Rogue Ink

May 15, 2008

My Useless College Education

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 4:37 am
Tags: , ,

I was just thinking I should write a post on college, since my brother is graduating from his. And then, in my spam filter, I caught this little gem, which for reasons unknown to me, was under the heading “Business College.”

Hustler is a new realistic dong that will definitely be useful in your next passionate play.

I do not see why you would have to go to business college to determine that, but there you have it.

Which brings me to my topic for today. College. Why do we go, and what good is it?

One of my biggest regrets in life is going to college. I can say this not because I had a bad time in college, but because, given the choice to either go to college or check out what’s behind door number two in my history, I’d be excited to try door number two. That’s rare. Usually I’m kind of hippie-esque on this one (California roots, people. I believe in the power of organic vegetables and homeopathy and good vibes. Also, Asian fusion). For the most part, even if a particular choice was rough, I learned enough from it that I wouldn’t undo it.

There’s a saying I’m told is Romani, to the effect that you should never retrace your steps unless you’re willing to undo that portion of your life. This freaked me out to the extent that I have only ever taken highway 80 cross-country going one direction. And I go cross-country a lot. To the detriment of my car and my sanity and my bank account. I like driving. I like the open road. And I have become very well acquainted with the southern alternate route to 80. If you speed, it’s just as fast.

Unless you speed on 80 too. Then it’s a little slower. But prettier.

All of that is to say that given the choice to unwalk that path, to do something else with the three years I was in college (I finished, I finished, I’m just bright), I would take that chance. I would pick the red pill.

College Was Kind of Useless for My Profession

Everything I needed to know to be a writer I already knew by eighth grade. This is true, and it saddens me that most eighth graders do not graduate middle school with that capacity. I had excellent grammar and spelling skills and I read enough to know the difference between awkward and smooth phrasing. I started rewriting white papers for my mother when I was fifteen.

If I had been smarter, I would have started my business while I was still in high school. I could have been home free by now. I could have been keeping this blog for seven, eight years, people. You could have had SO much more Roguish in your diet.

I didn’t. I went to college. And I studied a lot of literature and philosophy and Shakespeare, spent an enjoyable three months in Rome on a study abroad venture, and weaseled my way through environmental science and French and Italian. It was fun. I like learning. I like academia.

It was completely and utterly useless to my profession.

I have never been asked for any of the skills I developed in college. I took precisely one class that offered the basics of business writing, and it was excellent, but I’m certain I would have learned more or less the same thing on the job if I had chosen instead to go be a stringer at an alt-weekly or write copy freelance as I do now. No one has ever asked me if Poe was being ironic when he claimed that he used only the forces of logic and reason, not intuition or experimentation, when he chose the rhyme scheme, meter, subjects, and scansion of ‘The Raven’ (Answer: he damn well better have been being ironic, because otherwise he was a tool).

People say you go to college for the experience. I say, that was a damned expensive experience. It cost me something like a hundred grand to go to the University of Chicago for three years, and that was with a sizable academic grant. I met people. I learned things. It’s a phenomenal school full of very smart people, and if I were planning on studying the origins or new virtues of something for the rest of my life, archaeology or economics or literature, I’d have gone again. I’d have taken the blue pill.

But I’m a writer. Writers write. I didn’t write more because I went to college, I wrote less, since I was working to support myself through it and trying to study for exams and come up with new interpretations of Much Ado. Writers write, that simply, and being in debt never made it any easier on us.

What say the rest of you? College or real-life experience? Red or blue pill?

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31 Comments »

  1. If the only purpose of college was job skills training, then, yes, most college educations would be a waste of time and money.

    College does serve other purposes, though: it allows you to enjoy life (when else do you have so many privileges and opportunities with relatively few responsibilities?), it teaches you critical thinking skills, and provides chances for networking (which can help you find a job, even if it doesn’t train you to do the job).

    Also, this isn’t the reason you go to college per se, but a lot of people find their future spouses in college (I know I did).

    Comment by ubuntucat — May 15, 2008 @ 4:47 am | Reply

  2. Tei

    I went to University for 10 years (did the grad school thing). Even got a Piled Higher and Deeper diploma (so theoretically, I’m Doctor Friar) 🙂

    It was good for what I wanted to do at the time. There was a glorious 3-4 year period when I was working in my field and all was well.

    But I ended up changing jobs. Then a few lay-offs. And Like Icarus, I flew too close the Sun of Academia and got burnt. I almost (but not quite) became a prof. What I’m doing now has almost NOTHING to do with what I studied.

