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A college degree doesn’t necessarily mean you have any skills

I read a few interesting articles over the past few days that I thought would segue nicely with my previous post: Who really needs a college degree anyway?

A college degree was and is still used as a filter of sorts

College used to filter out who were the cream of society — usually, they were rich and smart.

When you look at college photos in the past, they had VERY small graduating classes because almost no one could get a degree without money, connections and/or brains.


The entire graduating class of 1907 from The University of Delaware

Compared to…


The entire graduating class of 2011 from The University of Delaware; You can’t even see all of them!

Yes, there are more people on the Earth today than before, but the proportion of graduates has increased like crazy.

Today, they serve the same purpose for companies to figure out who is better than someone else as an employee, but it doesn’t work quuuuite as well.

We all know this is partly crap, because I could have gone to an awful school and have been smarter than someone else who went to a very expensive school but was just average.

Still, that’s how it works today.

It’s imperfect, but it’s the only thing companies can really use to try and figure out who might fit best into the company and have the skills to do the job with little supervision or training.

Yes, I know, we don’t want to think that anyone can be considered smarter than anyone else, because we’re all amazing, super smart, fantastically unique angels who can do nothing wrong because we’re all #1 (!!), but it’s true.

The college degree is now the new high school degree

A college degree today, is what a high school degree was in the past — something everyone thinks they should have as a basic education.

I already wrote a post on this: Who really needs a college degree anyway?

Something that is now taken for granted as a necessary thing to have. I read a stat somewhere that said 45% of people aged 18-24, go to college.


How can almost half of people in a society all have so-called good jobs at $100,000 a year?

Do you think in any average multi-national company, you’ll find that 45% of those people are in good jobs?


It’d be impossible — it would be “too many chiefs, not enough indians”, as the saying goes.

I think a more accurate percentage should be 10% as the maximum of people that end up going to college and using those degrees in good jobs.

In France, I am told it is 5%.

Only 1% of that 5%, are people who go to really GOOD schools.

That seems a bit severe to me, but it’s certainly better than lying to your children and citizens by telling them that EVERYONE can have a good job.

(And maybe they’ll even hate their ‘good job’, and want to become something else entirely. Read: Who really hates their jobs?)

A good job for most people is making $50K a year, working 40 hours a week in an office.

That doesn’t exist for 45% of the population, and this is exactly why we have a problem with education today.

Likewise, members of the general popuation were twice as likely as college leaders to say that college isn’t worth the price: 80% of U.S. adults agreed that at many colleges, the education students receive is not worth what they pay for it.

Only 41% of college leaders agreed with them. Read: Higher Education Poll

College degrees are not created equal and they aren’t your hobbies (unless you’re very lucky…)

With that in mind, I also believe two other major things:

  1. Not all degrees are created equal (not everyone can be a successful fashion designer)
  2. Degrees should not be taken as a way to do your hobby for money

This means that the ‘hard’ degrees that involve math, science or any kind of technical brain work that people tend to squeal and say “OMG I just don’t get it“, are the degrees that generally make the most money.

We also call those STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) professions, which women are not really represented in.

See, given a choice between fashion design or science, I can guess where most girls (for instance) might gravitate towards, for reasons we are all already aware of.

Anyway, the real problem with college degrees being a filter, is that the filter is broken — just about ANYONE can get a degree now, if they want to pay.

Ergo, having a degree doesn’t necessarily mean you have skills that companies want any more.

A college degree is useful only if you plan on using it

If you plan on working in advertising, then get a degree in it.

Sometimes it’s just dumb luck that you end up in a job totally unrelated to your degree, but are you going to stake $25,000 of student debt plus future interest payments of dumb luck that your degree which you took just because you like the subject, will land you in a nice, cushy job?

Didn’t think so. It’s also partly why I refuse to go back for an MBA — it’s a waste of money in my profession even if someone paid for it.

In my field, they couldn’t care less if you had 18 MBAs and 5 PhDs with a Partridge in a Pear Tree. Either you know how to do the job or you don’t.

Otherwise, college is a waste of money

From Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom:

45 percent of today’s college students show no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills after two years of college. More than one-third fail to improve after four years of college.

