The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

What’s the point of university?

I’ve had some close friends ask me this recently. “When do we ever use what we learn in  university/college?”, “Why bother wasting so much money when my employer doesn’t care?”, “I want to be different and be a trailblazer”.

A huge myth (and flaw) in Generation Y/Z (that’s the 90’s kids) is that you can totally succeed without school, that the world is your oyster. Well, actually, it isn’t so much a myth. It does exist, and it’s real, but people forget the amount of work and effort that you need to get the oyster open for the pearl. Oysters don’t just say, “Please come take my grain of sand”; it takes an incredible force to pry them open.
I’m not saying that there is no hope for these hopefuls; you can definitely blaze your own trail, but it will take twice the amount of work and time than if you have a post-secondary background. University provides you with the basic tools to succeed. That’s right, they’re only basic tools. University is now a common privilege. Yes, it costs just around 80% of your life savings so far, but it has become so common now that if you don’t have a post-secondary education, you’re out of the loop.

And that’s what some people don’t get. They ask, “How could I be at a disadvantage without university? I’ve already got a business set up and everything”. You may know how to bake pretty cakes, but do you know what makes a cake taste good? Or how you can appeal to your customers about different types of cakes? What about nutrition? Side effects of too much or too little of an ingredient? Customer dynamics?

Most of the questions above can be answered in a post-secondary institution. Moreover, so what if you have a business? That hardly means anything in a world where university degrees and college diplomas are as common as cell phones.

One of the biggest embarrassing and saddest moments is knowing that your idea has been done. You may think you are very innovative, until someone comes along and says, “That was so ’50s. And it flopped.” Knowing what other people did before you, whether it’s last year or 2 centuries ago, can help you further your knowledge and develop ways to prevent making the same mistake as the people before you have done. And on this note, why not combine some of the previous ideas and make one new idea from it?

Another myth is that people think experience can outweigh a degree. You may have tens of years designing websites, but without a web design degree, you just might not be as successful. And yes, that does mean that people will ask, “Where did you get your degree?”, “I don’t have one; I do this by experience”, and they will nod and smile becauseour society is involved in trusting people. You may have all the experience in the world, but if you don’t have the theory behind it, it’s just not as substantial. Why should I pay hundreds of dollars to you when I could pay to a guy who has a degree and does just as well a job of designing a site?

Even in Concurrent, experience does not outweigh a degree. You may have the best lesson plans and the most creative stuff in your head, but without a B. Ed, you aren’t going to teach. There’s lots of theory behind teaching that most people on the outside don’t know of. Bloom’s taxonomy? Zone of proximal development? Dewey’s theories? Teaching isn’t just about transmittance of information; it’s about how you do it.

Finally, and this is the argument I despise the most because so many people do not see beyond the surface, university does make you different. I hear people say, “Oh, I don’t want to conform and live an average life after a degree, enslaved to my 20-year student loan”.

Who said you have to enslave yourself?

Budgeting doesn’t mean to live hand-to-mouth. It means adjusting your lifestyle so there is balance. If you can’t do that, there are plenty of workshops in your college or university on weekends.

Oh wait. You aren’t in one.

Also, once you are equipped with university knowledge of other people’s ideas, theories, opinions, etc, you’re free to do with them however you want. Most people who say it was useless is because they didn’t spend time or effort trying to apply what they learn. One of my majors is English, and I can definitely apply what I learned to what I’m doing in the classroom. Paradise Lost in a grade 5 classroom? Not necessarily, but I can take the themes from that epic and explain it to kids in terms they understand.

Don’t just sit and whine about how university knowledge is useless, that you can’t apply it. It’s useless because you don’t spend time trying to find ways to apply it. And if you don’t apply it, then it does become useless, because you will lose it and never get it back, and you would think that you wasted 4 years and $40 grand for nothing.

And you know what? When university is so common, and you choose not to go, the loss is yours. You would be one of the few who are sub-standard to the rest of society. You are out of the loop. Everyone else has the tools to create millions of possibilities, and you will still be trying to figure out your goals from the smaller amount of resources you have. You would need to put in so much more wasted time and effort just to do what the other people are doing.

But hey, it’s your life. If you want to be out of the loop and compete with several million others on an uneven playing field, that’s cool with me.


*Important note: you can also gain knowledge from reading up on the topics mentioned above, but the difference is that with university, there’s guidance from people who are more seasoned in the field to look for critical points, whereas if you self-teach, there is a risk of missing out on some important points, making a huge difference in your career. This is especially true for people whose strength isn’t critical reading.

IMO, university can only benefit you, unless it’s really certain that you are not cut out for university. However, aside from all the financial implications, many people who say they are not “cut out” for university are in a program that is not tailored to their needs, or need some help in balancing their courses. Usually, switching campuses, programs or schools help a lot, particularly if the teaching styles vary.

For those who are thinking of leaving post-secondary: talk with an academic  advisor, people you trust and who care about you, and research other schools and programs that interest you. Leaving should be a last resort because university and college are wonderful opportunities to be opinionated, to speak up, and to experiment without the implications of being outcasted by society.


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This entry was posted on May 3, 2012 by in education, school, society and tagged , , , .


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