    I remember being really passionate about all the math and science we got to study in undergrad. However, in real life, I get to use mabye 1% of it.

    The engineering degree is useful, more as a means to guarantee a decent salary, rather than having a skilled profession I can apply.

    You know…the concept of Bessel functions or Entropy has not come up once in my 20 year professional career. Not once.

    Fugacity either.

    Comment by Friar — May 15, 2008 @ 6:15 am | Reply

  3. Interesting point, Tei. It raises the whole debate about what college is “for” (is that the right use of the rabbit ears? I can’t remember). Is it an experience in itself, or is it a degree factory, that’s here simply to train workers? Actually, I have a lot to say on this subject, so I will not add more here. I’ll write my own post one day and just ping ya.

    Comment by sunili — May 15, 2008 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  4. College, hell: I’m a high school dropout. No, not the leather jacket, job at a gas station kind, but the “in gifted and talented programs right to the last day kind” who can zip through the “don’t worry, dear nobody can finish these” IQ tests in fifteen minutes and sit bored for the rest of the allotted time. That kind of high school drop out (and there are more of us than you might think).

    Earlier this week or perhaps late last there was a NPR interview on this subject: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90374583 “Are College Degrees a Waste of Money?”

    One of the arguments against that idea is the oft repeated statistics that college graduates earn more money. At http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i34/34b01701.htm (“America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree”) Marty Nemko says:

    “Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that’s terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they’d still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they’re brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.”

    I passionately agree, and recommend reading the rest of that article and listening to the interview.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 15, 2008 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  5. Tei,

    First, did I ever say that I love your long posts? I LOVE YOUR LONG POSTS. Thank goodness some writers are not afraid they’ll bore us if they get a WHOLE thought out.

    Moving on… Ah, there’s been a lot of talk about this lately. (Try this one: http://bigbrightbulb.com/in-general/born-to-and-born-for-our-crooked-paths#more-176 , for instance. It’s a good discussion.) Which path is best? Couple of thoughts:

    One, I know it seems you’d be exactly the same either way. You wouldn’t be, and that’s that.

    You can only delight us in exactly this way because of everything, including the University of Chicago. Maybe you could delight us in some other way, or maybe your rapier wit was too juvenile before and you would always have sounded like a boring, unworldly, selfish teen, even at forty. We’ll never know, because this cool chick is who you are. That’s because of the “experience” thing, and the actual education that took place. You can’t separate them.

    Two, there is no bigger proponent of a college education than I, for the reasons above. However, as the dude on the porch said in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people,” and I’ve noticed that the educating part often sails right past the young, who churn out the grades with little regard for why they’re there or whether they’re even doing what they want. I can say that with assurance because I did it both ways: as smartass on fine scholarships as a tender teen, and later as an adult, knowing exactly what I wanted from the education and getting ten times more out of it because I had some life under my belt. I didn’t understand it the first time, but when I went back I could really see the difference between the “kids” and me. I was there to learn. They were there to graduate. Learning would have to slip in their back door unannounced.

    Can’t recommend Door #2, ‘cuz it’s closed, and I wouldn’t if I could. People who would never go back should at least do it once, and it makes sense at the end of high school when we’re used to the routine. If you ever get the bad taste out of your mouth, say in five or six years, consider doing it again. You’re a wise owl now, but that might make all the difference.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    P.S. I love 80, I’ve driven both ways many times, and I’ve survived. 🙂

    Comment by Kelly — May 15, 2008 @ 10:17 am | Reply

  6. @Kelly

    But why did you need college to learn?

    Whatever you want to know is available in books and nowadays a lot is no farther away than your web browser. If you are motivated to learn, why would you need someone else directing your path? My feeling is that you can learn far more (and much more quickly) by your own initiative.

    And what about this, from that same article I referenced above:

    “A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below “proficient” levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.”

    I’d say that argues that college is a pretty poor way to get an education.. and that perhaps you learned in spite of that rather than because of it.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 15, 2008 @ 10:39 am | Reply

  7. @ Kelly
    Kelly, your point nails it! I completely agree with you. And sometimes, the college degree, even the one gained without a particular regard to the grades, is merely a proof (a solid one) that you can commit to something and go through with it. And that’s a virtue that will open many doors in life for you.

    @ Friar
    Friar, I need to ask you this: did you really want to become a professor and why didn’t you? (I know it can get a little more personal, but any thought on Academia could actually help me in my decision making process).

    Comment by Dren — May 15, 2008 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  8. I loved all seven years of college. It was a great experience. Unfortunately, I learned almost nothing there that I use on a regular basis.