It was a $60,000 investment for me, which thankfully paid off.

For others, it’s on average a $25,000 debt they will never be able to pay off in a reasonable amount of time.

For the most part, college in general is all a big scam in my eyes for most people.

The poll noted that the average debt load for college students who took out loans and graduated in 2010 was $25,250. Three-quarters of college leaders (74%) said they thought this was a reasonable amount of debt for a college degree, but only 38% of the public agreed with them. A majority of the public (55%) thought this debt load was too high, compared with 24% of college leaders. Read: Higher Education Poll

Yes, it worked out for me, but I was in the right place, in the right degree, at the right time.

It’s partly luck.

I also happened to choose a rarer industry to enter based on my interest in that industry, rather than because I thought I could make a ton of money. (I had no idea.)

What I find the most appalling in our current education system is how much money is just being greedily taken without nary a thought as to the damage they’re doing to taking advantage of students who can’t find a job afterwards.

We simply don’t have enough regulation around such practices of just paying for a degree, and we have too many colleges and people becoming so-called “college educated”.

The worst, are colleges that hand out certificates or “diplomas”, and call them degrees.

Why don’t you just call them as they are?

Certificates!! It’s far more valuable.

Certificates aren’t bad at all if you can use that knowledge and the certificate in your job.

Otherwise, it is a big scam and a waste of money.

A company I worked for, paid $20,000 for me to obtain a certificate which is STILL helping me attain contracts and credibility to this day.

Consider trade schools and other professions instead

I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse here, but white collar jobs are not all they’re cracked up to be. Electricians, Plumbers, Construction Workers, they can all make more money than someone who sits at a desk getting an apple-shaped belly.

It just depends on if you have any mechanical or technical aptitude to do the job and love it so much that you become really awesome at it.

Above all, forget online degrees

(This means you Vanessa… 🙂 )

Online degrees to me, are places where you mail away 3 cereal box tabs and you receive a paper in the mail saying you’re now an “Engineer” [of Fairyland].

From Time Online: Can an online degree really help you get a job?

…a November 2011 report by the Babson Survey Research Group found that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online class during the fall of 2010, a 10% increase over the previous year and nearly four times the number of students taking online courses a decade ago.

66% [of HR managers] said candidates who obtained degrees online were not viewed as favorably as job applicants with traditional degrees.

One executive was concerned about how students were graded and assessed, while another worried about the reputation of online universities and believed that online classes were generally not as challenging as traditional college courses.

Basically the article is saying that online education is great way to get a lot of people educated, but it is something that many companies are wary of due to the reputation of such online degrees. I’d be suspicious too.

There are things you CAN learn online to some degree (computer science), but there are things you cannot (medicine and treating human beings).

I know it’s a great way to deliver learning, but it’s just all too easy for schools to scam otherwise well-meaning students who think it’ll help them obtain a job.

These students just end up paying for a piece of paper. Online learning is fine, in conjunction with in-person training.

That’s it.



Don’t think that college is the ONLY answer.

It’s the answer for many people, but it may not be the answer for you.

College-educated folks are already saturating the market to the point (some just buy their degrees) where the degree is no longer a good filter, and no longer as valuable as it once was.

College education and higher education in general is also not worth the price if you aren’t planning on using that knowledge in your job later.

Least of all, DO NOT run to graduate school or get another degree just because you have no idea what you want to do in life.


Think about what you want to do in your career, research whether an advanced degree will help you or just set you back 4 years and $100,000 in debt, and think about it. Even Bridget agrees.

In addition, people who make it without a degree and become billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, are one in a million, even a billion.

You probably won’t make it if you think you’ll be the next Zuckerberg.

More than likely, you’re not.

You’re part of the average group of folks, where 99% of us reside.

So what can you do?

Traveling to see the world and taking on jobs as you go on a visa, or learning another language can open up opportunities otherwise hidden to you.

Don’t rule out trade schools or places where you can get training and certification to do something else that doesn’t require a degree like electrician, real estate agent, massage therapy or becoming a dental assistant.

