Every once in a while I’ll be engaged in a conversation with someone who never went to college or who didn’t finish their degree program. Sometimes, these conversations hit a brick wall when that person makes a reference towards how they don’t need a piece of paper to be smart or knowledgeable on an issue. On its face, this is a really awkward statement – I’m not sure if there are any people in this world who believe that obtaining a piece of paper will make them smarter. Well, maybe some of those people who think that Harry Potter is real would think that a piece of paper makes them smart, but they are few and far in between!
Whenever this comes up in a conversation, it’s usually a pretty depressing point in the discussion because it shows a severe lack of understanding as to what a college degree actually does for a person. Obtaining a piece of paper that says “Bachelors of the Arts” or “Bachelor of Science” in any particular discipline does not make you a know-it-all genius on that topic. Yeah, you may know more facts and figures than the average person, but that would be expected, right?
The real benefit of getting that piece of paper is gaining access to an opportunity. That’s right – access to opportunities is what that college degree gets you in the real world. How many times have you looked at job descriptions and they say, “Bachelor’s Degree required?” Even if you’ve seen that requirement just once, you’ve seen how that piece of paper can grant you access to an opportunity that non college graduates cannot access. It’s just the way the business world is these days.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a multitude of excellent, high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. And many people from older generations would argue that the best way to gain better access to opportunities is to enter the military. I would probably agree with that for certain segments of the population today, too. But that doesn’t negate the fact that a college degree is a tremendous help in obtaining access to certain opportunities.
What many college graduates will tell you is that there are other benefits to going to college. In particular, they’d probably cite maturing socially and beginning to build a broad professional network as the top two non-academic benefits. These two benefits can be achieved in any number of ways including joining certain on-campus clubs, fraternities, sororities, student government, honor societies, etc. Those students that choose to engage in a meaningful dialogue with their professors outside of the classroom are probably the smartest students on campus. Why? Well, if you’re a young person starting out, why wouldn’t you want to connect with a professor who might have come from the business world and thus has a large network of seasoned professional contacts? Talk about an easy way to get an internship or a job out of college!
That aspect of the college experience has worked for me. I received my adjunct professor job through the recommendation of two former professors who I got to know outside of the classroom. One of them has also gotten me an online teaching position at a different university. I would have never been able to get these teaching gigs without the network that I built while in college.
There are a lot of aspects of college life that are beneficial to the eventual graduate (and even more benefits to the eventual masters degree graduate or doctoral graduate).