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Why is having a college degree such a big deal?

jcsmileyjr profile image JC Smiley ・8 min read

I asked my local tech community the above question and was astounded with the thoughtful opinions. Here is what they said:

Anonymous
I’ll just say that education is the best investment you can make in yourself.

As a hiring manager, I just want to say that there are some hiring managers who don’t look for your degree on the resume, are too busy reviewing more relevant experience for the role, and grade interview results off of performance not resume content. Some engineers don’t even look at candidate resumes when they interview candidates. I hope everyone takes this as some light in an industry that can feel very daunting to enter from non-traditional backgrounds.

Matt Karmazyn
When hiring someone for a junior level position with no experience I don't see much technical value in a degree, but what a degree shows me is that you were given assignments/projects that you were able to complete to a satisfactory level and on-time which is going to be a large part of the job.

I don't care what degree you have if you're applying for a Mid-Sr level position with years of experience. What's more valuable, 6 years of experience or a Master's degree with no experience? I'll take the 6 years of experience any day. In reference to a software developer.

Lawrence Lockhart
In general, college degrees that prepare for a certain career are still the most consistent and reliable means to attaining that career. Safe to say, I don't think any of us would have surgery from a self-taught doctor, or sail on a cruise ship in the middle of an ocean designed by a self-taught engineer. There is a ton of value in college degrees including in tech. It just so happens in tech specifically there are a number of paths one can take to a tech career without a degree. Though I'm not sure how many self-taught folks are designing the next microprocessor or writing the next operating system. They may be out there but I'm not aware. I'm super happy about the fact I've been able to go as far as I have without a computer science degree.

I should add as an African American father, I'm keen to the income disparities and net worth disparities we experience and the nearly one-to-one tie between that and the educational disparities we also experience. Therefore, I'm all in on more education not less all the while acknowledging a college education is not for everyone and not all career choices require it. What I would really love to see is a high school model that spends more time helping young people visualize a future and in many cases steer them away from college if that's just a bad match at the time and to other apprentice-learning type models (which we are sorely lacking IMHO) where they can learn, grow and end up making enough money to live on whether they choose the college route or not. What we do is say, oh you didn't go to college, alright restaurants or Walmart, take your pick. Not cool!

One last blurb on the degree question, it's worth noting the sheer amount of research and development that comes out of the educational space is ASTRONOMICAL. Honestly, sometimes we can live in our abstractions just long enough to miss where they fit in a larger tech landscape. Whether it's Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, or MIT so much of the advancement of tech knowledge comes through these educational spaces. Not wise to discount them at all. If I remember, the first computer ENIAC was invented at a university.

Corey McCarty
It's a lot easier to prove a base level of knowledge/skill (for both employer and employee) than demonstrating a bunch of skills independently via resume. It basically gives you a short phrase to represent a level of understanding that otherwise requires many more words. If you had a software job for a while then it would do as much or more for your ability to get hired. It's basically like a bash alias for a bunch of stuff.

I'll relate the current climate of becoming a developer without a degree to a building engineer. In the early days all the tools that you had were effectively in your head or EXTREMELY crude. Now we have very sophisticated tools available that allow someone to spend more time on the look of something than worrying about the structural details. There are products on the shelf that will do what you need and you don't need to fabricate them from scratch. Watch some old Bob Vila “This Old House” and then watch some show about flipping houses. These represent the amount of crafts skill differences in building houses a couple of hundred years apart. (BTW I do understand that I've really stretched this metaphor)

Lee Parham
It was put to me like this. Part of a CS degree (for my coworkers) was learning assembly, part was building a Linux kernel, part was hand writing each tick of a CPU given an algorithm. Part was Java for Android, Swift/Objective-C for IOS. Part was … part was…. Even in the same semester.

The payoff for this was:

  1. A 4(ish) year deep dive into everything computer (MUCH harder to accomplish being self-taught at night after working a full-time job.

  2. An ability to context-switch between “MANY” different languages/frameworks/levels of a particular software/hardware issue. This fast-switch ability is incredibly helpful!

William Cole Boren
I don't think having a degree is a huge deal nowadays or better yet it could be phasing out more depending on the industry. With that said If you can afford an education or get scholarships I believe you should get a degree in something. My degree in Geology taught me more about problem-solving, how to learn, and teaching myself than anything else. I also really value many life experiences/traveling I did while in school as a geology student.