A society doesn’t only run on managers or white-collared folks working in companies.

It runs on people needing services and general help in life.

You will probably save $25,000, 4 years, and end up making more than most of your college-laden folks around you.


  • Sarah Li Cain

    If you’re really interested in this topic, I recommend you go to James Altucher’s blog. He preaches for people not to go to college and gives alternatives. Just google his name. I think you’ll like his writing.

  • Dave

    I’d argue that 9 out of 10 college students are studying a degree that isn’t in demand. Some students are only in college because their parents pushed them, and have no focus. If you study hard, choose a field that NEEDS workers with a degree or certificate, and look into interning opportunities, then it might be worth pursuing further education.

    It is certainly something that needs a lot of thought process, and I’m glad I didn’t go to college immediately after High School. I am going to get a certificate for Precision Metal Technology, but only because that’s a field with very little competition that is in demand in the local area. It’s two years at a community college and I estimate that it will leave me about $8,000 in debt after applying to FAFSA.

    After carefully considering my options, I think I’m making the right decision.

    • Simply Rich Life

      Dave, I’m sure science faculties cover more than 10% of students (although I haven’t looked recently).

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Simple economics can tell you that you made the right choice — supply versus demand.

      How many people are there in a particular field versus available workers to hire?

      If you chose an in-demand field with little competition, that’s the golden ticket.

  • Simply Rich Life

    It’s clear that college doesn’t guarantee intelligence, skill, or a good job. Still you have to wonder how much worse off people would be without it.

    I hire people who are students or recent graduates from the local university that I went to (a relatively cheap one). I see the progression from different levels and they definitely do improve when they’ve had more experience in university. It’s partly from the fact that we all know the same basic things that don’t need to be explained all over again, and partly because they have a better idea of how to organize and do work when they are close to graduation. That makes things easier for me.

    I am testing their basic talent which has a pretty low passing rate so maybe they were all just good to begin with and post-secondary education didn’t add much. And this is in a technical field so there are concrete ideas to evaluate people on (although sometimes I wish they were better at interacting with other people and managing their emotions).

    That’s the “for” side. On the “against” side, I only have a bachelor’s degree from an unknown university and I have hired PhDs 🙂 There are definitely a lot of people who aren’t doing something that will benefit them. Every time I see someone talk about a college “career” that’s what I assume. A career is something where you get paid. I’ve known people who have made an 8-year career out of getting a single bachelor’s degree and it isn’t a good sign for their future.

    Overall I think it’s good that we have the options available. You can point to Europe with its more efficient use of post-secondary education and free tuition, but keep in mind that this is a system that can decide when you’re 10 years old that you’ll be a plumber and nothing else. It’s no surprise that they have deeply entrenched class divides.

    We are still worse than we should be but a lot better than that. I believe there is a relatively low proportion of people here who would actually be cut out of their social circles if they take on a trade that pays well. Maybe more people should be doing that instead of going to universities but they are free to try things until they find what works for them. I’m sure we’ve benefited from many people who were allowed to get more education and made something of it even when no one expected them to go anywhere.

    I will encourage and help my daughter to understand what she really wants, how to get there, and how to bypass the system if possible. That could mean trades or university or skipping the whole thing to start a business. It may involve trying things and then changing directions if they don’t turn out well. University can be a useful tool if it provides the right service at the right price.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      The main problem I see with college education these days is being pushed into it. Hassled even, and told you won’t be anybody if you don’t get a degree.
      That’s where it gets ugly and kids are desperate for that paper so they take any course they can pay for, which doesn’t necessarily translate into real-life skills.
      I have no doubt that you’re right — people who go into trades would be cut out from the circle and family, but therein lies what we have to change as a society, which is the stigma placed on blue collar jobs.
      I knew a guy who went that path of trades, and ended up getting his engineering degree late in life. He now makes $$$$$/hour to advise cities on their bridges, and takes another flat $$$$$ cut to build a team of experts under his watch to do the job.
      He makes far more than I will ever make with my degree because he went into what he loved (construction), did the dirty work, paid his dues and found a way to make it even more profitable.
      THAT is what we should be telling our children.

