How to manage a college education

The idea of paying for a liberal arts education is over. It is elitist and a rip off and the Internet has democratized access to information and communication skills to the point that paying $30K a year to get them is insane.

Ben Casnocha has one of the most thorough, self-examined discussions about the value of college on his blog. He went to college, probably, because so many people told him to. (Here are some good links on Ben’s blog.)

Ben left college. Early. And he’s fascinating, and he’s educating himself through experience, which is what the Internet does not provide. The Internet provides books and discussion, so why would you need to go to school for those things?

It’s the time of year when college students start looking for the return on investment for their education: They start worrying about what they’re going to do this summer.

More than 90% of college kids get internships at some point or another, and, whether or not internships are fair (some parents buy them), it is really, really important to have productive summers that can distinguish a recent-grad’s resume.

And, of course, it’s a tough time to graduate into the workforce. Tough is totally relative, though. It’s not as tough to be entry level as it is to be, say, a baby boomer with 20 years experience at a newspaper, or 20 years of experience underwriting ridiculous mortgages. But still, it’s tough to be in college right now.

It would be so great, and helpful, if college career centers could be front and center in every student’s planning. But most career centers are useless, because most colleges presume you still need college to teach you how to think critically. So they can get away with having incompetent career centers.

This is why you should be really careful using career centers – because colleges have this ivory-tower delusion that supporting yourself is ancillary to why you went to college.

Here’s why career centers are terrible:

Career centers cater to companies, not candidates.
Career centers are in the business of booking interviews on campus. They already have the students on campus, so they worry about getting companies on campus. This means that career centers do things that are not necessarily good for students. For example, companies want to compare apples to apples, so they want all the student resumes to have the same format. Career centers encourage this, so that companies are happy.

But if everyone has the same format, then only the students who excel at what is emphasized by the default resume structure will benefit.

So ask your career center for input on your resume, but don’t let them dictate structure to you.

Career centers don’t understand social media.
Most people get jobs from their network, not from a career center. And social media is the fastest, most effective way for you to build a network. Career centers want to get credit for everything they do — it’s their job security. So they want your blog, your domain name, your online identity — everything — to be tied to the university career center. How does this help you? It only serves to limit you in the social media world. You can crosspost to the career center, fine, but making the career center the focal point of your online identity is extremely short-sighted and could only be promoted by an institution failing to put student needs first, or to understand them in the first place.

Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance.
Colleges have not, typically, focused on career centers as an ROI focal point.

Colleges, especially the really expensive ones, think of vocational school as pedestrian. So they track how many students go on to get a Ph.D in Russian from Columbia, but not how many students get jobs. Therefore, the career center is not exactly the hot button in budget meetings, and it’s not the landing ground for visionaries, because what visionary goes to a part of an institution no one cares about?

Here’s what you can do to make your college investment pay off:

Forget the idea of paying for a liberal arts education.
It used to be that people only did writing and critical thinking for school. So they needed school to teach them communication skills and critical thinking skills.

The generation that grew up with social media is the most effective at communicating of any generation in history. Despite their schooling, not because of it. Students today don’t need teachers who don’t know how to write a blog post to teach them how to persuade people. Because the bar for communication is high, and it’s in the blogosphere, and if you can write a blog post that gets a decent conversation started, then you already know how to write a persuasive, engaging argument.

Pick a school based on their track record for getting students jobs.
Look, did you get into Harvard? Did you have a 4.0 in high school? Then forget paying a lot of money for some chi-chi liberal arts school. Just go to a cheap school and get the degree. Don’t delude yourself that the 40K a year is worth it for a mid-tier school. And, since you’re not picking from a list of brand name schools, make your choice based on their track record for getting their graduates great jobs. (Hat tip: Melissa Sconyers)

Look, I’m not saying school is stupid. I’m one of the people who constantly commented on Ben’s blog that I thought he should go to college. But I’m saying that you need to calculate the return on investment on going to college before you go to college so that you make sure you’re going to college for rational reasons. Just because the liberal arts education was a default goal to the bourgeois of the last three centuries does not mean that route will work for you, right now.

 

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189 comments on “How to manage a college education
  1. Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

    I think it would be a shame to forget the idea of a liberal arts education, as I think broad knowledge about the world is lacking in our society, and the internet is only an adequate replacement for the most motivated of students.

    That said, I think it’s shocking that it costs $30,000 – in a cost/benefit analysis this is one sure sign of a broken education system.

    I also wouldn’t mistake the liberal arts education for vocational training – if you want to get a job then you should do a vocational degree, or vocational post-grad work, or simply get a job that doesn’t require a degree.

    • Pirate Jo says:

      It is great that you distinguish between vocational training and liberal arts education. Most students going to college think they can study English, or photography, or some other hobby-type major, and that their degree will get them an interesting job.

      Students shouldn’t get vocational degrees until they know what they want to study, and they shouldn’t study liberal arts until they can afford it – because it IS a hobby.

      Some people are perfectly content and self-sufficient to coop themselves up in their basements writing code and remaining blissfully unaware of the world around them. Not what I would want, but who am I to judge? Studying Victorian history is a hobby – you’re better off reading books from the library and maybe taking a class or two in the subject than going for an entire degree in it.

  2. Greg Rollett says:

    Hey P – great post. I have put more and more thought into this over the past year or so. As a Gen-Y who stopped going to college I found that real life experiences, networks and self education were more important and vital than a college education for my career track.

    While I do not doubt the power of a college degree for certain career paths, for me, spending a weekend with mega-investors, or internet marketers or whoever for less than the price of 1 college class can be indispensable.

    College is just another part of a previous generation’s American dream along with the overpriced mortgage and the white picket fence.

    At least for me.

  3. priscilla says:

    love this post. my husband and i were just bemoaning college career centers the other day, and what a poor job they do to set you up for employment success.

  4. Janet McK says:

    I got a lot of federal aid to go to exactly the kind of institution you’re putting down, and I wouldn’t do it differently if I had the chance. BUT I THINK YOU ARE SPOT ON. My degree hasn’t helped me one iota in the career world, and NOBODY said a word about what I might actually provide for myself when I graduated (without any job skills).

  5. Meg says:

    EXACTLY! I wish more people realized how important it is to be able to get a job out of college – and that getting a job is your ultimate goal, and matters more than the name of the college on your diploma.

  6. Jill says:

    This is why I love community college so much. So much I went there twice! Once for a Journalism diploma (2 years) and once for a Public Relations diploma (1 year). My combined education cost just under $15,000, which is now nearly paid off because I got a well-paying job right after my PR graduation. I credit that entirely to how career-driven my community college courses were. And we had endless in-school opportunities to participate in extras which added that something special to our resumes.

