Degrees hold no promise

For years it has been repeated to us from our parents, our friends or the pop culture movie about a kid who strives to go to college and make something of his or her self.

For years it has been repeated to us from our parents, our friends or the pop culture movie about a kid who strives to go to college and make something of his or her self. It goes something like this: study hard, make the grades, go to college, get a career and get paid. It’s an old ideal, passed down from generation to generation, that has set the pace of the American way.

Until now.

In the modern collegiate and career environment we face, common advice like “work hard and go to college” or questions like “what did you major in?” have been replaced by “experience required” and “who do you know?” These days, that debt-driving, pressure-pounding education we all work so hard for just doesn’t seem to be enough.

Furthermore, we all risk ending up like that not-so-uncommon person whose career very distantly relates to their major, or perhaps doesn’t relate at all. Though a student has worked hard to achieve a degree in their specific major, they do not end up using it, but rather work at a place where their bills will get paid.

How do those in their desired field do it?

For example, Adam, a recent Portland State graduate with a major in marketing, landed a stellar position before he even graduated and now works as the head of marketing with a local Portland company. Adam used an opportunity available to him through PSU, the business mentor program.

Or take Rochelle who, after gaining a major in communications from PSU, had a great desire to enter the field of public relations. She interned in the PR discipline on more than one occasion while at PSU. After graduation she, like many fresh alumni, found it difficult to break into her chosen field, though over time she did get hired at a local PR firm. After her interview, her soon to be employers told her it was her experience that set her apart from the competition and made them feel secure in selecting her.

These two share something in common that can teach us all a lesson. Both received a higher education right here at Portland State. But both went further than their education to make themselves stand out.

A while back, I went to the PSU Career Center for some help with my own college plans and met with a counselor. At this meeting, I learned a valuable lesson: your education, being a valuable advantage, will only go so far in the career world. So you have to invest in experience skills, and other assets as well, and it makes sense to.

In the cases of Adam and Rochelle, each chose not to solely rely upon their education in their career search. Adam took action in a PSU program that helped him gain the “who you know” advantage. Rochelle’s initiative to gain experience and skills set her apart from her exclusively educated competitors.

So why even go to college then? Why spend so much money, compound so much debt and spend so much time studying?

Before you decide to go off, give up and drop out, there is hope and purpose in completing a college education. Despite the necessity for experience, skills and networking, college still brings grand benefits. Statistically, those with some college education or a degree do earn significantly more than their working counterparts without. You can rest assured that you aren’t wasting your time in class, spending those grants and Stafford loans. In addition, it is at college where many non-academic opportunities, such as internships, are found.

So as you map out an academic route to your major, with hopes that it will unlock your door to vocational security, include a few stops to gain some experience, meet important people or pick up a new skill. It is these moments when you will gain more ground on your occupational goal.