    I’m from the school of “If you don’t go to college, you won’t get a good job.” Now, armed with a degrees in Medieval Literature and Roman History, I have a great job. That uses neither of those degrees.

    The push used to be to graduate high school. Now the push is for college. For some people–doctors, lawyers, etc.–higher education is necessary. Learning those skills with life experience is impractical and unrealistic.

    For those of us who rely on skills, college is what is impractical, often only leaving us in debt and without much new knowledge. Life experience is really the only way to learn and refine a skill. More often by our failures than our successes, unfortunately.

    Comment by kidderfrenzy — May 15, 2008 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  9. “Thank goodness some writers are not afraid they’ll bore us if they get a WHOLE thought out.”

    I’ll cautiously agree, though I don’t think that’s a winning strategy for the web in general. Sound bites are more like it, sadly. Then again, with most folks, do I really want to read more than a sound bite?

    Which reminds me once again of the perplexing popularity of Seth Godin we discussed in some other thread. Sound bite king, I think.. but never mind, yes, I too enjoy Tei’s refusal to bow to the “500 words or less” rule.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 15, 2008 @ 11:29 am | Reply

  10. Like Friar, I have a degree in a subject I don’t really use today. However, the degree I’m working toward now…I use the stuff I learn in class every single day at work. Most eighth graders don’t know how to calculate bulk index or why garlic sometimes causes tomato sauce to gel. I can see why you feel like you didn’t learn anything you need for your job in college.

    I’d argue that you did. Writers need to be sponges and they also need to be well versed in a variety of topics. By studying Shakespeare and philosophy and all those other wacky things, you learned a lot about the world. Moreover, you learned how to learn and how to think. These are skills that are vital to your job today.

    Comment by Sandie — May 15, 2008 @ 11:38 am | Reply

  11. Hmmm. Food for thought yet again! This has come up countless times between my friends and me. I’ve always said given the choice now I wouldn’t go to university. But I think it’s really the shitload-of-student-loans-I-still-have-after-ten-years-and-that-have-kept-me-in-relative poverty speaking. While reading your post, Tei, I was nodding my head the whole time. Then I read Kelly’s comment and I nodded there, too. Wise words. Generally, I liked my time at university, all five years, though I couldn’t wait to be free by the end. I learned so much because I was there to learn, not necessarily because I thought it’s what came next. But university affected my psychological development far more than it was ever relevant regarding my career. Had I not gone I would never, I think, have been pushed as far past what I thought was my potential as I was. I did really amazing things there. I think what bothers me most about university or college (besides the ridiculous cost) is that we’re simply conditioned to think this is what we must do: go to school to get a good education to get a good job…and as Friar said, most people aren’t even doing anything remotely related to their studies. We don’t find relevant jobs, or if we do, we don’t stay in them for twenty-plus years as our parents did. (That said, having one’s own business beats having a JOB hands down in countless ways. But that’s another topic in itself.)

    While struggling with this shitty debtload, which I think is totally too much to have paid for *anything* especially since I’ve probably paid it twice over by now with all the interest and such, I still think I can’t say I regret school. As much as I was an intelligent kid with great grades, I had so much to learn about life and fear and triumph, and I got a lot of that there. Truly, it was formative in a much more valuable way than being relative to my career, and I’m not certain I could have got that anywhere else considering the circumstances. That said, I still wouldn’t say if you’ve never been you *have* to go or you’ll never be a whole person or the person you could be. Because life is all about choice, it’s the opportunities we create for ourselves that make us who we are. It’s totally possible you could be just as great albeit in a different way without having gone to college. This is really about regret, I think, and I’d have to agree with Kelly on this one: you wouldn’t be the same without having gone. The past has made you who you are. And we’re all ecstatic about that! Best, perhaps, to love that and instead of making college relevant only to your career, discover what it positively contributed to you. Everything is how we choose to interpret it. Find a different way to think about your three years and there’ll be no more regret.

    Comment by steph — May 15, 2008 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  12. Well, good morning, all. The debate got going early.

    Thanks for chiming in, newbies. Welcome to Rogue Ink, where we hate on our excellent educations.

    ubuntucat: Frankly, I had quite a few responsibilities in college. I paid for my own room and board, which meant I held down a job while going to classes. I bought my first car, paid the insurance, and repaired it. I bought my own clothes and books and sundries. I realize that many kids go to college entirely on their parents’ dime, but that wasn’t an option for me. I was probably more stressed about my responsibilities then than now.

    sunili: Go for it. I’ll come on by and see what your side’s all about.