      Great insight and points!! 🙂

  • naath

    I have a degree in (mostly) Physics; I embarked upon it because I wanted to work as a physicist although along the way I discovered I was less smart than I thought I was.

    I benefited from the experience – partly I found out Hard Truths about how smart I’m not; but also I had fun studying interesting things. Sure, maybe you don’t want to pay all that money to study interesting things but I don’t consider it money or time wasted. I’m not employed doing Physics; but I am using things I learned at university (mostly computer programing) in my job.

    To me the main purpose of university is to encourage a love of learning; an important secondary purpose is to find and train the next generation of professors. If you don’t enjoy learning for the sake of learning I don’t know why you’d bother to slog through it all, paying huge amounts of money, and then not even use it…

    • Mochi & Macarons

      That’s a good point but I wish there was a way we could have figured that out BEFORE paying all that money. Internships in High School for instance.
      It is also admirable to read your admission of “not being as smart as I thought I was”, not many people would willingly admit that, and that pride is part of that costly problem as well. 🙂
      In retirement I always thought university would be a great place to go back and learn new things. Stay mentally young.

  • SWR

    I feel like there’s also a sort of degree-creep in jobs that really don’t require them.

    I’ll use social work as an example, because that’s where I was before school. My job had nothing to do with my degree. I mean, I had the BSW, but there was no direct application of my course work to my job. I could have done the job really well- maybe not straight out of high school, but with a little bit more maturity than I had at 18. And most people in the agency with at least 6-8 years of experience didn’t have degrees. It was a newly-adopted rule that college degrees were required, unless you were old enough to have been in the workforce whenever they adopted the rule.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      I’d agree with that. There are some professions where you don’t need a degree to start, it’s mostly experience that brings you up to speed in a year or so, depending on what you work on. I could have probably done my job right out of high school, given a bit of training, although I was more technically-oriented than most before I went to college…

  • Budget & the Beach

    I graduated from college in 1992. I’m not sure how things differ now, but it was the thing that got your foot in the door. Without it, I wouldn’t have gotten my internship, which lead to contract work, which lead to experience. But I know for sure in my field you can actually learn my skills on the job or on your own…or a trade school. So I don’t know…I’m still kind of for it. I think if it’s in the cards to go, then the experience is also just as important as the degree. But just one person’s opinion. 🙂

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Oh I agree to some extent. My degree definitely got me an interview and the foot in the door to even be CONSIDERED for a position, then a blanket “everyone who comes from THAT school, gets a job”, applied to me.

      I was lucky. I don’t think other people were as lucky when they were trying to get into Marketing, Advertising.. (very overly saturated markets).

      My skills can be learned in a formal classroom once you have a job, or else you have to fork over $20K – $40K to go to classes, but the real learning comes when you work with companies and real people. Experience in my field trumps any kind of certification in my opinion.

      Most people I work with, have at least a college degree in liberal arts or anything in between, and they learned the job just by chance of being on a specific project that they happened to be placed on (no one else wanted), and fell into the job that way.

      My way of getting in with a degree and then being trained for that specific job, is very unusual.

  • Vanessa

    LMAO! I love the “Engineer of Fairyland” degree 😉

    I was definitely having a moment of panic when I thought about trading my credits for an online degree. Phew!

  • MelD

    As usual, thought-provoking – I’m glad you point these things out, though they seem so obvious to me.
    And as I have said before here, our Swiss 10% university-entrance is probably about right, with the rest of Europe struggling to achieve 80-100%, which is ridiculous. Someone has to do the other work… and I would far rather my daughter have solid dressmaking skills she can use anywhere and for a lifetime than some arty-farty “fashion and design” degree that may qualify her to sell clothes in a boutique! The standard 3-year apprenticeships (sometimes 4 years for things like techicians, electronics or engineering) are some, if not the best, vocational training in the world and Switzerland is rightly proud of consistently winning the top prizes for hands-on skills (anything from bakers and confiseurs to chefs and architects who started out with basic bricklaying skills…!).
    On this note, I was chatting with two young people this week who were complaining about doing A’level qualifications in England to get into college/university and how hard it is to do 3-4 subjects at this level. I had to tell them that those Swiss kids who do university entrance exams do them in 13 subjects, all at a very high level, and that they can study whatever they like when they are done, unlike in Britain where you can only study what you have qualified for at high school level…

    • Mochi & Macarons

      You’re welcome! And thank you for your international perspective from Switzerland. I only hear of things from Canada, the U.S., or France, so it’s nice to get another view on how others see education around the world.
      Oh, is it that special program for students.. *trying to remember*… Where they make you go through each subject at a very high level and you’re allowed to get into any university you want in the world?