    My new job isn’t what I want to do forever, but it is putting money in the bank to fund my interests, and gaining me experience in communications. When I move on, I know I’ll have a great set of experiences to recommend me in my next career move.

    Thanks, community college.

    (Meanwhile, my friends with University degrees are: receptionists (BA)or poor overworked grad students (BSc))

    • Chirag says:

      Great point… COmmunity Colleges have a more practical suite of training that traditional colleges can’t match. In an increasingly dynamic world, quick, good training capabilities are critical to our country and economy. Kudos to Jill!

  7. Aurora says:

    I’m so glad you’re questioning the value of even going to college, which until recently has seemed a more or less untouchable subject. I just graduated from an obnoxiously pricey private university with a liberal arts degree, and I already realize that it wasn’t worth the money. (Most of which I haven’t paid yet.)

    The name of the university doesn’t matter nearly enough anymore for it to cost that much. And the fact that it’s famous and private doesn’t mean the education was any better than what I could have gotten at a public school. I did appreciate how much my professors stretched my horizons and ability to think critically in my first year, right out of high school. Though I’m not sure how much that was worth to me (probably less than $60k).

    Beyond that, though, I’m pretty sure I would have learned a lot more if I just spent the rest of that time reading books instead of going to college. I totally think it’s important to learn to think about subjects that are not necessarily applicable to a job, and am motivated to do so on my own. But I think at this point, college often functions more as an intermediate stage between high school and the “real world”, where you can send kids who aren’t ready to get their own place, get a job, coordinate their own schedules, learn on their own, etc. Like astronomically expensive daycare.

    So I agree that it’s so important for people to be clear on why exactly they’re going to college.

  8. JB says:

    Like JanetMcK, I also got a lot of aid and went to an elite liberal arts college. I waitressed during school and summers to help pay for books and the tuition that wasn’t covered by aid. If you remember, we had a bad job market in the early 90s but I was one of the few who graduated with a job as a legal assistant in a big law firm. I was so proud of myself!

    Imagine my shock 4 months into my new job when the hiring manager told me that she didn’t give a fig about my degree. My summer gigs got me that job. She loved hiring waitresses–they know how to meet a deadline under pressure, handle multiple requests at once, and deal with ornery people. Many years later, I’m actually using my degree in my work, but it took a while.

    I can see both sides of the vocational school vs. liberal arts equation. What it boils down to, for me, is networking. In the workplace, that’s what’s changing the game. It used to be that you could only get the internships, the introduction, the job through your connections–and you met the “right” people at college. Social networking is changing that. It’s a great equalizer.

  9. john gaines says:

    Great thoughts, as usual. But while people are out there rolling their own their liberal arts degrees on the interwebs, they need to do something that builds a work ethic. I hire lots of liberal arts grads. I’d rather hire people with a useful work ethic and teach them social media than hire another social media master with a sense of entitlement the size of the White House Christmas tree.

    Without a work ethic, you’re gonna be in the way most of the time, no matter how well-trained you are.

    • Stacey says:

      I completely agree here…Having worked in IT for 15 years, I’ve worked with people with degrees and people who learned by “doing” and skipping college. I can say, generally speaking, that those who didn’t go to college didn’t have the same work ethic as the ones who did — and carried a “I’m smarter than everyone else” attitude to boot. College is a great place to grow up: community, liberal arts or otherwise. I have yet to meet/hire/work with a 19 or 20 year old that put 100% into their 40-hour (or more) work week, didn’t expect a 6-figure income out of the gate, and realized that they could learn things from everyone around them.
      Bottom line: don’t skip the college education — it has a lot more to offer than just reading and writing.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I have loved reading your blog, and felt a need to comment since most of this post talks about what I do – work at a university career center. I have to disagree that all career centers are terrible- I am sure that many are bad and many are good. But I think you have valid points that ideally the “good” career centers would also agree with. I work with students in the liberal arts and sciences, so although a lot of the companies that come to campus are looking for business and engineering students, I am helping my students compete and realize the skills they have that set them apart. I totally agree that individuals should have unique resumes- not look like everyone else’s, that people get jobs through networking and the hidden job market, and social media is a great tool for job searching. I wish more of my students understood how important networking is!
    I agree that most colleges don’t pay a lot of attention to their career centers, which is a shame since most students will tell you they are going to college to be able to get a better job afterwards. However, I love my job and being able to work with students to help them navigate the world of job searching and careers!

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Elizabeth, I wish you’d have listed the college or university you work at. It’s a great advertisement for that institution that you took the time to respond to this post. To me, your comment means that you are actively engaged in conversations about this topic, and that you have a good understanding of the problems people face using career centers today, and you genuinely care.

      Why no identifier? If I were looking for a college today, I’d at least check out yours based solely on this comment… And, hey! I just thought of something. Maybe colleges should start sending their career center employees out to recruit applicants.

      Penelope

      • Elizabeth says:

        Hi Penelope! I work for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Career Services. I definitely do care about helping students, and wish more knew that we existed and are here for them! Another thing I forgot to mention in my previous comment was how much we stress getting experience. Internships, jobs, volunteering, etc. are so important, and we know that’s what employers are looking for-not what the degree on your resume is. Thanks for your comment back-it was great to hear your thoughts!

    • Kate says:

      I, too, felt obliged to respond to Penelope’s post on behalf of the dedicated career counselors and student services staff that I work with at the University of Virginia. Many folks don’t realize that in addition to the on-campus interviewing focus seen at many universities, career centers help students to assess their skills/interests/values through programming and one-on-one work–and in doing so, attempting to reach a wide range of academic majors and student subpopulations. As a career counselor, I have witnessed immense support for students’ desires to gain experience through internships, externships, student leadership, and connections with alumni and other professionals. We counselors do everything we can to help students highlight their unique strengths on resumes while building solid skills through their out-of-class experiences. Indeed, the employers who are brought to our campus have said they like the diversity of skills and experiences that our liberal arts and sciences grads have to offer. Yet, in looking beyond the selection of employers who can afford to participate in on-campus recruiting, our counselors help students seek out customized resources for their particular fields of interest.

      Thanks for the great conversation starter, Penelope! I look forward to future posts.

  11. Emily says:

    While I recognize that getting a job outside of college is important, I don’t think advocating for people to stop receiving a liberal arts education is the way to go. For one, a liberal arts education provides people with a lot of skills that you can’t learn on your own. Sure, you may be able to get an interesting conversation started with a blog, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good writer. I am amazed at some of the people at my grad school who chose to go to a state school and never really learned how to write or think critically. I also have numerous other friends who went to state school and it took them 5-7 years to finish, instead of the 4 years that it takes most people for a private liberal arts education. There is much more guidance and personal attention given when class sizes are small. I didn’t have to waste time figuring out what I wanted to do (and the incentive of paying more money also provided a needed push).
    I’m part of the generation that grew up with social media and there are so many benefits that I would be without if it wasn’t for a liberal arts education. A solid education from a solid school paves the way to a high quality grad school.
    While I agree that specific interviews arranged by career centers may not be useful, career centers are important for connecting students with alumni. Networking and informational interviews would be a lot harder to come by without their services.
    Instead of advocating for people to rethink going to small liberal arts schools, maybe a better focus is to advocate for people to take on jobs and internships during school so that they build valuable skills in addition to their education.

    • Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

      I agree with this comment, but mainly because the US high school system is so lacking. You should be able to write properly and think critically by the time you leave high school. College should build on that and let you explore chosen topics in more depth.

      High school should also give you a basic knowledge of history and geography literature and a working understanding of science.

      That said, I don’t think college just has to be vocational and about finding jobs – that’s such a hideous reductionist view of education.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Emily, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think you touch on a lot of ideas that a lot of people are thinking on this topic.

      So. Something: First: Maybe click the link in this post about generation Y being the best writers in history. The link includes a study from Stanford University that is pretty thorough. The conclusion is that, in fact, you do need to be a good writer to get people to have a conversation on your blog. And that the core of a liberal arts education is to learn to craft persuasive arguments and then communicate them. And Stanford students found writing that way for the Internet more challenging and rewarding than writing for class. It’s a great study.

      Second: I don’t think we can continue to justify college as a way to get to grad school. Here’s a great link from Tyler Cowen’s blog about all the bad reasons people go to grad school. It’s pretty clear at this point that 90% of people in grad school don’t need to be there, and it’s basically an academic ponzi scheme. I say this all the time (search “graduate school” on my sidebar). So instead of linking to myself, I’m linking to Tyler :)

      http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/01/six-bullet-points-on-why-people-go-to-graduate-school-in-the-humanities.html

      Penelope

      • Emily says:

        I agree that a lot of people go to grad school for the wrong reasons. I know there are a lot of people who just enroll because they don’t know what else to do (just look at this years application and enrollment figures – the highest ever because of the economy and high unemployment). However, there are a lot of us out there that have had grad school as the ultimate goal from the beginning. I planned on going to law school before I even started college. Had I chosen a state school it is very likely I would have been lost in the crowd and would not have received the same opportunities that were available to me with going to a smaller school. That likely could have changed the outcome of which schools I was accepted to.
        Like Caitlin noted, a lot of students are lacking in basic skills when they leave high school. While Stanford students may find writing for the internet more rewarding, they are also learning many writing skills through their liberal arts education that they can later apply to blogging. It is unlikely that many of them were going straight to blogging before taking any type of college course.
        Like Caitlin also pointed out, going to college is about a lot more than just pursuing a job. It’s about figuring out who you are as a person, challenging your morals and values, learning more about the world around you and finding joy in learning. One of my professors always used to tell us that in picking a major or object of study we should pick not based on the career we want but based on what we would find the most fulfilling. She called it the lottery decision, “If you won the lottery on graduation day and never had to work another day in your life, would you look back at your selection of courses of study as worthwhile or a waste of time.” The value of liberal arts is that it is versatile and can transition to a multitude of careers. Sure you might have to pay your dues at entry level and work your butt off to develop connections, but that is what most people face. Even those who don’t go to school.

      • Al Lee says:

        A liberal arts education is not just rhetoric.

        When I look back on my liberal arts education, the value was in professors forcing me to reason about a view of the world that was not my own (philosophy), and showing me that I was wrong regularly in my understanding of how the world worked (physics).

        Logic, science, and rhetoric are the three legs of a solid liberal arts education (some would also include creating art, but I don’t believe creativity is taught well in a college setting). These three are what make a liberal arts education more valuable than a vocational education like engineering or nursing.

        I agree that blogging and social media allow other avenues for honing rhetorical skills.

        Since rhetoric is the major piece missing from an engineering degree, perhaps everyone should just major in engineering and have a topical blog on the side. :-)

        Very few engineering majors complain they can’t find a job after college…

    • Uli says:

      “I am amazed at some of the people at my grad school who chose to go to a state school and never really learned how to write or think critically. I also have numerous other friends who went to state school and it took them 5-7 years to finish, instead of the 4 years that it takes most people for a private liberal arts education.”

      So many generalizations, I don’t even know where to start. Are you saying that public education is worse than private? That’s not true. Also, most of the people going to a state school finish in 4 years – that fact is not exclusive of small private liberal arts colleges.

      In addition, you make a distinction of how those (such as yourself) who go to a small school, get more personal attention and guidance. Someone who stands out amongst his/her peers in a giant university is a much better hire over anyone with all that personal attention.

      Plus, I’m not sure I need an additional $30K in tuition fees to give me an extra push to figure out what I want to do. That’s a silly concept. Again, a better hire is someone who can manage getting that education – fast and with as little expenses as possible.

  12. Liz C says:

    I wish someone had told me this before I opted to go to my pricey private liberal arts institution where I was told by every professor I had that because I got my degree from them I would have no problem getting a job. Yeah, almost 5 years after graduation (with a 2 year stop for grad school and an MA I barely use) and I finally got a job that’s only tangentially related to my degree.

  13. LPC says:

    My kids have attended/are attending Princeton. I didn’t send either of them there with an ROI in mind. My father’s foresightedness has made it possible for me to be price-neutral in the college decision. In our situation, I don’t doubt for one minute that the experience, the time with professors, the Disneyland for smart kids that is Princeton, has been a gift they will long value. I can’t say what the choice looks like for others looking to pay full price.

    But here’s another thing. Princeton’s Career Services rocks. Their alumni network rocks. So even if I HAD factored in earning potential, the equation might still have produced the same answer. I am not refuting your argument, simply added another piece of data. It’s important not to let sour grapes color the analysis.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      I think Princeton is a great place to spend four years. I think there’s clear ROI. It’s just that so few people have that opportunity that it’s not particularly useful to discuss it.

      -Penelope

      • LPC says:

        Agree. Unless you’re choosing between Princeton and similar or a free ride elsewhere. Which turns out to be a passionate issue in the world of college admissions. http://www.collegeconfidential.com lives and breathes this stuff.

      • Molly says:

        True, the moneyed and lucky are relatively few and far between, but their situation gives the problem of what education is “worth” an interesting perspective.

        I’m a schoolteacher at a prep school that sends kids to Ivy League schools every year. The weird thing is that kids and parents have an almost carnal attraction to a very few brand names. They can’t get enough of Vanderbilt, USC, Boston University, and Colby, but if you mention UVA, Washington University in St. Louis, Kenyon, or Grinnell, they’ll look at you like you just asked them to eat mold. It’s not price that counts with these folks; it’s a perpetually fluctuating cachet.