    Tony: Thanks for the interviews – I’ve read that article. I agree wholeheartedly – far too many statistics touted refuse to differentiate between cause and effect. Students from poorer neighborhoods don’t tend to go to college – clearly because they’re stupid, right? So poor kids are stupider kids? And conversely rich kids are smarter? Right? Right?

    Kelly: I’ve held off grad school for exactly that reason. If I ever go, I’ll know why I’m there and what I’m hoping to learn. I’ll continue to disagree that ‘experience’ is wholly to blame for what shaped my personality – there was quite a bit of other activity going on during my college years which I would have continued. For example, I would still have held down a job, still have read more books than is entirely healthy for my waning vision, and still have been the project manager for my friend’s aspiring business. I would have missed out on a bunch of philosophy discussions, a sweet but dull boyfriend, and dorm food. Otherwise, I didn’t really participate in the college life because it wasn’t that interesting to me. The education, the actual process of going to classes and debating topics, is what I would have missed out on, and frankly, as long as my friends are as smart as my friends tend to be, I would have done that in the off hours anyway. I did, actually. Still do.

    Thanks for the compliment on the long posts. I’m not really trying to give you guys a newsletter here. We’re having late-night pub talks. Glad you like ’em.

    Dren: Committing to something and going through with it is a virtue that can be exemplified in many other ways. I would have considered it a greater virtue, now and then, to have chosen a profession directly out of high school and spent all my time in pursuit of that goal. Going to college simply indicates that you’re capable of following the crowd, which, last I checked, was not considered overly admirable.

    kidderfrenzy: With you on that one. This post isn’t to say that academia isn’t useful for a variety of professions. Doctors come immediately to mind. Engineers, mathematicians, teachers, web programmers. There are a lot of professions where the initial training and mind-shaping takes place in college, and for those people, I think college is a great idea. For me, as a writer, I put forth the theory that it contributed no more to my writing career, and very likely less, than time in the professional field would have done. Certainly, it would have been less restrictive.

    Tony: As for success on the web – different is better. Seth Godin said so himself.

    Sandie: I didn’t learn how to learn and think. I knew those from grade school and high school. I DID learn how to write a successful academic paper, how to demonstrate viable scientific proof of global warming, and how to shoot pool. I’ll argue I could have learned those on my own, with the following piece of infinite wisdom I gathered somewhere around third grade:

    If you don’t know how to do something, ask someone who does.

    I’m pretty sure I could have gathered most of the information I learned in college by following that tenant.

    Comment by Tei — May 15, 2008 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  13. @Dren

    I wanted to become a prof for years. My Uncle was one, and it looked like a cool job. I loved the science-geek part of it (lab experiments and research). And I loved the teaching part. I’ve always loved teaching.

    I was actually good at it too, and shortly after graduation, I was getting recruited by some universities. But I wanted a break from Academia so I worked in the “real world” for a while.

    A few years later, I was applying again for prof jobs. I even came quite close to getting a serious position. I was within the top few candidates, I was told.

    The problem was, that in my last few jobs, I hadn’t published anything. (Not my fault, the jobs just didnt’ offer the chance to publish).

    So here I was, a 40-something with “only” 8-9 papers to my name. I was candidly told by some of my colleagues that honestly, it was unlikely that I’d be hired at any major university at this point. Because there were 30 year olds out there with twice as many papers to their name.

    This seemed to ring true…after almost getting hired, from then on I was being turned down everywhere I applied (except for mabye some interviews in the Univeristy of Armpit, Northern Ontario).

    As much as it’s a stereotype, “Publish or Perhish” is true. It’s total bullshit, but that’s the way it is.

    I haven’t published a paper now in 4 years, and I’m probably considered an “Academic has-been”.
    I’m still kinda disspointed about this.

    But in consolation, my prof friends are working evenings and weekends marking papers and sweating over research grants.

    Meanwhile I have a 9-to-5 job with weekends off and lots of free time to do what I want. And I make the same money they do.

    Comment by Friar — May 15, 2008 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

  14. Tei, I don’t regret college but I agree that nothing I learned there taught me the skills I needed in the real world. I was a pre-med major, psychobiology and yes I worked in healthcare for two decades but college (other than the piece of paper that said USC Graduate) did not help me succeed in the workplace. One of my pet peeves in the US is that we should be training people to earn a living with or without college. Young people should be able to graduate from high school and have the skills to earn a living. Everyone is not cut out for college, and for some it does not serve a purpose, yet we have accepted that the only way to a career is through the gated walls of higher academia. It’s rubbish. A great example is Cameron Johnson. He was a teenage self made millionaire. By age 22 he had already created 12 companies. He went to college only to realize that he could teach the courses! He was already doing what they were teaching. I’m not anti-college but I dont’ ascribe to the elitist view that it is essential.

