This blog post was created as a result of an interesting conversation I had with a gentleman who firmly believed that college is a waste of time and money. He said, to paraphrase: “You go to school where they don’t teach you anything that will help you in the real world. You finish 4 years and you start from scratch. You have no experience, you’re stuck with absurd amount of debt which you’re getting charged and there’s little chance you’ll get a job in your field.”
The conversation got me thinking about the usefulness of college other than that piece of paper saying that you finished.
My thought is that college is only as useful as you make it while you’re there. Many people go to college under the wrong impression that it’s high school plus. In high school, you merely go to school, your teachers teach you, and you go home. You are mostly a passive learner.
In college, it is a completely different ballgame. You are expected to be an active learner. What this means is that going to class is not enough. It is rare for a student who just goes to class and graduates really gets much out of the college experience, and in that case, I do believe they wasted their money going to college. Even if they get a job, they only got the bare minimums of what college can offer.
Research agrees that most of the learning in college happens outside of the classroom. There are tons of things you can do while in college to make yourself more marketable to employers. Here are a list of suggestions that will increase your skill set and make college a more valuable experience:
Career Development workshops
I’d say around 95% of universities have these. They include resume workshops to teach you how to write an attractive resume, interviewing workshops to practice your interview skills, dress for success for proper business attire for interviews, job hunting techniques, networking techniques, business etiquette, and much more. And best of all, you’ve already paid for them with your student fees. Go to every single one you can. I went to these, and it did wonders in building up my confidence for job hunting. I don’t even fear interviews anymore. I come in to interviews and just chat with the employer with ease, person to person. It’s all the practice I’ve had beforehand.
The truth is, you need experience for employers to take you seriously. Internships are the perfect way to get that experience, whether paid or unpaid. The thing is, government has been cracking down on the ability for companies to provide internships. Nowadays, you can only get an internship if it’s for class credit towards your college degree. This is to keep companies from using “internships” as a way for free/cheap labor. But the opportunities are there. Look online, talk to your professors or career services department for internship opportunities in your field. You can theoretically get an internship each summer you’re in college, or even fall/spring semesters if you want. Imagine graduating college with already one or two years of experience in your field? But internships don’t just come to you. You have to work for them to find them and then apply for them.
On-campus organizations are really valuable tools. Most colleges have them, and they range in topics. The trick is joining the right ones. Are you a theater major? Join the Drama Club? A female biology major? Join Women in Science? An education major? Try the Student National Education Association. Just about every major has an organization that relates to it. Become an officer in it. Engage in projects with the community or even the organizations you hope to work with that way. Organizations help you meet others in your field with similar goals, and thus networking opportunities. They teach you how to work with a team in a practical setting. You learn leadership skills, things that employers like to see. Projects you complete in the organization are great for resumes. Employers want to see what you do with your free time while in college. They want to make sure you can take a project from beginning to end.
Research projects with professors
The best part about college is that professors aren’t just there to teach. Behind the scenes, they work on numerous research projects, presentations, case studies, and even consulting gigs with firms. Professors generally love to be asked about their work. Talk to them, find out what they are working on. Then ask them if you can work on a project with them. It could either be a project they’ve already started or come up with a new one. This is another great way to gain experience in your field. Your professor more than likely has connections in the industry. If you work with them, there is a high chance they can get you in touch with people that have the power to hire you, especially if you have good work ethic. Thing is, professors don’t just advertise that they’re willing to work with you on these projects, as there are too many students for them to split their time with. They expect you to go to them, and offer up something of value. They want to help you, but they also want to advance their own Curriculum Vitae through completion of these projects.
Life Skills and civic engagement
This one doesn’t directly get you a job after college, but I feel it is an important part of attending college. College provides you a safety net for learning a bunch of life skills. College is the only time in your life when you can make huge mistakes and recover from them relatively easily. Get fired from a job while in college? You can generally bounce back from that once you graduate. Horrible at managing your time when living on your own? Fail that one class and it’ll snap you into reality. You also just learn how to be an adult in a safer environment. You have resources available, such as a free fitness center (usually), counseling center, health/wellness center, career counseling center, minority services center (if you need it), cooking classes, money management tips, parenting classes, Real Estate 101, and all sorts of other things that colleges get funding for to help you learn to live on your own as an adult. College is in part about becoming an adult who contributes to society, and lives interdependently with the community he or she resides in.
My best years were in college. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where I truly grew up and matured. It’s where I got opportunities I would have never had, such as flying a plane, being a television weatherman, and giving a speech to an audience of 10,000 people. My resume is packed to the margins with skills, expertise, experiences, and projects that happened while I was in college, giving me a leg up on the competition.
It’s true, that college isn’t for everyone. But to say it’s a waste of time and money is a stretch. You just need to invest your time into it to reap the rewards.