        I did my undergrad at Harvard a couple years ago, though, and THAT was worth the markup. The career services were incredible, and having that stamp of approval on the top of my resume at least gets me an interview a lot of the time. (Oh, and the education was superb, but I’m pretty much the only person from my class and major – history – who currently has a job related to that major.)

        In conclusion: judge the worth of the brand accurately, and know that you’re paying a premium for a label. Some labels are worth it; some really aren’t.

  14. Bethany says:

    I disagree. We have our entire adult lives to work. Why not take 4 years to study whatever fancy catches our interest, whether or not it directly contributes to our income level? I studied philosophy, classics, and political science in college. I work in health communications. Do I use my knowledge of Descartes, Arendt, and Aristotle directly in my work? Of course not. But did learning and reading and expanding my mind under the guidance of great professors help me deal with life and be happy as well as interesting? Hell yes.

    I wouldn’t have traded my majors for anything in the world. I could have taken business and communications courses in college or gone on to a masters in communication (required for many communications jobs in DC), but I can also get most of that training on the job and by taking an entry-level position, get to the point where my company will pay for me to get my masters if I want. Study what makes you happy in college. Higher mathematics and foreign languages help wire the brain so that we are less likely suffer badly from dementia or Alzheimers. Maybe the money I spent on college isn’t immediately going to be returned by my salary, but it’s certainly improving my life now and in the future.

    There’s more to life than money. Liberal arts helps people to be both happier and more interesting. Nice to not have to choose for once.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right that people should not have to choose between money and learning. This is how to do that: Spend your whole life learning whatever you want, whatever is exciting to you, regardless of whether it earns you money. Just do it at night, after you’re done earning money.

      Penelope

      • Bethany says:

        But you can’t always do that. I learned just as much from how my professors used the material as I did from the material itself. While there are free lectures (which is part of why I chose the company I work for–they provide great sociology lectures free to employees) I wouldn’t be able to spend the time immersing myself in classical culture today that I could when I was in college and that was my “job.”

    • Dominika says:

      I agree Bethany.

      • econopete says:

        Some career centers LIE about their statistics! Mine left out all the students who somehow didn’t manage to get in the info that they earned less than $32k a year, and included some students who had dual degrees. Of course an IT degree on top of a liberal arts degree is going to net a student added income!

        Departments will also keep students that shouldn’t be there because their funding is determined by how many full time students they have. In my case, they pretend like all of us who didn’t go to grad school or got jobs earning less than $35k don’t exist. We don’t get invites to department alumni events.

        I loved my community college. I enjoyed my liberal arts classes there a great deal because I learned how to write and critically discuss issues. Math was awesome. I got a B.S. in Economics and after over two years of looking for a “real” job, NOT including a year when I made $5 an hour in San Francisco in AmeriCorps. I was able to get one remotely related to my degree through networking.

        My advice: get into a program that has obviously strong connections and networks. Otherwise, as stated previously, don’t bother. If you have a learning disability like I did, be prepared to suffer your way through school.

    • Agamus says:

      So true!

      The purpose of going to a liberal arts college is not to read Descartes, but to spend time observing and absorbing the mind of a brilliant thinker who reads and studies Descartes full-time. And to read Descartes. In other words, the value of a truly great education is not necessarily in the books themselves, or in the discussion in classes, but in the time spent listening to a professional thinker do their work. I lament the time when our intellectual culture is google-bred, blog-fed, and second-hand nurtured. If your college experience involved listening to a bunch of washed-up, second-rate professors drool through a lecture, it’s understandable why one would be resentful of the concept of Liberal Arts.

      And yes, we have a lifetime at the grindstone. The original purpose of a Liberal Arts education was to produce the next generation of scholars, who were the Google of their day. So, if we have the opportunity to spend a few years around our era’s greatest thinkers (i.e., at Harvard, etc.), before committing ourselves to the madness of the working world (I love my job btw… but it’s nothing compared to a good philosophy course), the world and the individual will be better off for it.

  15. Matt K says:

    I went to Franklin & Marshall (now pushing 50k a year) and it was a total waste of four years and a lot of money (even tho i got mostly a full ride I still owe a few thousand dollars). I’m sure there are people who go thru the accounting or pre-med programs there who get a lot out of them, but its LA program is laughable and worthless because graduates aren’t going to get jobs to pay off their loans more than a couple hundred bucks a month.

    If i could undo one decision in life it would be college choice. I tell any teenager I can get close enough to talk to that if it’s not Stanford or Harvard, go to SUNY Binghamton.

    • Al says:

      Went to F&M myself for almost 3 years in the 80’s. Leaving that school is my own biggest regret. If I had it to do over again I’d have probably chosen University of Maryland, but I think F&M is a good school.

  16. Tzipporah says:

    “supporting yourself is ancillary to why you went to college”

    I went to college because everyone expected it. HOWEVER, what I got out of it was largely learning how to live on my own, make friends, meet responsibilities etc., without the pressure of earning a living at the same time. It was “practice” for being an adult, not at all about learning things (though I did) or prepare for a career (which I did NOT).

    It was also damn fun. Probably, what high school was for boomers, college was for me and my Gen X friends.

    Now that we have kids and debt, and no certain retirement, college seems like the last best time.

  17. Marc KS says:

    Spent 5 years getting a B.Sc in Engineering that cost me 20K (in tuition and books… obviously the opportunity cost of not working full-time for 5 years is significant and unaccounted for)

    Had two job offers in the 40K/year range after looking for about 3 weeks.

    Lesson = Get an engineering degree

    Oh… and go to a canadian university. Equivalent quality at a fraction of the cost.

    • Anca says:

      I too spent 5 years getting a BS in engineering. My first year was spent at a small private liberal arts college but then I started worrying about how my degree wouldn’t really qualify me to “do” anything nor pay future bills, so I transferred out to a large public university (via a community college for one year) and changed my major to engineering. My first job out of college had a sweet paycheck (though not as sweet as the paychecks of all the computer science majors I know). But as soon as the economy started tanking I lost my job. Over a year later I’m still job hunting.

    • Chris Gammell says:

      I was waiting to see if other engineers posted on here because some of the LA majors think it’s some sort of panacea for getting a job. Right now, it’s not. Maybe back in 2004 or 1999. Not now though.

      I think the thing that people studying LA should realize is that practical education is stressed very strongly for engineers. I spent 2 semesters and all 3 summers working at engineering firms after my Sophomore year. The ones that don’t do internships and (more importantly) co-ops? They are the ones who end up in grad school.

      So my suggestion would be for Liberal Arts based co-ops (assuming they are possible, see Penelope’s post about not getting paid for internships). I say co-ops because you need to be doing it for more than a summer. I was basically a full time worker for the equivalent of 2 years during my college years.

      And yet after all of this writing, I still would have to agree with Marc KS: Get an engineering degree (because of all the cool stuff you can do, jobs are just a bonus and never guaranteed).