    Comment by Karen Swim — May 15, 2008 @ 2:06 pm | Reply

  15. An employer once told me that the reason they require a degree has more to do with the discipline it took to achieve it than the actual studies that were taken. I agree, I think that for most, college is an expensive life experience that could have been otherwise learned through real life experiences and on-job training.

    I tried college. But I wasn’t financially able to see it through. I worked full-time since I was 16, and as tuition costs increased, my studies were abandoned. I have learned on the job more that I’d ever learn in a classroom, yet buying that piece of paper is the only thing that holds me back from moving into a higher position and a sizeable pay increase. I have the skills, but not the time or the money to get the degree. And for that, I am punished. It’s a vicious circle….

    Comment by Erica — May 15, 2008 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

  16. Tei,

    I don’t regret going to college as the experiences will stay with me forever. The most important thing I learned, was how to learn – that I truly could learn to do anything, on my own.

    Of course, some people figure that out without going to college, and that’s good too.

    Probably the best thing I could ever say, though (and a lot of the readers here already know that), is “don’t pigeonhole yourself”.

    Just because I have a Chemical Engineering degree doesn’t mean I can’t be a writer, or a computer programmer, or a painter. I can learn. And so can you.

    -Brett

    Comment by Brett Legree — May 15, 2008 @ 2:43 pm | Reply

  17. So which one is the red pill then? I never went to college, having grown up in Switzerland, we don’t have the same schooling system and while we go to grammar and then high school that’s it. Moi, I fluked higher studies which (apparently I was destined for according to my teachers) due to my inborn laziness when it comes to study.

    If that means I am for the green pill because I prefer real life experience, then so be it. Either way, pills suck and so does college.

    How many times do we see drop outs who become success stories. I think in the end it doesn’t matter what we study or not, but what we make out of life.

    Comment by Monika Mundell — May 15, 2008 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  18. Fab post, fab perspective, fab comments…I love coming over here.

    Re: Choosing a college major—A college education can be a good thing, but I like the idea of taking a year or two after high school to experience different fields of study with internships, etc. to choose a well-suited major.

    It still scares the hell out of me that I made the supposedly life-directing—and certainly expensive—choice of my college major when I was 18. Way before I was legal to drink. Not that the drinking would have helped me make a more suitable choice, but ya never know.

    Re: The power in that paper—Everyone who said a degree is good to have for getting jobs, I’m with you. Even if we don’t use the knowledge, the degree is good for leverage. Many times my (thoroughly irrelevant) college degree nudged me to the top of a candidate list and bumped up a starting salary.

    I’ve done the potential-job-candidate-walk-around and been introduced by my degree, not my experience, “This is Crystal, she has a degree in Architecture from Virginia Tech.” And 85% of the time hearing that sentence changed people’s body language. Notably. Who knows what the hand-shaker thought they were looking at, but it required a visible reset.

    Once, a just-hired supervisor ran me out of a job I was exceptional at (albeit overqualified for) after she found I had a degree (she didn’t). She sabotaged me whenever she could get away with it and told a coworker why (who, of course, told me). True story! Also the best thing that ever happened to me.

    Many people respond to the degree, whether for good or for ill. It’s powerful stuff.

    So for working freelance, maybe no college. And like Karen said, college isn’t for everyone, and it’s surely not necessary for everything…heck, my hairdresser makes 2x-3x more than I ever made!

    But for getting into and moving forward in the office work world? Yah. A college degree appears to help lots. And while I very rarely pull the race/gender card, I’m hafta say I suspect my degree opened a lot of doors that would have been shut otherwise .

    –Crystal

    Comment by Crystal — May 15, 2008 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

  19. Hey, I am a high school drop out TWICE.
    And then I scraped and scrapped and had many a sleepless single Mom life to put myself through college just to get an associatess degree and I don’t regret a single minute of it. Beats being a double time drop out.
    I am half way through my next degree ( not currently enrolled but have the plans mapped out) and Tei, you are right,I don’t need it and I will get that anyway and then go on from there. Learning keeps my brain on high alert.What you did was the big bucks and yep, there were probably cheaper ways, so I understand some expence regret.
    I always wanted to go to Nothwestern ( Love Purple and I wouldn’t be painting either) But I found cheaper choices for my budget.

