Save. Spend. Splurge.

Can you imagine your diploma or education determining the rest of your life?

Here in Canada or the U.S. we’re pretty darn lucky.

Once we get into college (U.S.) or university (Canada), we can work reasonably hard, obtain a diploma, fight other newly minted grads for a job, and then never have to worry about that diploma or what marks we received haunting us for the rest of our career.

No one will EVER, EVER ask us what school we went to, what marks we got or anything in between.

The only difference between going to a college instead of a community college (U.S.) or a university instead of a college (Canada), is based on 4 major factors off the top of my head:

  1. Price / Cost of Tuition
  2. The Network of Students to interact with and keep in touch with over your career
  3. The Companies that come to recruit at your school
  4. Subjects /Professions being taught

However this is not the case in other countries, most notably in Japan and France (those two stand out the most to me because of how strict they are, and also how much reading / research I’ve come across on them).



In Japan, they all study like maniacs to get into Tokyo University, otherwise known as “Todai”.

They spend about a year or two in a preparatory period as students, studying full-time, taking tests and competing with all the other students in prep schools to see if they get in to Todai.

Once you get into Todai, you areĀ SET FOR LIFE.

You will never have to worry about getting a job, everyone will hire you, and you turn into this educational rockstar of sorts.

If you’re a guy, it is VERY easy to find a girlfriend once you tell them you made it into Todai because they know your career is pre-determined for the stars.

How do I know this?

Unsurprisingly, because I watch and read a lot of manga / anime, and this seems to be a huge running theme in their storyline.

So much so, that I pretty much gleaned the basics of how to get into Todai, and then researched more into it on my own via reading non-fiction books on education.



In France, it isn’t that different. Same sort of concept — you study like a maniac for at least 2 years in prep school, and then you sit for exams to get into business or engineering schools.

Every school is also ranked by the government, and everyone knows who the first-rank schools are (they descend down to fourth-rank schools as well).

They even have to pass a high school exam called the “baccalaureate” or “bac” for short, where they MUST demonstrate (among other things) two learned languages — English being one, and then another of their choice.

This European-style of forcing languages to be learned by students is something I think is sorely lacking in North American education, but I digress.

I don’t remember having to pass ANY final, standardized exam to graduate high school. You kind of put in the time, obtain the credits you need (obviously you need to pass those courses), and get your high school diploma.

That’s about it.

(And maybe that’s the problem — we don’t even have a standardized secondary school exam nationwide.)


Anyway, if you don’t get a good school the first year, you can spend another year in prep school to try and sit for the exam again the next but you cannot study indefinitely.

Eventually, some students basically give up and end up doing something else, totally discouraged and dejected from their failure to achieve a school of any ranking.

The end result is the same as in Japan.

Once you have the diploma and flash that you’re from Polytechnic (in Paris, mind you, not any other location *cough*), the ultimate, most prestigious school for engineers (for instance), you are SET FOR LIFE.

You will just have to go to an interview, slide your resume over, have them glance at your degree, and then offer you a job without thinking twice about it.

You might think it’s not a big deal but to get a job offer in your chosen area at all, is a dream in France.


For this, I can only speak for France (thanks to my inside sources), but apparently this is a big effin’ deal in France because they suck at hiring people mostly because it is very difficult to fire someone without solid proof that they are not fit for the job, which can take 2 years for a manager to gather.

Once the fire you, they HAVE to give you a severance package based on how long you have been there and what pay level you were at.

Basically the longer you have been there and the more money you have been paid, the more expensive it becomes for a company to fire you.

This makes companies in France very reluctant to hire anyone because they see how expensive it can be to get rid of them if they don’t work out.


This is nothing at all like in the U.S. where if you are in a state with at-will employment laws, they can fire you just for not liking you as a person, and not have to give you jack squat.

In Canada, they can fire you just as easily, but they have to give you at least 2 weeks of pay in severance.

They say that once you’re fired from a job in France you either never find one at the same level again, or you end up taking a year and a half or so to find a similar job.

The difference only exists for those who have gone to the best schools in France for business or engineering.