Danny Thompson
I feel like most hiring managers think of it as being a part of a certain club. If you didn't get a ton of debt getting an education then are you worth the risk? Lol

JC Smiley
Throughout high school, students are constantly told that only with a college degree can they have the necessary skills to get a good job. That companies want to see a degree on your resume to be considered for a job. This is not true. Companies want to see relevant skills to the job description, a professional work ethic, and some work history. In my experience, colleges don't provide the skills and only a few lucky students get the work history (internships, etc.).

I have a MIS Bachelor degree that didn't open any doors when I graduated. While college taught me how to learn and to finished tasks, I didn't learn relevant job skills. My opinion on this subject is you can learn the majority of the skills needed for today's job market with free online resources, paid online courses, or boot-camps. When I go for job interviews now, they only ask me about the skills I acquire through self learning and never about my degree.

Ryan McGovern
It's not. I don't have one and I'm on my way to a mid to high five-figure salary! I feel experience could technically suffice for this as well. Good recommendations from a company someone was at for a few years is basically the same thing.
A college degree shows that you were given assignments/projects that you were able to complete to a satisfactory level and on-time.

I personally believe the education model in America is messed up. From the ground up, grade school is glorified baby sitting not meant to help you work towards your unique future. Its purpose is to pump you full of generic information and make sure they don't have too many students that don't know that information. Standardized testing is alright if done well, but most places aren't actually trying to utilize it for the good of the students. It's to make sure the schools have passing numbers for funding and whatnot. College is a scam where even state schools are businesses designed to make money first and foremost. I've attended 3 universities, under 3 degrees, and can state that in all cases, the school's monetary success was more important than my personal success.

This is not to say that the education colleges ultimately provide is bad, my thoughts are more geared around modifying the way the education system in America works. I think grade schools should be taking the time to counsel their students more, especially in the years leading up to college. They shouldn't be afraid to encourage things like a working break year. Had I gone and worked for a year before flinging myself into college, my whole opinion on this might be different. Colleges need to stop converting everything they see into dollar signs, it's misuse of capitalism warping our education system.

Moral of that long rant, grade school did nothing to prep me for college, college is a business more than an educational institute. Don't go if you don't have to.

Agrit Tiwari
Because people don't know about colleges. People are not part of communities who made it through without going to college. People are following the most walked track of the society. People see the chosen majority, not the selected excepted choice. People don't know the culture of college.

College is good, but accessing quality education in esteemed institutions that really pays off are actually part of the point. I believe, proper counselling can remove this question, “need of degree” and put a satisfying counter-argument to everyone. Try your best, for the best institute, and don't go for a random private college, it's a win-win situation both ways.

Dennis Kennetz
This is a tough question. I personally don't think the idea of college is the problem, I think the implementation can be. If I seek to study Chemistry, I have to pay for 50-60 additional hours in BS that I won't use (liberal arts education). I would not expect a musician to know how many molecules are in 1 mole of a substance (which you learn in gen chem 1), so I'm not sure why they make me take “music appreciation” if I have literally zero recollection of ANYTHING I learned in that class. Yet the course costs roughly $1000. If our degrees became a mixture of theory and practical application / apprenticeship they would be much more fruitful. At the current moment, our entire education system is tremendously flawed. Debt is a means to keep the powerful in power and enslave the borrower. This does not only relate to education, but it is relevant here. By forcing this type of education on people (making degrees the entry point to meaningful jobs), we are perpetuating the egregious debt / repayment infrastructure that perpetuates a society of 1%'ers.

Ryan Johnson
A degree is a big deal because everyone makes it a big deal. Some people think it’s like a rite of passage. Oh, he was willing to bet his money on his mental capacities or convince someone else to finance him sort of thing. It’s stupid. I want to be independent of others’ expectations. I agree the content makes a big difference but I still had a hard time getting any serious consideration with 98% of a degree complete. People are bad at evaluating human potential based on a written document. Funny though because all the psych research about interviews says that interviews are less reliable ways to vet your candidates than matching specs on their resume.

Please help others learn by leaving a comment on why having a college degree is a big deal. Thank You!!!

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James Q Quick

Love these!!