      • Marc KS says:

        Mechanical and Civil engineers still don’t have much problems finding jobs (in Canada it is still EASY)

        I hardily agree however… don’t choose eng for A job, choose it because the jobs it offers rock – even straight out of college.

        That and the extracurriculars for engineers during university are insanely fun.

  18. Aleta Fullenwider says:

    I didn’t go to college out of high school because I just wasn’t ready. I waited until I realized that I needed more education to advance in my career (I was 24 yrs old) and then I enrolled in community college. I got a great education at Portland Community College. I decided to keep going and ended up with a Bachelors Degree from Portland State University. I’m 32 years old now and it hasn’t made one difference where I got my degree from. Now, I’m looking at obtaining my MBA from Portland State University.

    I cannot stress how well the community and state colleges do in terms of educating their students. I think they really ‘get’ the idea that students are there to advance themselves in a career field and that the college must help them find jobs, internships, volunteer positions,etc to continue attracting students. Long live community college!

  19. Jake Russ says:

    I think a related issue here is that our society has deemed a college education debt-finance acceptable. Which is a critical factor in the decision making process of college vs. Ben’s experience model. If you have limited resources, we allow you access to credit, in order to finance sanctioned human capital investments. The ones rated “AAA” if you will ;).

    I don’t see the same treatment of trips to Argentina, Chile, Cyprus… and posting to a blog rather than formal writing assignments. (I’m a fan of Ben’s too.)

    But maybe I’m wrong. I’m willing to be challenged on this.

    Also there is a credentialism aspect of college education.

    So in the marketplace we have one route that is subsidized, celebrated, and politically protected. The alternatives have none of those benefits. Not surprising to me why high school seniors blindly fill out applications for admission. (Myself included way back when.)

    It’s posts like this and Ben’s blog that might change the celebrated part. Thanks!

  20. Susan says:

    I agree with you Penelope. But I think the real shift needs to occur with employers, who frequently still require a BS of some kind to work in entry-level positions like Admin/office assistant. Frankly, that is b.s.

    To make higher education more valuable, I would love to see colleges make half their school year about traditional classes, and half about work or volunteer experience. For all 4 years. Paid or unpaid internships, or credit for the job you are already working to put yourself through school could apply. That way, even if you have to leave school before getting a degree, you get some solid education and work experience.

  21. meemee says:

    I think there are some very good points on both sides here. I went to a private college which was expensive then (class of ’91) and even more so now. I don’t regret having gone there at all. Although I didn’t know it when I chose the school, their communication school was all about networking. Their career office sends students to LA each year to meet alums working in film, and have many similar netowrking/learning programs for the other diciplines. I recently participated in a networking night for students and know that if I need job search help I can go to the the office and they’ll plug me further into the alumni network. (I should mention that the career office is specifically for the students/alums of the communication school.) They also pushed the internship route during school, for the experience on your resume, but also to see if the work area was truly what you wanted to do after graduating.

    Yes, I do wonder now with the costs of college so high now if it is worth it for communication majors to pay so much and then get what will be a low paying job to start.

    But, I also knew a number of kids in school who were just there to get a degree, assuming a job would just be handed over when they graduated. They all tended to major in Liberal Arts or generic Business. That experience makes me wonder when people tell me college was a “waste” if it was the educational offerings that were really the problem.

  22. Alan Christensen says:

    Amen on Liberal Arts degree, “Career Centers,” and school choice. Career Centers catering to the companies is so spot on it is rediculous! How about Career Centers bringing in new companies in order to focus more on the student? More “real world” application needs to be the focus instead of book work! Great topic!!

  23. Alan Christensen says:

    Another great topic to discuss in relation to this is the ever increasing college teacher salaries, skyrocketing tuition costs and college teachers having “tenure.”

  24. Rachel Vincent says:

    Penelope,

    For the past several years since college, I have taught LSAT classes for those looking to go to law school. I was often so surprised by the lack of writing and communication skills of those that were shortly to graduate from college. And this lack of skill would often hold people back from doing well on that test. So I would add that regardless of whether you go to college or not, that it is critical to develop communication skills. Get involved. Start writing. Start commenting. Start analyzing. Not only does it build a critical network for finding a job, but the communication and analytical skills you develop from that networking will also go a long ways in helping you succeed as well.

  25. Vicki says:

    I’ll respond to your post from the angle of someone who was persuaded away from a liberal arts degree by my parents, who instead steered me towards my second choice of economics through Penn State’s business school, and got my first job via Craigslist, not the career center (although I was a pretty active visitor there for my entire junior and senior years).

    I wanted so badly to major in International Relations and just study countries all day and then, when I was an econ major, to just study developing countries instead of going to econometrics class. But what helped me get the job in the end? Not my Hebrew minor (which I studied for with a passion that outdid many of my other classes) or my political science class, but the fact that I remembered and could analyze formulas from econometrics, and the fact that I had concrete experience working as an assistant in an econ experiment lab.

    I would say this is the biggest problem for colleges: they teach thinking skills and how to live as an adult, but not solid technical skills (like programming, math, and how to manage finances) that actually get you the jobs and prepare you for success in adult life. I was just talking with my husband about this the other day, and we decided

    So yes, if you are looking for a job in the real world, liberal arts is the wrong way to go, unless you are supplanting it with solid skills. However, that’s not a reason NOT to get an education. Because, like someone said upthread, you can’t even get a secretarial job without a B.S. these days.

    Because Ben Casnocha is not an example for everyone to follow (I doubt I would have had the self-discipline to teach myself things like college professors made me learn.) And because, like everyone says, your college GPA is meaningless after a few years, but I doubt I would have been hired into my first job and the launching point of my career if mine weren’t up to par.

  26. Kate says:

    Penelope, I have to take issue with the “career centers are terrible” comment, only because I have experience with an excellent career center at a liberal arts college (Smith). I’m class of ’96, but do alumnae interviews for prospective students every year so I’m tuned in to how it was back in my day, and what it’s like now.

    Smith really gets that most people get jobs via their personal network, and the Smith CDO is very into teaching network building. From the moment you arrive on campus, you start learning about how to utilize the “old girls network” (well, they call it the “ageless women’s network” but whatever). Yeah, the Career Development Office not only helps out with the usual stuff (resumes, company visits, job listings) but their laser-focus on networking and how to build that network while still a student is great and helped a lot of my peers get where they are today. And yes, they’re pretty darn good at social media too.

    And, to address the internship disparity (wealthy students can afford unpaid internships, financial aid kids like me had to work for the summer), Smith now has the Praxis program which ensures that every Smith student can have an internship (of their choosing) funded by the college.

    So, did my liberal arts degree get me the job I have now? No. But my network of Smith alumnae did. There are good, successful career centers out there, I wanted to share the story of this one.

