Forget what they taught you in school (or what they taught you in homeschool). Degrees are like credit scores, just another way for those who are too lazy and scared to really invest in you as a person, to assess risk.
As I’ve grown I’ve found that there are really two competing schools of thought when it comes to, well, schooling. You see, growing up I always took for granted that it was very desirable to go to college and get a degree in a profession of your choice. Having a mother with a degree who made good money, and a father without even a high school diploma, who made even more money, I realized that college doesn’t make or break you. But even still I grew up assuming that if you could, you would and should. A university is where you went to learn more in depth about a certain subject and where you would rub elbows against other sharp minds and talents in that field. I often have a stubborn, or prideful side, that tends toward wanting to reinvent the wheel because being told how to do something was somehow some sort of weakness. But I had to admit that wheels had been invented before and that going to school was, in theory, joining the global conversation of what works and what hasn’t worked in the past. By being taught what the world has already discovered in this field or that, you skip having to come up wit it yourself and instead you get to be brought up to speed and put in a position to add to that collective knowledge. Not only does this enable you to skip having to make all those discoveries others have already done, but it allows you to be brought up to speed with the rest of the world in that field, who you would assume, have also been schooled in the triumphs and defeats of the past.
Later on in life I found myself around a group of people who thought almost completely the opposite. Schooling, especially higher education was a place where future drones go to deaden their creativity and ingenuity. Not much value was placed on the collective understanding of a field because the odds are, that field has been so politicized and watered down by the changing whims of society as it devolves over the years that most of the information gained in a classroom setting is less than useless, more detrimental. Instead of being seen as someone who was willing to forgo the instant gratification of a job right out of high school for the investment in their future, someone with a college degree was seen as someone who wanted to delay the inevitability of adulthood for four more years of drunken parties and a sense of entitlement once it was all over and done with. Personal experience is the only true teacher and any other is a liar and a fraud.
Both sides can get pretty obnoxious. Let’s face it. We’ve all met that girl who thinks her master’s degree in Dead Elvish Languages with a minor in Ancient Arctic Feminist Psychology makes her better and smarter than everyone around her, and if a guy doesn’t have a Ph.D. then he’s a waste of her time. Meanwhile she’s 29 and still struggles to understand why her credit cards are eating her alive between her bi-weekly trips to the salon and her addiction to collecting Gilmore Girls paraphernalia.
In turn we’ve also all met that guy who dropped out of school in the 11th grade and is a self-made man who’s constantly bringing up the fact that he never went to college and doesn’t have some fancy pants degree on the wall in his office and he’s doing just fine, and then you pause and say, “Ya that’s great John, I’m just wondering why you managed to slip that in in the middle of our conversation about how my tennis elbow is really hindering my backhand.” It often seems more out of insecurity than out of confidence.
The thing about degrees is in this world of ours where we are all either too lazy or too busy to get to know one another, a degree behaves much like a credit score does. I mean seriously, what if I showed up at a bank and acted like a snotty nosed brat because I had a 750. They would say, “Great, want a cookie?” So in the same respect, why would we go around with our noses in the air if we have a degree. While only 25% of adults in the US have degrees, there’s also a sense in which, great you have a degree, who doesn’t? But at the same time, not having a degree is hardly a bragging point. “Look at me! I managed to buy this huge house and I didn’t even have a good credit score or anything!” Well that deserves a mild, “good for you.” And then after that not much more than a shrug and a, “who cares?”
What I mean is this. With all the political chatter, and emotional hype around education and what it means and what it should mean, let’s just admit it. Once you get out into the world of bills and jobs and money lenders and 401ks degrees act a lot like a credit score, not much more, and not much less. And while having a good credit score is a good thing and can often open a few doors that otherwise would have been closed, aside from their utilitarian value, they deserve neither glorification nor demonization
- Sure in theory a degree means you have undergone years of study and are probably a lot more informed, current, and possibly even intelligent for it. – By the same token, having a good credit score, in theory means you’ve been lent money or services, and have diligently and timely paid back those who lent you them on a consistent basis. (Key phrase: in theory)
- Because you have this degree in business, in theory, you are probably pretty good at business and therefore I feel comfortable giving you a job in my business firm, seeing as you are probably more likely to succeed than someone who does not have a business degree. – Likewise if you have a 764, in theory, you have probably paid your bills on time for a long time, and I feel very comfortable lending you money because someone with the history of bill-paying that you have, means you are very likely to pay me back this money in the future. At least a lot more likely to pay me back than someone with a 500. (Key phrase: in theory)
- You can be the most experienced person in the world, and actually sit down and demonstrate how much understanding and knowledge you have in a field, but a large company is tied by its own policies to not hire you, while they are able to hire someone who demonstrates less ability, simply because they have a degree. This is because our society is so large and so statistically and formulaically driven, we do not have the time nor the desire to get our hands dirty to really know the person. This time and annoyance saved is actually worth the potential money lost apparently. To replace getting to know the person and their abilities, regardless of where those abilities were derived, we lazily put our trust in certifications and diplomas, reluctantly giving in to the assumption that because the degree exists, that person simply must have the desired qualities for the position. – Once again you can be the most reliable and trust worthy ‘yes means yes and no means no’ kind of person around, and you could even know the individual loans officer personally, but a bank will give more money at a better interest rate (code for they trust them more) to an obviously more sleazy person with a great credit score. That’s because while they may ask you different questions about your life and your past they really don’t care to get to know you all that well, and just rely on that score to tell them what they can assume about the odds of you paying them back.
Basically it comes down to this. A credit score is used by lending institutions, rental housing, and sometimes even jobs to assess the probability of lending you something, or giving you a responsibility, and getting that money back, or having you live up to that responsibility. There are tons of factors that go into what really makes a person reliable or trustworthy at any given point in their life, and while lending institutions do take some of these factors into account, they rely heavily on this abstract number that is a very sterile and impersonal way of determining how dependable you really are. A degree behaves in the same manner. An employer with multiple applicants certainly takes time to sit and talk with them and look at a variety of other factors, but many employers rely heavily on a simple piece of paper that has no intrinsic value or definitive meaning in itself. It allows them to reasonably assume that you’ve have some sort of background in the field they want you to be knowledgeable in and they are willing to take a chance on you because of it.
So just take them for face value. These things are good to have because they make people assume that their risk is diminished by their presence. They are certainly nothing to brag about though. And also nothing to jeer at. I’m always a fan of having more options than less myself.