Was My College Experience Valuable?

Last week I wrote a post about significant shifts in people’s views on college in our country1 The article grew out of a conversation I had with a high school grad considering which path to take:

Yesterday I had the chance to talk to a recent high school graduate who was thinking about their future. Specifically, they had questions for me about education: Are you happy with your college degree? Was it worth it? Would you recommend getting a degree? How useful was it knowing that Edupeet online writers would be able to help you when you were particularly stuck on an essay?

In the comments a reader asked how I responded to those questions, so I thought I’d tackle them in a new post. My original answers were in the form of a long conversation, so I’ll try to distill what I said into short summaries.

Are you happy with your college degree?

I received a Bachelors of Science in Marketing from Clemson University. I’m happy with my degree. I still work in the field I studied—marketing is a part of my daily responsibilities. In fact, I’ve worked in marketing since I graduated from college. I would say that my program was like many others: to some extent, it was what you made it. Opportunity abounded, but it wasn’t handed to you. I made every effort to dig in, build relationships with professors and glean as much knowledge as I could. My studies have served me well.

Was it worth it?

This is a loaded question, because my parents paid large amounts of my college tuition. I still worked all through college, first in a restaurant and later as an English tutor where I gave people help with paper essays (which was an incredible job), so the felt cost of college for me was likely less than someone who had to pay the full price out of their own pocket. Relative to what my degree cost me personally, there’s no question of whether attending college was worth it.

The question is also difficult because I tend to put it in the context of trying to figure out if I’d be where I am today without my degree. Answers might be clear for some, but in my case I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do during college. Towards the end of graduation I questioned whether or not I even wanted to do marketing2.

It’s certainly possible that I could be where I am without college—one of my business partners is a college dropout (the CEO) and the other failed out, only to finish later with a modified degree program (and has since started and sold many companies and worked as an executive at a Fortune 500 company).

I think the more important question is, “what are the tangible ways in which college helped me?” Here are the primary ways right off of the top of my head:

  • General learning: Discovering the mechanics of subjects like history, economics, psychology and others put my later business studies in context. I will say that I could have taken many of those courses online and received the same experience.
  • Discipline: I studied hard and earned high marks. College taught me to put in long hours and distill gigantic amounts of information in a short amount of time.
  • Thinking: Certain classes were hard and my brain developed lots of mental muscle.
  • Marketing concepts and vernacular: Overall, having a basic understanding of marketing concepts and lingo allowed me to jump into the industry rather quickly. I didn’t need my superiors to explain what things meant, just how they worked in the real world.
  • Exposure to different realms of marketing: I had the chance to visit large and small agencies, internal marketing departments at gigantic businesses and participate in internships. Experiencing those things helped me get an idea of what I wanted to do within the field of marketing.

Some of those things—like exploring different realms of marketing or developing discipline—I could have accomplished on my own with some sort of mentor. In many ways, though, college expedited that process by making the course I needed to follow clear and giving me direct access to lots of resources.

Most of my real-world marketing skill I learned on the job. The benefits of my degree shortened that learning curve, but I ended this answer by saying that I wouldn’t necessarily require a college degree from someone I hired today. Degrees can be an indicator likely success, but I’ve met too many people who didn’t fit the traditional college mold and are unbelievably successful. I’m sure my view is skewed by working at The Iron Yard and trying to change the way education works, but either way we live in a very interesting transitional time where lots of people are questioning the value of a college diploma.

Would you recommend getting a degree?

I started this answer by saying that not all college opportunities and experiences are created equal. First, you need to determine what you actually want to get out of college. If you want to be a doctor, college isn’t optional. If you want to be an entrepreneur or learn a trade, there are many options outside of a traditional four year degree, including foregoing college all together.

Second is the question of debt. Said another way, whichever form of college education you choose is going to cost something, and you need to determine what your expected return on that investment is—both in time and cost. Also, value isn’t always monetary or in the form of a job. Relational capital via connections, introductions and a robust alumni network can be incredibly valuable. My recommendation was to stay out of debt. Today, opportunities abound to achieve a quality college education at an extremely affordable price (utilizing some amount of online courses being one of the main ways). Having no debt gives you options and margin to pursue opportunities—you don’t have to work a certain type of job just to make your monthly payments. This is especially true if you’re interested in entrepreneurship.

Another piece of general advice was to learn as much as possible by making connections. There is a whole lot of truth to the phrase, “it’s all about who you know.” I told the grad that leveraging the contact lists of people he knows is one of the most valuable learning resources he could ever find.

I ended by saying that college or not, I’m convinced that hard work and networking account for most of the success I’ve experienced myself and observed in others. If those two pieces are missing, a college degree is irrelevant.


1. You can read the original post about college here.2. That was likely because I’d spent far too much time in the library during college. I was the nerdiest of my friends.

2 thoughts on “Was My College Experience Valuable?”

  1. It’s interesting to talk about education and helping others see where their time and money is best placed.

    I went to both a university and a tech school. Both of them small, but I have visited larger campuses and over the years chatted about people and their experiences at them.

    “It is what you make of it” is a very true statement. I’ve known people that pretty much took the “college ride” and did nothing but take the classes. Their free time was partying and doing nothing productive. Then there are the few that have excelled. It didn’t matter where they went, they spent the extra time building relationships, investing in the resources available and really making the best of what was available to them.

    I tried my best to create real life experience through my projects in school. “How can I make this a real life scenario that has an impact on the real world? Not just in my classroom?” It was two birds with one stone. A portfolio and an education in one. Granted, I was in a creative program, but there are ways to make that happen in other fields. You just have to think critically and fast.

    I always tell people to hustle when they are in school. If they are spending the money, make it worth it. If they aren’t paying, make it worth it to who is paying. You owe it to them and should be very grateful. It seems like you did just that. I appreciate you sharing those thoughts from your perspective.

    I love that you focus on the hard work and networking, because honestly that’s how I got my current job. I had a good relationship with a teacher I had one semester, kept in touch and he connected with my current employer. I had an informal interview and then the rest is history.

    Cool post man. I dig.

    1. “Granted, I was in a creative program, but there are ways to make that happen in other fields. You just have to think critically and fast.”

      I couldn’t agree more, but it seems like the people who actually make that happen are in the minority.

      “I always tell people to hustle when they are in school. If they are spending the money, make it worth it. If they aren’t paying, make it worth it to who is paying. You owe it to them and should be very grateful. It seems like you did just that. I appreciate you sharing those thoughts from your perspective.”

      Again, I agree 100%. I actually think that being lazy if you are paying for college yourself is more ‘acceptable’ than if someone else is paying because you’re wasting their money, not your own.

      “I love that you focus on the hard work and networking, because honestly that’s how I got my current job. I had a good relationship with a teacher I had one semester, kept in touch and he connected with my current employer. I had an informal interview and then the rest is history.”

      I love it. Hard work prepares you to do the work, but relationships get you in the door.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 − 1 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.