  27. Tim Almond says:

    I seem to recall that someone did a study of various degrees in the UK and took into account loss of earnings during study, cost of tuition and so on, and compared it extra earnings due to having a degree.

    They found that certain arts subjects (like philosophy) had a negative effect overall.

    Of course, what none of this considers whether better people go to college. In other words, when comparing salaries of college leavers vs the rest, we aren’t considering like with like.

  28. Jonathan Hilley says:

    Great post…to uncover all the reasons that your “College Career Center Can’t Help You”, click below:

    http://blog.theascendancegroup.org/post/your-college-career-center-cant-help-you/

    Penelope, on this one I’m with you 100%.

    Kind Regards,

    Jon

  29. George Hesselberg says:

    P: This comment has started a good debate on this topic, but it is among the wrong people. You may be convincing people who do not, or did not, want to go to college, that it is or was a bad idea. I think the “liberal arts” should be a focus, but not the focus, of college. Everyone benefits from knowing basic rules of logic and a brief history of philosophy, for example. And literature, too. Your argument neglects – perhaps because of its broad brush, which is a fault of social media – the benefit to all society of a populace that has a basic knowledge of these liberal arts, of history, of music, of art. I am not saying you are wrong, in fact as president of the Bank of Dad, I can safely say you are right, mostly. I am saying that your message, patterned to fit this particular medium, can be misunderstood as a call to abandon pursuit of knowledge to become a better, all-around member of society.

  30. Mhughes says:

    I received a liberal arts degree and I spend most days regretting it. Not because of the education: I loved spending countless hours discussing fascinating and interesting topics, and developing my researching and writing. However, I think that liberal arts degrees hoodwink 18 year olds. I had no clue at that age what my real priorities were. I loved studying communication, but now I work as an executive assistant in a psychiatric hospital. I am now paying for an education that I enjoyed, but not one that serves my priorities and interests in life. Due to the cost of my education, I won’t be able to return to school for a nuring degree (which I will get from the local community college) for another 2-3 years until I have my first loans under control.
    Penelope- you talk about gen Y being the “path” generation. I worked my ass off through high school and college, and thought my path would reveal itself to me because I had done everything right. Now I understand that for ANY secondary education to really count, one must know the context under which it will fit in their lives. I think liberal arts should be studied by adults who can appreciate the vastness and can channel it appropriately, not by 18 year olds who have no context to apply such an open-ended “skill”(?). I wish I would have worked a few jobs before going to college so that I would have had a better idea of what subjects and what skills I wanted to have. I am now working very hard to start all over.

  31. Pirate Jo says:

    ” … going to college is about a lot more than just pursuing a job. It’s about figuring out who you are as a person, challenging your morals and values, learning more about the world around you and finding joy in learning.”

    I *partly* agree with this. The problem is that a) college is prohibitively expensive, and b) you need to be able to support yourself, and have your own money. Do you want to have to sleep on your buddy’s couch? Mooch off of your parents until you are middle-aged? Try to find a spouse who will support you? (People aren’t exactly lined up down the block, looking for a spouse they can support.) You have to get the ‘needs’ covered before you move on to the ‘wants.’

    Having said that, I agree about discovering who you are, learning about the world, and challenging your own views. Is it possible to take college classes here and there, throughout your life, and experience this? Is it really necessary to spend four years after high school engaged in … four more years of high school? Drinking beer from bongs? Can you meet interesting people through work who challenge your thinking? Just something to consider.

    “If you won the lottery on graduation day and never had to work another day in your life, would you look back at your selection of courses of study as worthwhile or a waste of time.”

    Gee, that’s great … if you never have to work a day in your life.

  32. Dominika says:

    But don’t you think that your arts education helped you write persuasively? I think it might have :)

  33. KateNonymous says:

    I think a lot of this is colored by Penelope’s grad school experiences. But I also think that this post works against itself. Why?

    It conflates what you learn at a university with what services are provided by that university’s career center. These are, actually, two separate issues. They can be linked, but I don’t think that’s done effectively here.

    And as it conflates, it meanders back and forth between the two. The progression isn’t orderly, and neither is the thought process. The result? I’m not persuaded. I’m not even persuaded to see it as a well-thought-out position, much less agree with it.

  34. Lance says:

    I totally agree with a lot of stuff you’re saying here in regards to a liberal arts education. I got a MA in English from a state school, and while it didn’t cost nearly as much as a masters from a private institution, it’s still got me in a damned deep whole. And I could have gotten all of those read/writing/critical thinking skills simply by reading, writing, and joining writers groups on my own. And saved thousands.

    For anyone that is interested in an MBA, I encourage you to check out the personal MBA program. All the knowledge, none of the bullshit, loads cheaper: http://personalmba.com/

    • Tzipporah says:

      Ah, but if you had gone to a private school, maybe you would have landed in a damn deep HOLE instead. ;)

  35. Aaron Erickson says:

    Why are we waiting until college to teach critical thinking and life skills? And why does a $50k per year school have a monopoly on the subject?

    I suspect a.) we don’t want younger kids to have said skills, otherwise, they might outargue their teachers or parents and b.) if we did teach this, we would be left with $50k a year schools that teach… what again?

    One thing that is becoming very evident is that many people on this thread do not know the difference between anecdote and data. I am speaking to you, career counselors, who come here and say “because my center is awesome, all centers must be”. I am also speaking to the “I went to the liberal arts college, and now I have sufficient critical thinking skill to commit critical thinking errors about generalizing the affect of expensive liberal arts college on critical thinking skill”.

    • Tzipporah says:

      Not so much that we don’t want them to have those skills, but that public schools are not set up to provide them. They must teach to tests, deal with ALL the kids in the class (and not just the motivated ones, etc.). Compare this to the kinds of skills taught at any good private high school – you’re getting a mini liberal arts degree simply because they’re allowed to demand “more” as an elite school.

      Also, don’t forget that many students in high school have parents who STILL don’t have critical thinking skills.

      • Pirate Jo says:

        Word. To everything you just said.

        This makes me think parents would be spending their money better to send their kids to good private schools during the grades K-12. But most parents can’t afford that. Even if (and this already puts them in the minority) they have the resources to squirrel away money for their kids’ education, it’s not going to amount to anything until the kids are older. How is a 32-year-old, having their first kid, supposed to find the cash to pay for a private K-12 education?

    • Pirate Jo says:

      “I suspect a.) we don’t want younger kids to have said skills, otherwise, they might outargue their teachers or parents”

      Okay, show of hands. When you were in school, did your parents encourage you to a) be well-behaved, or b) learn the material? This is not to be confused with “getting good grades.” Such an interesting brain exercise … do teachers give good grades to students who truly learn the math, or do they give them to the students who are obedient and don’t give them trouble? In that light, were your parents CORRECT to emphasize good behavior over cognitive development? If you had been bullied in school by a teacher, would your parents have stood up for you, or assumed you were being a brat and punished you? As alluded to earlier, it really stinks that the K-12 education system lets kids down so badly. And did you know it costs the taxpayers about $10K a year per kid?