They areĀ NEVER out of a job, and if they enter a room and are competing with other resumes, the best diploma of the bunch will win hands down, no matter what experience the other people might have.

Finally, you can only rise so far with your diploma and if you didn’t go to THE BEST school(s) in France, you are capped at a certain level.

Let’s say you worked really hard your entire life even though all you could achieve was a college degree in France.

You can still make it to an executive level of sorts, but you will never, EVER reach the upper echelons of executives. Those spots are reserved for those previous students who went to the best schools in France.

(Stands to reason, there are only so many Vice-President or President spots to begin with.)


I hear all of this and always wonder why more people who couldn’t make it into those schools don’t just leave France and move abroad..

….but it’s the same reason why people here can’t even leave their own neighbourhood, let alone city or state/province to find a better opportunity.

Seriously though..



  • mark

    You can some up the USA university choice with a common USA expression, “Go Ivy or Go State.” It is extremely hard to get into a top Ivy, e.g. Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc.. A student’s parents pay for private tutors, private high schools, SAT tutors, and admissions advisors. Parents even pay extra to move to good school districts they can’t afford. Even with declining USA population Ivy admissions is not getting any easier. The irony is is that Calculus is Calculus whether it is taught at a community college or Ivy.

    But certain firms will only recruit from the top USN&WR (US News and World Report) rank 15 or above, see Ivys. For the rest of your career a Ivy grad will be a Ivy grad. As far as state grads? It really doesn’t matter. In fact, some firms don;t even check educational background of their candidates.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      But it’s not a pre-requisite to rising in the ranks is it? I find in France, what I am hearing is that the top executive positions are ONLY held by one school – Polytechnique (engineering)…


    Interesting… I’d like to know how they reasonably pay for healthcare. I can still earn $100 USD when I am there an hour but healthcare kills it.

  • ArianaAuburn

    Studied my ass off for two standardized tests. Got into university. Graduated. Worked. Got into another university. No standardized tests this time. I am hoping my next degree will help determine my career path because it is hard and expensive as hell.

  • Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial

    “No one will EVER, EVER ask us what school we went to, what marks we got or anything in between.” — In the Northeast US, people ask where you went to school ALL THE TIME. I am still not entirely used to it.

    There is definitely career tracking at the uni level. Few people will make it to management consulting, investment banking, or finance without a “top” degree. Alumni relations make a big difference in finding you a job in early career and what school you went to can give you “cred” later on. But I agree there is certainly a lot of opportunity to succeed here without going to the top 15 schools or whatever.

  • raluca

    Yeah, I can, actually, since I have moved through a similar system. The Bac is incredibly important, since if you don’t pass it, you don’t get to go to the university.

    Actually, in our system, I had to pass an exam to enter my chosen highschool. Imagine you are 14-15 and this exam you are taking will determine which highschool you can get into, and you are competing with several other hundreds kids who all want to get into the most prestigious highschool in your area. It’s not fun.

    It also makes sense, in a weird way. A country only has a limited amount of resources that it can invest into education. It makes sense to invest it into those the most able/smart. And it makes sense to bring smart/able people together, so that the competition between them will then propel them forward. If you run with Usain Bolt, and you lose to him, you will strive to get better, If you win every race in your neighbourhood, you may or may not be motivated to run faster, because for most people, competition is a much better motivator than self-competition.

    Of course, this doesn’t work every time. A young mind is a terrible thing to waste and this process has a high chance of missing people who are trully gifted, but not in a traditional sense. Although, to be fair, so does any other school. I feel that maybe teaching kids competitivness at a young age is perhaps beneficial for them since it makes them more focussed on their goals later on and as I said, it makes them try to become better. It’s perhaps less beneficial for the society at large, as it makes them more individualistic and it teaches them that for them to win, somebody else has to lose.

    I do believe that putting everyone through higher education is a pipe dream, though. Some people are not capable of it and it makes everyone a disservice if we lower the standards so that everyone is a winner. It may make everybody feel good inside, make feel them special, but it won’t advance our civilization and it will, in the long term, harm people who would have been better off if they had not gone to university. You can be an start-up founder without going to a university, you just cannot be a scientist. Your life won’t necessarily be worse of.

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