It’s a question that keeps coming in recent years: Is real world experience more valuable than formal education? Should you invest your time and money on a college degree that may or may not help you land a better job? Or should just jump straight in, and get as much experience as you can?
Millennials have it way harder than previous generations of young people, and that’s pretty much a fact. Their future is much more insecure. When it comes to education, the price of putting yourself through college has skyrocketed during the past decades. So asking yourself whether to invest in a college degree or not is not just philosophical musing. It’s a pragmatic issue.
So, before deciding whether you think college is worth it or not, you should break down this pretty large issue into smaller questions.
What do you expect to gain from college? Older generations tend to imagine college as this magical place. It broadens your horizons, makes you a smarter, better person, and other vague things like that.
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If you decide to invest in college, and you want to make the most out of your time there, you should understand that college is a tool. It doesn’t really do anything unless you use it. The knowledge you gain in college only becomes valuable if you know what to extract from it. Think about how to apply it to real life situations. That’s something you’re going to have to learn on your own, unfortunately. This argument would seem to swing in favor of experience, but there are some merits when it comes to college in this respect.
College Experience Is Still Experience
There are plenty of things you can learn on your own, and there are probably courses that feel unnecessary. But, ask yourself, would you have actually looked up all of that information on your own? College professors are experts in their field, and they know way more than they tell you in a semester. They provide you with a concise, distilled version of the information available that has to do with their subject. But they manage to squeeze in, in just a few weeks, the results of decades of research, so you don’t have to spend years to find out the essential parts.
It’s true, it’s not the same as work experience. You won’t be able to use it on your CV to replace it. But college is a great place to network, and set up future job prospects. It’s an opportunity to gain an experience that, in the long run, is just as valuable as work experience.
Tight deadlines, nights of cramming, and the way in which you learn how to get out of difficult situations. All of these are necessary experiences, and they’re better learned in a situation that is relatively risk-free.
It all depends on how much you are willing to invest in the experience and how much you want to get out of it. If you’re only reason for going to college is to make friends and have fun, then you’re better off not going. But if you are genuinely interested in the field and want to learn as much as possible from the experience (and this is not limited to your classes), college can be very useful.
The cost of getting a college degree has increased steadily over the past years. According to a 2015 study, it seems grad students still earn more than workers who only have a high-school diploma. In their predictions, it appears the wage gap between those with a college degree and those without one is going to increase.
Is a College Degree Useful in Your Field?
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean going to college is worth it. You need to consider whether or not the money you are investing in your education is going to be offset by your future wages. In certain fields, not going to college is not an option. Those working in STEM-related fields simply cannot find a job without the necessary qualifications. Likewise, those interested in a career in finances have much better chance of landing a good job if they have a college degree.
But there are fields in which a college degree is not that valuable. People working in creative industries are usually required to present portfolios with their work. This is asked for no matter how well educated they are. And they are usually hired on the basis of these portfolios and previous work experience.
Experience can also teach you a lot about yourself, and how you fare in certain situations. It can certainly look better on your CV, especially if you start gaining experience early on. It shows you have a genuine interest and are willing to put in a lot of effort in the workplace.
Experience Is Valuable No Matter What
Jumping straight into the job market, and skipping college, can also save you a lot of money. Apart from the fees you won’t have to pay, you can also gain more money than a college student that can't afford to work full time.
And even it’s true that you can meet a lot of great people in college, with social media, and networking events, is it really worth the investment? This should be just a bonus, not the main point of going to college.
Most jobs ads emphasize the necessity of a lot of experience just to be considered for the position. All in all, it would seem like experience is more important than education in these recent decades.
This is probably true when it comes to entry or mid-level jobs, again, depending on the field you’re working in. Higher level jobs, usually require some form of higher education. And once you reach that level, it’s going to be harder to take time off from work, to go back to college.
There’s a reason this discussion has been going on for such a long time. While it may feel like it’s only recently just started, this debate has existed ever since formal education became widely available. And it’s probably never going to end because there is no definitive answer. It’s a question that everyone has to ask themselves. But you shouldn’t expect a universally correct answer because there pretty much isn’t one.