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Is College A Waste Of Time?

3 November 2009 27 Comments

I’ve recently done a great deal of thinking about the entire American education process.  As a new parent, I’ve really started to brainstorm the best path for my child and future children.  While college is very far away for my kids, it’s an interesting topic, especially since I’m only a few years out of college.

A little background… school was always something that I was good at.  This is not to toot my own horn, but to help provide context for my college experience.  Because, in some respect, many aspects of my education came fairly easy to me, my work ethic towards school was awful.  I learned pretty early that I could get by, even ace, some tests with nothing more than some last minute cramming.  Naturally, this stayed with me into college.

I scored a 1380 on the SAT back in 2000/2001 and went to the University of Florida.  While not Ivy league, UF is easily the hardest school to get into in Florida and currently, the average SAT score for incoming students is in the high 1300 range I believe.  I majored in Computer Science (an above average program with regards to difficulty) and minored in Business Administration.  I graduated in 4 years with a 3.7 GPA and had a great job prior to graduation.  A success, right?  Yes and no.

Now, that you’ve read the resume version of my education, let’s look at the real version of my education.  I can say with confidence that I probably attended less than 50% of my classes.  I had incredible amounts of free time.  What do I have to show for my free time?  Memorization of movies such as Rounders, an above average tolerance for alcohol, and a high interest in the stock market (ok, the last one isn’t bad).  The point is, that if I worked hard and had a system that was more applicable, that education should have taken 2 years max.  There was a great deal of wasted time and money that was a part of these 4 years.

Pros and Cons

On the plus side, having a degree is essential for landing high paying jobs and starting your career.  Besides the simple “check mark” that a degree offers you, many companies use the college campus to do recruiting.  It’s much easier to get a job while you’re still in school than a year out of school in my opinion.

Furthermore, many students do mature and become independent by going off to school.  While this is true for me, I also did the stupidest things I’ve ever done during my years in college (not exactly a sign of maturation).  I won’t get into details here. Lastly, while not as important, there’s nothing I’d trade for the ability to wake up on Saturdays in the fall and go to a Gator game each week.

On the negative side, there is a great deal of wasted time.  Even when I was actively learning, only a small segment of what I learned in college actually became applicable to my work or career.  While there is an argument to be made for a “well rounded education”, some of my classes were well outside this label of well roundedness.  For example, in my computer science program, some of the theoretical math classes I took were insane.  Since the day I left that course, never again have I heard nor will hear of anything discussed in that class.  Ok, whatever.

The one highly marketable skill that I have, my development/programming skills didn’t really even come from college course work.  They came from picking it up on my own, and they grew 5x during my first year of work for Accenture (not from course work).  My business skills?  Marketing & management were both a joke.  I picked up some basic financial and accounting skills through those classes, but overwhelmingly, everything I know about business, entrepreneurship, finance, the stock market has come from real world experience and reading on my own.

Final Thoughts

The society and business world that we live in today pretty much demands that you receive a degree for any significant level of success.  I think the goal then is to make sure that you spend your 4 years of college (maybe more to get a Masters degree in instructional technology or business administration, or others) learning marketable, specific skills that will make you valuable and give you the opportunity to succeed.  If your course work does not offer this opportunity, then it is up to you to find other educational opportunities outside your typical course work.

Here are some tips:

  • Find a mentor to help you develop real-world skills that will help you in business or whatever area you see yourself going in
  • Find a hobby and learn it – for me, it was the stock market and computer programming – probably the two greatest skills that work for me today
  • Enjoy yourself in college but also maximize your free time for productive use – I used my free time for leisure; if I could go back, I would have used those years productively!

What was your college experience?  Do you feel you wasted any time during those years?  Do you use the skills that you learned through college course work?

27 Comments »

  • Jared said:

    I would like to say a few things from the perspective of a current college student. Number one is yes, college students do have lots of free time during college depending on their particular major, but I believe the way you handled your free time and the way a current college student that wants to be successful handles it are different. Employers are looking at GPA in resumes yes, but they are also looking at the other things that college students do. The community service, the leadership opportunities, the networking. These are all huge parts of the college life that many students seem to miss. Any college student that wants to be successful cannot forget this. The free time should be used doing things that better us as individuals, and employers will be able to see if we have done that or not. I can say this with validity because I am a sophomore in college, I am a Resident Assistant, an active member in Student Government, an Intern, and I hold down two jobs on top of that. This is not to say that this lifestyle is ideal, it leaves almost no time for socializing, but it will definitely help me when I go out into the job market to have all of this experience under my belt. In short, the college life is worth 100% of the time, effort and money you put in, so long as you use the resources available to help you succeed. GPA isn't everything anymore.

  • 20smoney (author) said:

    Good comments!

  • Mike said:

    Most companies don't care what your GPA is.

  • erzebet said:

    i also have this opinion on college. the most important skills i have weren't learnt in school or college. sometimes i am really depressed that i've wasted 5 years in college because the practical skills in engineering- my degree- were learnt by making electrical circuits myself( i've learnt hundreds of equations for each basic electrical component but never how to solder that component or how to build that pcb!), from programming skills, learning foreign languages and basic finance skills. i wish i've read more pf blogs before going to college to know there are other legal ways to make money than getting a degree for a job later.

  • 20smoney (author) said:

    Interesting feedback! Thx

  • Seth said:

    I used to believe that computer science was 'above average' in difficulty. Now I'm not sure. I think there are many majors you would be hard pressed to pass with only 50% attendance. Geeky used to equal hard. Now I think computers and programming are as easy for some as English literature is for the same. Anyhow. Just an aside, no one cares about your GPA when interviewing anyone older than 22. Experience trumps college rankings almost always. Just my 2 cents.

  • 20smoney (author) said:

    Good thoughts. I was a computer science major and i definitely wouldn't categorize it as "hard". Some classes were difficult, others, a joke. I think having math and science as a part of your coursework though is important and excelling in those areas typically requires someone with a brain.

    I'm a believer that education has been dumbed down pretty significantly over the years and that includes college.

    Would be curious to hear other's thoughts on this article…

  • Steve said:

    College is a fucking joke unless youre going for engineering or a relevent science. I pitty those who go to college to study gay rights or whatever the fuck that shit is or English (basically any liberal arts degree) and take on huge debt. Studying English or Political Science is worth it- if your parents pay for it, that is.

  • waste said:

    BA in psychology with honors and still working as a pharmacy tech. Used my “extra time” productively working two jobs while attending school full time. “Paid” advisors of the university assured me that my degree would be marketable because employers would view my education as “well rounded”. Oh yeah I’m a member of Psi Chi (psychology honors fraternity), Golden Key International Honors Society, etc. etc and not once have those helped during a job interview.

  • Larry said:

    1) Who knows you at the job you are applying for (Warm Referral)
    2) Experience in the field you are applying for
    3) Level of Education

    this is all that matters in the real world……

    GPA, Community Service, Degree type, Extra-Curricular etc……….are all irrelevant.

    Trust me.

    Read em and weap

  • john said:

    College is a total waste since there are no jobs.

  • consumer rating said:

    it's a waste of money as well,actually you just need a place to learn and obviously we don't have that,we just have college

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