      I sense a ‘bubble’ in education, just like there have been bubbles in mortgages and consumer debt. Cars, too, probably. I loosely define a bubble as something that people have been willing to pay too much for, for too long a time. Why do we do this? Why do we care what the Joneses are doing? You look at what they’re spending, and assume they must be making a lot of money, and therefore they must be really smart, and therefore the rest of us should be doing what they are doing. How do you know they make a lot of money? Maybe they just spend a lot. Vanderbilt, whatever.

    • Christina Mosteller Hall says:

      But, you know until I read your comment, I just assumed that everybody else did the same things at their offices that we do. Maybe they really don’t.

    • Charl says:

      To Aaron’s: “One thing that is becoming very evident is that many people on this thread do not know the difference between anecdote and data. I am speaking to you, career counselors, who come here and say “because my center is awesome, all centers must be”.

      But one person CAN extrapolate that because she had a bad experience with her career center, all career centers therefore are bad … and that’s acceptable to you?

  36. Iris says:

    Sadly, I agree with you, Penelope. I had an excellent liberal arts education that fed my soul and enriched my worldview, but it just wasn’t so costly back then.

    On another note, I learned about your blog from my daughter, who took to heart your posts about work and what a person wants his life to “look like,” to good results. We are both now advising her younger brother along those lines.

  37. Anca says:

    Penelope, I always love your posts on talking truthfully about the value of college. Let’s start a college revolution movement. Sure, there were things I loved about college (the history of calligraphy, microeconomics, Jane Austen) but there were many more that I hated. And since my education saddled both myself and my parents with significant debt, mostly I just feel guilty and ripped off.

  38. Elizabeth says:

    College is a great place to learn and grow. But it’s an expensive place to do that and not for everyone. Check this site out – you can watch lectures and even take video courses (no credit) at Yale via the internet for free! http://academicearth.org/

  39. Jim says:

    Penelope,

    Just a quick newsflash re: Liberal Arts degrees. An increasing number of business schools are incorporating the Liberal Arts into their MBA programs, finally realizing that a linear, quantitative approach to supposed “management” progams has contributed to the financial crisis and the decline of American innovation. It took a while, but solid management thinkers like McGill University’s Henry Mintzberg, who’s hammered the crap out of biz schools for the past two decades, are finally being listened to.

    With a Liberal Arts background (like yours truly with two M.A.s and fully employed for 30 years), you have flexibility and broader opportunities than the unemployed software engineer who’s watching the Indian dude with a H1-B visa work for a lower salary.

  40. Megan says:

    I am lucky and fortunate enough to not have to pay back any loans when I graduate from my two year degree, and will only have to pay about $5,000 to $11,000 tops in unsubsidized loans when I do go on to finish my 4 year degree. But I have friends who are $15,000 in debt in personal loans for pricey media schools that they didn’t finish, or worse one friend who’s $75,000 in debt for 4 years and has another year and half for her teaching certificate and wants to go to grad school.

    I don’t see the point it paying more for a private school education if you can get the same major at a state school, for a real price break. Go to a community college for two years, then transfer to the private school if you must. Save yourself the cash. Two years at my local community college center will cost you less than $8,000 if you live at home.

  41. Anon says:

    I agree that in some instances the benefits of a college education can be overrated. In my job I am regularly fixing problems caused or exacerbated by people with a Bachelor’s or higher. However I don’t discount all the benefits either.

    You see, I have no degree to speak of. My job is one that normally goes to people with a Bachelor’s or Master’s. I landed it by shear luck and 18 months or searching. I wear four ‘hats’ – tech support, systems engineer, network analyst and business development. I’ve been going back to college ever since I took the job. This is because I’ve already hit the glass ceiling. Plus without a degree I’m “handcuffed” to my job so to speak. Despite my experience and willingness to learn new skills, I’ll take between a $10-$20K a year pay cut almost anywhere else, for the lack of a piece of paper. I’m pretty sure my employer has figured this out.

    I would also agree that the career center and in some instances the counseling office are all but useless. When you have to wait in the walk-in line for 2 hours minimum to ask for an appointment 2 weeks in the future, it’s clear that customer service is not a priority. What kills me most of all is that you can’t even get practical advice on where the field is going from these people. I’m not trying to to become an academic. I’m obtaining a set of skills to allow me to get a better job to support my family. Considering my skill set is all over the place – electronics, satellite comms, LANs/WANs, network security and a little programming – if I have to specialize it should obviously be in something that I might actually get hired for. I’m also taking a little rhetoric/argumentation – it has its place as I’ve found out.

    Okay, rant’s over. What I’m saying is I can’t be the only 34 year-old vet going to college and working. I would think that the colleges would figure this out and take it into account. Or maybe I’m expecting too much, eh?

  42. Christina Mosteller Hall says:

    Either your view of Career Services is really out of date or we at IPFW are really cutting edge.
    When students have come in for appointments, I’ve asked them if college is really for them and encouraged them to go get work experience instead or referred them to the community college across the street if it was a better fit for their needs. We constantly emphasize to students how important it is to get experience related to their degrees. I feel like I spend all day, every day fighting this pervasive cultural myth that a college education by itself is enough to guarantee career success. I’m so frustrated by it. I’ve walked in to graduate level classes and and told the students there that if the only reason they enrolled was because they couldn’t get a job with just their BA and they thought a graduate degree would do it, they need to rethink things.
    We never encourage students to produce resumes in the same format, but instead to customize their resume to best reflect their skills and experience.
    We teach workshops on how social networking can benefit a job search and building your own online brand to market yourself professionally. We also teach students of the possible pitfalls of putting inappropriate information online.
    I feel like we’re on the side of getting this information out to students, not working to get them to buy into it.

    • Anon says:

      Or maybe I’m just expecting too much from a local college. The subject she addressed kind of hit close to home for me – that wonderful experience of waiting 2 hours just to make an appointment was last week. Nearly all the job offers I’ve received since my last position have been for places like Afghanistan, or working in a life insurance office. I traveled so much last year that a friend joked I should reenlist. So it’s a bit frustrating.

  43. Joey says:

    I just had this discussion with a good friend of mine! Perfect timing! I’m finally getting my bachelor’s degree this summer after a long and arduous journey. When I look around, everyone that I know who has a bachelor’s degree is working at the same job they had before they graduated! What does that mean? Did we miss the mark? Is the degree irrelevant? Right now I'm getting pressured to go to law school since I work as a paralegal. It doesn't make sense to me if there isn't a clear and concise plan that I am excited about! I totally agree that you need to calculate the ROI and not just go to school because you can't find anything better to do. However, I must say that some people really do need college for the experience and the opportunity to grow. Some people really need to know what it's like to be the only person responsible for your successes or failures. Sometimes, it really is about the experience.

