sport or an instrument.  See how much you’re practicing to be good enough to play with others?  The same concept applies to intellectual concepts, too.

It’s time to move on to better things.

Graphic design and user interface is your passion and your college has 3 PCs  and MS Paint.

Yes, I want you to transfer to another school. If you think this is a bad idea, let me offer this scenario:

There are two cars, that cost relatively the same. One isn’t in stock for another 4 weeks and one is right on the lot ready to go.The one on the lot is just as reliable as the one that they’d have to ship in, except it doesn’t have the bluetooth technology, the adapter for your iPod and no, there isn’t even cruise control.

Which one would you buy?

Don’t be stuck with an education you regret. If you know what you want to do,  fight to go to a place that excels in that area of expertise.

Mind the gap.

Did you know that in Britain after secondary school many students take a year off to travel the world? They find cheap housing, working hard for 6 months then use all of that money to travel the world.  What did you do the summer before you went to your university? Look at Target for college-rule notebooks? Bag groceries? Buy new clothes?

Whether you want to travel abroad and get credit for it or you’ve always wanted to up and hitchhike in New Zealand or swim in the Mediterranean, now is the time in your life to do so.

How can you do this?

Take a year off. That’s right, plan with your administration a year off and live as cheaply as you can for 6-9 months saving every last penny.  Come home after a long day’s work and research a new and faraway place you’d like to visit and keep a close eye on flight deals.   Whether you’re going to take a train across Europe in 6 months or you’re going to spend 3 months couchsurfing the whole continental US, spend every last dime so that when you land back in the US you have just enough currency to exchange to make a phone booth call or roll into town almost on empty.

Study abroad. Talk to an advisor about study abroad options.  Some institutions direct exchange programs where your student loans will cover your year abroad.  Cheers!

Volunteer abroad.  Search the internet.  There are a lot of work abroad and volunteer abroad opportunities ranging from a few weeks in the summer to a couple of years.

Feel the atmosphere.

Do not go to university without visiting its classes or staying in the dorms.  It could have prestige,  but if you’re going to be spending the other 16 hours of the day hating the campus culture or bored in small town, don’t do it.  You’re the life of the party but this campus has strict rules? Does the campus have ethnic and social diversity?

The friendships and social learning experience in college will influence your decisions from years to come.

I chose a college in a medium sized city in Iowa because of the campus life there and the ease of studying abroad and to this day I have no regrets. Don’t make it be all about academics!

Sending out an S.O.S..

Can you get help at this college?  I don’t just mean help with your mind boggling English essay or theoretical math assignment,  I mean medical and counseling help.  What if you are suffering from depression? What if your friend is a victim of sexual assault?

Does this school have clear guidelines about where you can seek immediate medical attention, counseling and legal advice?

These are things you must consider if you’re staying at a university that requires a time of on campus housing.

Don’t tell me. Show me.

So you have a degree in micro-economics.  That doesn’t impress me.  Oh wait, you had an internship at a business and assisted in rewriting their market strategies and in three months their sales increased by 30%? Now  we’re talking.

When you walk across that stage,  it’s only just begun.  You and everyone else that spring are entering the job market that is already full of people with degrees from accredited universities. What makes you so special? Why are you any more interesting or useful than millions of others?

It’s your experiences.  Your skills.  You know how you took that time to discover what you’re passionate about?  Well, someone out there is looking to hire someone who knows how to value and care for vintage cameras and retrofit the lenses to modern cameras.  Or someone is going to be impressed that you spent a summer working with a marketing firm and brought in a new client because of your work managing their social media presence.

So please, don’t go to college to get a degree.

Go to college to discover who you are and use your education to shape your life.

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