    I could see being in school in my 90’s some day. I am a lifetime learner.

    Comment by wendikelly — May 15, 2008 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  20. I’ve often wondered the same thing about my Bachelor’s! I can see your point, if you do, in fact, know what you want to do at a young age.
    I had no clue.
    I have a BA in French Lit, thought I wanted to be a missionary and then a Prof. When it came time for Grad School, all of my entrepreneurial ambition came crashing through. Had I known myself better, or had more confidence, I COULD have always known that I AM a small business owner at heart. But I didn’t know that and through my experiences in college, I got to know myself better. I paid for it all myself (with the help of scholarships) and have such small student loans (which I still can barely afford); it was worthwhile for me.
    Oh yeah, I’m also a total cliche and met my husband at school…and all my closest girlfriends. So there’s not a chance I would give up those opportunities.

    Comment by Tara — May 15, 2008 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  21. Sandie: I might not be the same, but I’d be willing to find out who else I might have been. That was more the point. I think the experiences I had in college didn’t shape me in ways I was particularly proud of, or glad of. They weren’t even, by and large, learning experiences, which is ironic. I didn’t take away any valuable lessons from them.

    Friar: Evil professoral folk. I got to be party to all the political madness for my senior year, when my creative writing prof got into a kerfuffle worthy of attention by your Splat Creek seniors. Elistist monkeys (except for my beloved David Bevington, Professor of Shakespearean Awesomeness). You don’t need ’em. You are the master of an awesome pun.

    Karen: That was actually why I wound up going. My mother went to college back when it wasn’t as common, and she was convinced no one would ever hire me if I didn’t have a degree from an exceptional university. Now I’ve got it, and damned if no one ever asks for it. I’m a freelancer. They want to see samples, not education background.

    Erica: It is vicious. Too many employers look at the degree as legitimate experience. I knew a lot of people who drank and slept around for most of college, barely graduating, but that piece of paper will get them in a door where someone with only a high school degree and ten years of experience in the field can’t go. See Friar: elitist bastards, and papers.

    Crystal: I have that experience a lot, but I think it has to do with the assumption that I’m stupid. I’m blond and pretty and young, and generally when I’m introduced to people who weren’t in charge of the hiring process, they assume that’s why I’m there. Saying ‘University of Chicago graduate’ generally shakes them up, but so does getting out a sentence with words of more than two syllables and no ‘like’s. I think it’s just proof of intelligence, and too many people assume that women don’t come equipped with it.

    Gods, that sounds feminist. I’m not really that gung-ho about it. I’ve found it incredibly easy to disillusion people and I can’t say my gender or my looks have ever held me back, but I am aware of the quick shift in assumption.

    Wendi: Terminal academics are awesome. Power on. If you’re going to school because you love learning, that’s the best possible reason to be there. I wasn’t going for that. I was going for the degree.

    Tara: Ah, yes. Many people DO go to college to figure out what they want to do. I would suggest, very gently, that it’s better to figure out what you want to do and then go to college to learn whatever it is you need to know to perform well. It’s a lot of money to waste while you’re making up your mind. It’s why so many people change majors and take extra years.

    I didn’t meet any soul-mate sort of friends in college. A couple of great people who I’ll be glad to see every few years, but no one I became incredibly close to. A lot of people do, and I can see the value of that. My friends were mostly outside of that sphere. They were in high school too, come to think of it . . .

    Comment by Tei — May 15, 2008 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

  22. @Tei — LOL! Okay, you said outright what I was tiptoeing around. Yes, interviewers, new supervisors, co-workers, new customers and clients, and most (though not all) of the strangers of my professional life responded like they thought I was a dunce and were pleasantly (or not so pleasantly) surprised to find I wasn’t.

    My favorite was overhearing a new supervisor say to a crony, “Well, Crystal is just terrific. I mean, I hired her because she was black, and come to find she actually knows what she’s doing and does a great job.” Lovely.

    That said, I wanna emphasize that I’ve had the not-what-I-expected response from folks of all genders and colors. It’s an equal opportunity thing.

    Carry on pretty-blond-young Tei! This average-curly-aging chick is loving that you’ve seen the Assumption Shift. I’ve trained myself to view it with humor instead of offense, and knowing that you’ve experienced it too makes it that much funnier. Many thanks!

    Comment by Crystal — May 15, 2008 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  23. Crystal: I shall totally be blogging about this shortly, the Assumption shift. If you don’t mind, I believe I would very much like to quote you. That’s quite possibly the best overheard comment EVER.