      I feel like it starts with an “E” of some sort, but essentially, you have to do all the subjects with the “E” designation and then you can apply anywhere you want in the world. My little cousin is doing that right now, and she’s finding it hard to stay afloat and may be kicked out.

      10% sounds very reasonable to me for university entrance. In the U.S., I observed some serious (LEGAL) educational scamming going on, and the push for kids to all get a college degree no matter what.

      It’s the wrong way to push kids, but it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you are a parent trying to make ends meet and you think it’s the only way out for your kids.

      I agree with pushing standard skills for kids, more than something that is utterly useless.

      Someone who can sew, can have a fabulous shop to tailor pieces and make good money. I am just.. not that great at those things, even if I try, and I’d rather pay someone good money to fix something for me than to try and bust it up myself.

      • MelD

        Different strokes – I think everyone deserves respect for their individual talents and skills!
        Switzerland and Austria have the Federal “Matura/Maturité”, which is up there with the French Baccalaureat. The International Baccalaureat has been dumbed down since its inception in the 60s/70s but still a more viable prospect than UK A’levels or US high school diplomas etc.! (My view, of course!). Whether any of these other than the IB allow entrance into unis anywhere in the world I am not sure (that’s why the IB was invented, in Geneva with it’s UN and international population) – Switzerland is very fussy about accepting foreign qualifications in any field, not always fair, admittedly. But this system does allow them to tell the chaff from the wheat, academically speaking… mostly,

  • PK

    Awesome post. I’m just here to say “get out of my brain”. College is just proof that you’re motivated enough to sit and write for 4 (5? 6?) years to get a piece of paper – for many Majors. Sure, that puts you ahead of some of the population, but c’mon… Underwater Basketweaving?

    (I heard they have a great UBW study abroad program in Kenia)

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Thanks! Told you it was worth the wait.

      I think college works for some folks, but not everyone thinks like that. Some of us are just lucky to be able to memorize and do well in such a structure, but in real life things may not be as neat and as perfect.

      I will say that my organizational skills improved greatly *after* I started working. Not so much before — they were there about 75% during college, but not to the level they’re at now. Now, I really have a method down for projects and making sure things are on track.

  • jeweliette23

    Don’t forget the fluffy degrees that require a graduate degree afterward to go anywhere. One of my majors was International Relations and I think most of us went on to law school or finance (with MBA later). Sure it was nice to read loads on poli sci theories, Greek history, and the int’l monetary system, but it doesn’t translate to real life skills like the STEM majors.

    Also here in the U.S., if you don’t plan on going to graduate school, a prestigious undergrad name does get you jobs. When I was a paralegal after college at a big law firm, they just needed paper pushing monkeys…BUT they had to be SMART monkeys…so they screened resumes for the name of your university and that was it, because it carried the presumption that you must have some degree of intelligence if you graduated from said university. I don’t agree with this idea but that’s a discussion for another day.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Hahah “they had to be SMART monkeys”…. nice.

      Yes, good point about majors that REQUIRE graduate degrees. Here in Canada it’s the same, they look at your university name, but we don’t have the cachet that U.S. universities or European ones bring to the table. The marketing at the Ivy Leagues is incredible.

      I feel that way, myself about screening people. I don’t think any school screens much (all they see is money $_$) either, but I guess people feel like it screens bluebloods who are going to be well-connected, even if they aren’t brilliant, which is great for money going back to the universities.
      The only place I can say where it sounds like they really screen you, is in France or China, Japan, Singapore (due to sheer population and competitiveness).