    • Kevin says:

      I’d pass on law school. I don’t know what it’s like where you are at geographically, but where I live (Minneapolis) the market for lawyers is terrible. A friend of mine works at one of the better firms, and he told me that he feels for anyone attempting to get into law right now. Most of the new graduates end up as debt collection attorneys.

      • Joey says:

        It’s funny you say don’t go because I’ve had a number of people, including a partner at a very successful law firm here in New York, tell me to go and not to think twice about it. They all say two things: (1) By the time I graduate the market will be different and (2) lawyers have opportunities that other people don’t have even if they don’t practice. Who knows what the truth really is? It’s all a matter of perception.

    • Tay says:

      Hey, in this market being a debt collection attorney isn’t a bad thing. At least they have a job. There are actually a lot of things you can do with a law degree, including teaching, consulting, working at the federal or state levels. The government needs attorneys too. It’s all in how you look at it, how you market yourself and, though I hate to say it, who you know. If you go to law school be sure to intern, temp, network like crazy. If you can get recommendations or even references along the way in those temp/internship positions, do that too. Build a portfolio. I think what most people fail to realize now is that going to college is just part of the work. It no longer guarantees you a job, you have to work hard to get one.

      • Kevin says:

        Indeed the market may be good for debt collection attorneys now (though I am not quite sure how any debt collector is actually able to collect anything from unemployed folks with not an asset to their name) but what about longevity? Joey mentioned that there are multiple things you can do with a law degree without practicing. Absolutely. However, will you be able to afford to pay off the student debt (assuming you take out loans) in one of these positions? We’re definitely talking in generalizations here though. It’s an individual thing based on job prospects where you live or if you are willing to relocate for an offer.

      • Liz says:

        A law degree without specific prior experience is no help whatsoever in getting a job in teaching, consulting, politics, or working in the federal government. And 40% of all law school graduates have more than $100,000 in debt, which is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

        I know you mean well, but please stop telling people it’s a good idea to spend three years and $100,000 learning “how to think like a lawyer,” and really, almost nothing else.

        There are only 759,000 lawyers employed in the US, but 45,000 people graduate law school every year. There is no profession today that will ever grow fast enough to absorb that kind of oversupply. And now that many low-level legal jobs are shipped to non-lawyers in other countries, while large firms have laid off 14,000 people since the start of the recession, the legal profession is actually not growing at all.

        Law school is not a safe bet, and hasn’t been for some time.

  44. Ben Casnocha says:

    Many thanks for the link, though this is my best post on the topic, I think:

    http://ben.casnocha.com/2008/09/organizing-the.html

    And the School / Education category link has a better repository than “College Process”:

    http://ben.casnocha.com/school_education/

    thanks again!

  45. QuinnCreative says:

    I love your blog–you are articulate, smart, and say what you think in an interesting way. I often agree with you, but this time, I have a few tiny bones to pick.
    I have a Masters, and 30 years of experience in business communication. In the years I was looking for a job, I was told several times that I didn’t get the job because I did not go to an impressive-enough college, although my years of experience should have shouted a lot louder then the location of the degree.

    I teach business communication (in businesses) to a variety of age groups. Many of those people who are experts in social networking are poor speakers, can’t form a decent argument (or a reason their way to a logical decision), can’t make eye contact, don’t recognize facial expressions or body language, can’t concentrate on a piece longer than 150 words, and lack grammar skills. Texting and having 10,000 followers on Twitter don’t make them experts in communication. I went to a liberal arts college and learned analytical thinking, good grammar, writing skills and logic there, and practiced it over a 30-year career. I think college is a vital step to becoming a rational, thinking adult. At least it was when I went.

  46. Kevin says:

    Finally someone tells it like it is…. I have a BA and am a thesis short of my Master’s. I went on to “higher learning,” because everyone told me this was the only way to be successful. It’s a myth. I attended a “Big 10” for my undergrad and a nicely ranked private school for the Master’s. The school debt I accrued along with being “over educated/overqualified” has actually cost me opportunities (which is diametrically opposed to the outdated notion that formal learning = more earning.)

    • Tay says:

      Don’t you just love with employers say you’re over educated? I think it’s code for, “You could take my job, so I’m not hiring you.”

      • Erica says:

        Over-educated means “You’re not likely to stay and do the job I’m hiring for.” I really didn’t like hearing it, but the people who told me that were being realistic.

  47. Chris says:

    I just want to point out Penelope’s undergraduate education history: a BA in history from Brandeis – she’s not exactly practicing what she preaches, is she? Plenty of people find a liberal arts education valuable and manage to navigate a successful career without much help from the college career center.

  48. Jay says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Pen, and this is exactly why I read you and brag on you.

    When I dropped out of school, 33 years ago this week–longer ago than most reading this have been alive–I knew exactly why, and what I wanted to do: hitchhike all over the USA “to look for America” so that I could write Great American Novels, the first to be published in May ’79 when I “should have” graduated.

    That I didn’t accomplish that goal is on me, for not being diligent enough to follow my initial vision to completion.

    But I remember distinctly the argument most used against my dropping out: That once you dropped out of college, you never went back.

    I went back.

    Because after hitchhiking all over the USA and being dependent on others for my mobility, for networking with others across, up, down and back across this continent, I came home to friends who had no motivation to join me on a journey to RI and ME, to pick up the only two New England states I’d missed in the spring.

    Came back home and everybody was boring. My best friends were in interesting schools like Michigan State, Lawrence, and Chicago.

    I went back to school because my social life sucked.

    Social media solve that problem nicely, too.

  49. Ben says:

    Ay, Penelope, you’ve outdone yourself with this post. So education is only about a career? College is merely some chute to pass through on your way to a job? Puh-leeze. Most of us – myself included – would never have been exposed to new books, ideas, concepts and people had we not gone to college. To calculate “ROI” in career terms is to buy into a debased notion of what education is all about. And God forbid that my kid’s Facebook page scratchings be thought of as good “communication.” Regardless of the name brand or prestige, some kind of advanced – and formal – education always has a good “ROI” regardless of whatever career you pursue…

    • Tay says:

      True on the count of being exposed to books. I would have never read Dante had it not been for my Humanities class. That book was creepy, but I enjoyed it. There are more benefits to college than just getting a job. However, I think most people who pay out the money college cost now, do it so they can get a career.

  50. Brad says:

    Yes, money isn’t everything. But at 10% unemployment, four years of meandering liberal arts classes is an irresponsible indulgence.

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