    Folks aren’t really racist/sexist anymore, it seems, just prejudiced. Pre-inclined toward an assumption. If you show that you don’t fit the stereotype they had in mind, I’ve found that every one of the people I work with had absolutely no trouble rearranging their assumptions about me. I’m sure the next chick that walked in the door got the same treatment, though. Slow process, but aren’t we glad they’ve stopped just continuing to treat us like shit just because we aren’t middle-aged white men? Now it’s over in about five minutes. That’s pretty good.

    Who knows. Maybe in another half a century they’ll just forget about that five minutes. A girl can dream.

    Comment by Tei — May 15, 2008 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

  24. Tei—Dream on! I sure do. We’re living others’ 35 year old dreams right now. So maybe another 35-50 years really will do it? The world’s much smaller now, so thoroughly and irrevocably interconnected…maybe less than 35 years? Maybe much less?

    And I am so very glad folks have “stopped treating us like shit just because”—thanks for asking. We have a much easier shot at what we want (with a college degree, or without) than our moms did. I hadn’t thought about racist/sexist vs prejudiced…gonna chew on that, because I see big truth in it.

    My hubby-to-be (who isn’t black) gets a huge kick out of watching the Assumption Shift, by the way. Huge. We’ll be out choosing a restaurant for dinner and he’ll peek in a window at a monochrome customer-base, then say: “Hey, Babe, let’s eat here. We can scare all the white people.” Yup, a healthy sense of humor is key.

    And quote away! 😀

    Comment by Crystal — May 15, 2008 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

  25. Well, I went to college, finished it, and enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Course, I didn’t finish til I was upper 20s with a kid, so It hink the maturity level had a lot to do with what I got out of it.

    To the original blogger, you say you wrote well by eigth grade? Are you saying you’re done? That you write well and that’s it?Because I see writing as a continuously evolving thing. I can always be better. Hell, this post attests to that.

    The best thing that I got out of college was the luxury of spending 5ish years working exclusively on my reading and writing skills, being feverishly whipped by professors with radar critiques and big egos.

    In addition, the other classes- non writing classes- gave me a basis in other subjects that I could eventually turn into a yet ANOTHER SME area (which in turn becomes mo’money, mo’ money, mo’ money).

    I got employment in both of my college minors, and now, as a freelance writer, am often hired to write about those minors….Niches and all that jazz.

    You say writers write and I say writers get better with more writing. I ‘spose you can write outside of college, without all the damn debt, but in order to enjoy the sadomasochistic whipping— er I mean FEEDBACK of professors, you kinda got to pay them.

    Besides, you’re very ironic yourself, I’m thinking that’s a side effect of studying so much Poe. I bet it affected you more than you realize.

    Comment by allena — May 16, 2008 @ 12:27 am | Reply

  26. Allena: No, I certainly don’t think I knew all I was ever going to learn about writing by that point. I sincerely hope I’m never so egotistical as to think I know everything there is to know about writing. But in terms of having the capability to write consistently well, and being able to do so professionally, I began at a young age and I could have kept progressing without college. And, in fact, did. Though much of my college education involved writing, very little of it actually offered me any advice on how to go about it. There was a lot of, “No, that’s not it. Do it again,” which is about as much as one ever gets from a client, too. Up to me to continue to get better.

    Flogging – that’s true, but I’ll tell you that a client with a deadline is a pretty good flogger.

    As for the irony – that wasn’t Poe. That was my dad. Poe was about a week’s worth of study. I was just mad at him and his damned essay. Stuck-up bastard. OR fantastically ironic prankster. I prefer to believe the latter, just because it makes me feel better about loving the Tell-Tale Heart.

    Comment by Tei — May 16, 2008 @ 2:23 am | Reply

  27. I usually agree wholeheartedly with your posts but not so much on this one. I spent 6 years training to be an engineer. And now I make dog collars and I STILL owe more than $50,000 in student loans. But I wouldn’t trade those years for anything in the world.

    I learned how to reason, I learned how to politely and correctly express disagreement. I had a professor who would intentionally teach an entire class a false theorem just to see if anybody would disagree with an authority figure and from that I learned to question everything and not take things at face value.

    I learned how to have a debate, even a HEATED debate with another person and still go out for beer afterwards and remain friends.

    Sure I could have learned these things elsewhere. But the lesson above (questioning everything including authority figures) could have cost me a lot more than my tuition cost me had I learned it on a meaner playground.

    I also used the skills I learned in a much different way than I ever thought I would use them. I use my programming skills to work on my own website. I use my problem solving skills to methodically work through a design issue in my head. I used the mechanical “building” skills to create new things.