      In France, to get into one of the ‘grandes ecoles’ in France, you have to go through something similar to study hell from what I’ve been told. No. Joke.

  • Cassie

    Representing the “E” group here 🙂

    I couldn’t have put this better myself. It used to be that a degree was a privilege. Now it’s an expectation. Education has been incredibly watered down for the masses. I went into my degree thinking I was going to know so much when I graduated. While I did know a fair bit more, by graduation my eyes were opened to exactly how much there was out there that I didn’t know. It was humbling. By the end of the degree our profs were more up front with us: our degree wasn’t going to teach us how to do our jobs, it was going to give us the basics from which were were to build upon. The rest was up to us.

    As for the online degrees, they might work. An online Engineering degree however? Good luck using that in Canada,

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Online degrees have a stigma of “eww, really?” when you hear someone is thinking about them. It conjures up in my mind, someone who lives in some remote country, paying a lot of money for a certificate, not really learning much or interacting with any professors or students hoping that it’s enough to get them in the door for a job overseas to escape their situation.

      For me, real knowledge starts when you start your job and actually work and live through those experiences. I haven’t used very much from my days in college to be frank with you. My industry wasn’t covered, and it wasn’t as sexy as investment banking, so no one knew anything about it.

      I saw a documentary last night that was even sadder than that. Private colleges in China are on the rise, and they’re hiring people to scam the poor peasants in the countryside who have no idea what a real college is or isn’t, and they do it by taking an exam fee of about $16 USD up front, and then giving you a piece of (fake) paper for the (fake) college saying that you were accepted.

      It was horrible and extremely painful for me to watch those peasant parents with such hope in their hearts for their children to escape poverty by getting a degree, any degree.

      • Cassie

        I’m in the same boat. Much of what I learned in school has gone completely unused in my career.

        That was painful just reading about those colleges, and I haven’t even seen the documentary 🙁

      • MelD

        Re. Online Degrees – it will really depend on the requirements.
        I did an Open University degree that involved tuturials and summer schools, proper essay work etc. and the OU is considered up there with the brick universities in the UK, so I am as proud of the BA I got at 43 as if I had gone to uni at 18 (or more so!).
        However, I have heard dire things of other online programmes, incl. multiple choice exams – hello?!!
        A friend of mine in Canada was doing an online qualification as a veterinary assistant at the same time as my daughter was doing an apprenticeship with a vet in Switzerland – the former really was a joke in comparison and it got so embarrassing we had to avoid speaking about it!! My daughter’s apprenticeship qualification, incidentally, would have been a degree programme in the UK…

        • Mochi & Macarons

          I think online degrees haven’t quite reached the level of sophistication that it needs, and frankly, it isn’t seen as a real degree. What I do think is cool, is having professors on Skype and having a class like THAT, but in addition to in-person classes.

  • SP

    Like it or not, degrees are still gate keepers at many “ok” jobs, and jobs that people still want to do. One option is to REALLY focus on limiting debt and money spent on the degree. I had high school classmates go to expensive private schools for degrees in elementary education. No. Bad idea.

    Online degrees at the B.S./B.A. level may never catch on. However, I know a LOT of people who get a (primarily) online MS degrees in engineering, from repputable schools that also have a brick and mortar component. You are graded with the “in person” students. Employers see them as valid, in my experience.

    Also, trade jobs do pay well, but they are much more physical. I’d also be much more hesitant (as a woman) to work in some of the environments. There is a reason people want office jobs. I agree people should not assume a college degree will get them there. Trades and other jobs should be evaluated as options for more people.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      People should do what they are good at. I was watching on TV the other day a girl saying that she didn’t really like PR or any other traditional job. She just really liked bartending but she didn’t think it was a long-term career.

      I thought: Why not? If you’re great at bartending, you can pull in some killer tips, save them, and live on it as income. Then perhaps go to a better, bigger bar, make MORE money, and learn tricks to get people to keep paying to come and see you… it could be a real career choice if you choose to make it as such.

      Plenty of people find unorthodox ways of making money. Skrillex, a dubstep DJ became so popular he now makes a million per show. He made nothing before, he just really liked music and was good at it.

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