If College Is The New High School….

Little known JOBS PROGRAM provides plenty of work for everyone

What do you want to do with your life? (Image courtesy woodleywonderworks)

It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk

That’s a deeply depressing headline, if ever we saw one. Wasn’t the point of going to college to get in the door higher than entry-level? Or at least get past entry-level low-wage positions faster? Except as the article in the New York Times makes clear, the college degree has now become what the high school diploma used to be. You could argue that for a certain group of people in the US, this has always been the case. But in the last 40 years, as more people go to college, that has changed, and perplexingly so.

Higher education in the US is now that odd thing – a common thing that costs a lot of money. If anything, there is increasing discussion about how higher education may be the next big economic bubble. Because it simply isn’t sustainable for increasing numbers of people to graduate with ballooning student loans at ever flattening wages. And by the way, we’re just talking about a bachelor’s degree. We’re not even talking about a post graduate degree glut, which has its own issues depending on your field. Certainly, more people are beginning to reject the idea of college (something we’ve discussed on this blog before), or are more inclined to go indirect routes that used to be considered less desirable, such as transferring from community college, or MOOCs, for instance.

So what do we take away from this? We’d be remiss not to put in a pitch for internships and real life experience through programs like Advanse’s SPRINT and AMERIGO, which now matter more than ever before. But a few other things are equally important to note:

College doesn’t equal skills

College has always meant an education. That’s not the same as job training. And depending on what you learn, sometimes an education includes skills, and they can be subject-specific skills. It’s entirely common for STEM graduates to have no writing ability. Or for Humanities majors to lack the ability to read a basic Profit and Loss statement. To quote a great line from the movie Mississippi Masala, “They can take away everything from you. They cannot take away your education.” But it’s crucial to know what on-the-job skills you need for the career you want to pursue. And to know that a lot of basic office skills are simply not going to be part of the curriculum.

Expectation vs. Direct Instruction

Your professor’s job is to give you a good grounding in intellectual basics – critical thinking, knowledge, guidance in research. But basic everyday life and skills, being able to do your work on time, work with others, figure out interpersonal skills, comportment, they are not part of your professor’s job. They’re an expectation and outcome of those things. Your English professor isn’t going to show you HOW to do any of those things. An internship, a part-time job, a situation with a boss and a certificate or a paycheck? That’s where you learn things directly – how to comport yourself in the office meeting, dress for the meeting with the boss, draft a memo, work with others, run a meeting, speak persuasively in public …

Where you go matters as much as actually going

The “designer degree” from the elite institution…this has always been important. There’s a reason why places like Harvard or Yale, or the Oxbridge world are more competitive than schools that are equally good but that you’ve never heard of outside certain circles. With college now costing much more than it used to, where you go matters even more. All the more reason to really know what you want to do. Do you really want to be part of a certain club? Or do you want to do great graduate work in a particular field? Because if it’s the latter, then it might actually make more sense to go to the lesser known school where your education, access to leaders in the field, and network for future jobs is going to serve you better.

This is where it’s important to note that the untraditional, or what used to be considered “second choice,” is becoming more common. More students are realizing that if the ultimate goal is a post-graduate degree, then where you go for an undergraduate degrees is less important. Enter community colleges, or second-tier state colleges where you have more flexibility, cheaper tuition rates, and just as good an education.

Set Your Self Apart 

In a competitive job market where everyone has a degree, sometimes more than one, ask yourself while job-hunting, “What can YOU offer?” Why are you going to be an attractive candidate? How can you do the job, fix a problem, rise to the occasion? This is where it’s useful to remember the Italian expression, “It’s not the label that makes the outfit special, it’s how it looks on you!” If you’re starting your job search from scratch, then find out what’s most attractive about you – rather than your degree or where you went to school. Use your resume to demonstrate why you are the best choice. Because it makes more sense to look for work where you’re a good fit, rather then where all the other job seekers are, right?