I was 19 at the time. Just 2 months away from my 20th birthday. I flew to the capital to read law for my bachelor’s degree. I got my accommodation in check and my books in order. Time to start preparing for the rest of my life.
Looking back, there were many things I would have done differently (mostly how serious I should have been when it came to my studies). But what disturbs me most are the realities after graduation.
If I were to go back in time and tell my young self what I know now, I would tell him this:
1) Know yourself (and follow through)
Self-awareness is key when it comes to anything in life. I believe all students should learn about what makes them tick and what excites them from a very early age.
Learn to identify your inclinations – what types of activities naturally appeal to you.
Preferably in your teenage years, experiment with different tasks and find out which activity excites you and completely consumes your thoughts even as you fall asleep.
For me, I had my lucky break when I was 19 when I figured out that I was obsessed about the creative process. I would spend hours editing the graphics of our school yearbook and that I could only enjoy it if I had total creative freedom.
But it still wasn’t exactly clear. Does it mean that I can only be a graphic designer for the rest of my life? I wasn’t that eager either.
I thought I wanted to be a journalist, since my writing impressed my teachers. But then I realized that the workflow of it all was too daunting for me. The ambulance chasing and the need to be shameless wasn’t my cup of tea.
I eventually read law, since I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do just yet. It seemed practical and made the most sense at the time. But I dreaded it, I didn’t enjoy it.
It wasn’t until after my finals that I decided to really dig deep and read up on all the books on business, marketing and psychology that I decided what I wanted to do. I had to find myself.
After 3 months of reading and watching as many online courses as possible, I figured out the 3 things to consider for your dream career:
The intersection between what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and what is needed in the market.
If your path does not require certification to achieve it (Greek studies, political science), spend the time instead to apprentice under the masters of the field.
There is nothing that can replace human-to-human learning in real world environments.
2) Your degree is no guarantee
Some credentials weigh heavier than others. But most don’t carry weight at all.
In the working world, we are at the mercy of the employer’s whims and the economic times.
Your hard earned 3 year qualification gets you through the door.
But the rest of the process is up to you, literally.
College doesn’t train you to ace an interview or write a CV. Heck, it doesn’t even teach you how to perform or how to learn and work well with others on the job.
The presumption is as though that you will graduate and all you need is yourself to succeed. You got branded with the university stamp on your head and suddenly you are valuable.
But take an ear to anyone who is successful and they all say they couldn’t have done it on their own. It takes a lot of people to get a lot of things done.
The more sociable you are, the higher your chances of getting hired. Employers don’t just look for skilled labour, they are also looking for colleagues.
When you have been unemployed for months after graduation, you will feel down and wonder what is wrong with yourself. What is the solution?
Get a Master’s Degree! That will help, right?
It helps, but don’t count on it.
Like all certifications, they are certifications – proof that you completed the course with the required competence. Nothing more.
3) Debt: Our parents told us never to spend more than we have, right?
In most cases, our college education is financed by student loans.
While we all bask in the enjoyment of having the money come in like clockwork between semesters, when it’s time to pay it back – it’s a whole other picture.
You are suddenly tasked with paying back (plus interest), an amount that would take you at least a few years of strict budgeting to achieve.
When I say budgeting, I mean forget about the first car or dream house, live like a miser and save every penny.
For some, the debt is so insurmountable it could take a decade.
Considering opportunity costs – if one were to apprentice instead of spending the 6 figures for a bachelor’s degree (don’t forget lodging and living expenses), you will wind up with more experience and expertise, more money and the potential to actually specialize in something right away.
If it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in a field as author Malcolm Gladwell cited in his book Outliers, then the 3 year apprenticeship has already gotten you halfway there.
It’s simply more strategic to learn on someone else’s time, make enough to sustain yourself in the beginning, learn as much as you can, get smart and not be in debt at the end of it all.
4) Real world skills happen in the real world
The biggest drawback I experienced after working for a while is that college doesn’t provide hands on experience.
The truth about most companies is that – as long as you are a valuable asset to them, and you can produce results on time and reliably, that’s all you need.
Larger corporations will put a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for you to enter. It is simply a vetting process so that they can end up with a smaller pool to interview.
Sure, college degree’s will help you jump a few ranks. So what?
Compared to a person who joined the company since graduating high school with a serious drive and ambition to learn versus a person who just graduated college with little ambition, the former will be miles ahead by the time the latter gets his or her scroll.
On-the-job experience + self-education > no experience + formal education. Any day.
So the question is…. Should you still go to college?
It’s entirely up to you. But my criteria is that these two things be checked.
1) You actually need the certification in order to practice.
Professionals that are regulated by bodies need certification, there is no other way around it. Doctors, lawyers, accountants – you get the idea.
2) You got into an elite once-in-a-lifetime school
If you could get into the Harvard’s of the world, go for it.
Life is about experiences, and getting into an elite school is one of them.
Take the opportunity to connect with as many like-minded people as possible.
They are not easy to come around and you want to seize it while you can.
College is often viewed as the default path to go on. It’s considered necessary and expensive.
Still looking forward to going to college?