    While my degrees are significantly different from yours, I bet you could think of unusual ways that you use your degree – if nothing else, to impress us all when you pull some random quote out or talk about some really cool terminology that sparks an entire contest of bad jokes.

    I think college is a GOOD thing regardless of what you plan to do with your life later, for the reasons mentioned in others posts (networking, learning how to be an adult, sowing the oats and getting it out of your system, etc). Plus it is a nice piece of paper to pull out of your arse on a rainy day.

    So today, I respectfully disagree with you. Because I learned in college that I can do that. 😉

    Comment by Alisha — May 16, 2008 @ 3:59 am | Reply

  28. Alisha: You are welcome to dissent as much as you like. We shall respectfully disagree until the cows come home. I would say that this is indeed one of the things that happens a lot in college, but I don’t think many of us were clueless about it unless we were kind of socially inept (which there was ALSO a lot of in college).

    It was three years of my life. I keep thinking they might have been better spent. That’s all. No more, no less.

    Comment by Tei — May 17, 2008 @ 1:15 am | Reply

  29. Hi, I had to chime in on this one. I graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing in 1991. A *waste* of time and mine and my family’s money. I use writing skills in my field (tech support team lead for an electronic communications company), but what I use was inborn to me and also, I too had picked up what I’d have needed by eighth grade. Emerson sure as hell didn’t teach me to think critically–I didn’t pick *that* up till my mid-twenties. (Sad, I know.) I’ve now given up completely on ever being any kind of writer, and that’s perfectly fine by me.

    With the whole “opening doors” thing, I’ve actually decided to lie to people when asked directly, and tell them I don’t have a degree! I’m that embarrassed by such a useless and silly degree that I have, that I prefer not to even admit to it. One time at my company, I interviewed for a Marketing position with the VP in charge of that department. When he saw “Emerson” on my resume, he actually asked me “how someone from Emerson got here”!!! Having a degree from Emerson doesn’t open doors in the business world—it shuts them, because people can’t believe you’re serious-minded!

    I’ve had attempts by people in competitor and partner companies to recruit me due to my reputation and widely-acknowledged skills. I’ve never told any of them I have a degree, and that hasn’t stopped them. Reputation and skill *are* enough if those are circulated with the right group. When I’ve told some of them I don’t have a degree, yes they were surprised—but that didn’t stop them from coming to me to solve their problems, etc.

    I actually studied for a semester at UMass/Boston with the intention of getting a Master’s in English, till I gave that up. I realized what I was doing was silly and futile, and wasn’t teaching me anything, even for personal enjoyment or enrichment. As far as “life changing” experiences and all that from college, I see absolutely no one from my college years, have no ties to the Emerson community, and have no intention of pursuing any job as a writer, ever. If I clung to the advice I was given at Emerson, that would’ve doomed me to a life as a perpetual failure! I *don’t* use what I learned at Emerson because I’d be a wash-out if I did! Working and traveling, and having a great marriage, have taught me far more about life than anything I learned there.

    Any money I come into now will go into my house, or possibly towards my starting a new career for myself. It will not go to any school so I can get some piece of paper even more worthless than the one I have now. As far as a piece of paper showing you have the commitment to go through with anything, I look at my degree and can only think that it certifies me as having been a bubblehead in my early 20’s! For me I think “failure” when I look at it—not anything to be proud of. The only reason I haven’t thrown it in the garbage is because I intend to place it in my father’s casket when it comes his time to leave this world. Getting the degree gave my parents a fleeting moment of pride—only positive thing it ever did for me.

    Comment by Nick — June 1, 2008 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  30. […] well, but a degree. (The whole story’s in the comments of My Useless College Education, back here somewhere.) I’m going to quote her at length here. I’ve done the […]

    Pingback by Your Copywriter. Now In ‘Attractive.’ « Rogue Ink — June 17, 2008 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  31. Teri – I am glad that I got my degree (a BA) which took 10 years and many long drives to classes. BUT I wish someone had told me that there were other things you could study. I didn’t know you could take art, I didn’t know you study plants, I didn’t know that you could be creative.

    I have a degree in Psychology because at 17 I wanted to help people. Come to find out at 27 with a BA in Psychology I got a job which paid $16,000/per year as an entry level caseworker that I like eating more than helping people!!!

    I have gotten far more education from reading the works of people like Brian Tracy, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell that apply to my life and work than I EVER did from a textbook!!!

    Comment by Tara Jacobsen — June 19, 2008 @ 11:49 am | Reply


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