The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

A Leap of Faith: University and Career

Children are often asked what they aspire to be when they are adults, usually in the form of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is now a more common question than its previous version, which was, and is sometimes still used today:

What do you want to be when you get to university?

The intentions are good, but there are 2 problems with this question:

  • “when”: It assumes that the child will go to university, but it’s only a matter of time.
  • “university”: there are no other options for the child’s future.

Educators and caregivers are not completely at fault. Throughout at least 2 decades, university has been considered the ideal option by society and media, two of the biggest social agents in anyone’s lives.

The term Post-Secondary Education (PSE) wasn’t popular back then, despite college, apprenticeship and work being alternatives. Going to university meant you had a higher-intellect brain, and that you were of higher social strata, and that you had some good content to talk about at cocktail parties, which usually require the participant to have some type of expertise in a field that is generally respected in society.

Obviously, everybody wants to hear you talk about how James Joyce is such a great writer, and is rightfully canonized.

In recent years, society as a whole has finally begun to wake up from its slumber. It turns out that university is actually not for everyone, and not everyone is suitable to go to university, whether it is about finances, field of interest, or personality. There are people who may want to be an electrician: what good would university do for them?

Similarly, not everyone benefits from going to an expensive research institution. This is especially true for those who are interested in skilled trades, such as mechanic, hairdresser, chef (in culinary arts), and others. Would they really benefit from learning about abstract theories about the structure of social norms?

After many years of being asked, out of good will, “What do you want to be when you go to university”, university seems like the only pathway to a future. Society tends to forget, almost intentionally, that other types of PSE include apprenticeship, college, and direct entry into the workforce. Apprenticeship and work are valuable PSE as well: they offer very practical experiences to the apprentice/worker, and they end up with a deeper experience of a certain career than a university graduate would. Colleges tend to provide a mandatory practicum component in which the student serves as an intern (paid or not is a different dimension altogether).

In current day, university graduates are flocking to colleges more in the last few years for hands-on experience to bolster their resume. Perhaps abstract theory is not the best choice.

Society as a whole puts university as a pedestal, and it implies that it is the only credible pathway of PSE while ignoring other pathways. Work, apprenticeship, and college have been denounced as second-class and for people who are deemed incapable to handle the intellectual challenges of university. Society and the media like to play on the idea that university is the way to go, but if you can’t make it to university, then, I suppose, college will have to be your answer. And if not, perhaps apprenticeship, or if you aren’t accepted anywhere, direct work is your last resort. Aside from university, no other PSE is considered a valuable asset.

This phenomenon of excluding other PSE partially explains why university graduates are having difficulty finding employment. There is such a high saturation of university graduates who are soaked in abstract disciplines with little practical experience that employers do not want them. Academia and practica are completely different spheres, and only the students can bridge the chasm.

The glorification of university and university life (such as attaining Master’s, PhD, and the student party life) has contributed to widening the chasm between university and jobs. Students are pressured to take the leap of faith into university life, and plunge into the canyon when they realize that there are few jobs waiting for them. It isn’t the fault of the parents; they were only telling the students what they knew from past experience. However, students should research more deeply into the labour market and PSE options before applying to find out what type of study is best for them and the field they are interested in.

To avoid taking misinformed leaps of faith, society and the media need to do their homework to update their information. We have too many BAs and BSc’s running among us (at least in North America), and there are not that many jobs for them to fill. Practical experience is the new black, and out with high-end degrees in abstract disciplines.

Employers are now looking in the direction of college graduates based on their practical experience. Unfortunately, society still values university as the ideal education while excluding direct work, apprenticeship, and college. Society needs to realize that times are changing, and the pendulum is swinging in the other direction now. University is not for everybody. The other pathways to PSE need to be recognized so society can advance to a more functional state.

Educators and caregivers need to help bridge the gap so students aren’t taking a leap of faith into the future. Students should be able to see the destination, but know that they certainly have a manageable way of getting there.


13 comments on “A Leap of Faith: University and Career

  1. rheavalente
    February 22, 2013

    Great post!!

    I was forced down the University route by my father. I was barked at that unless I went to University and completed a degree, I wouldn’t amount to anything and I’d just end up working in MacDonalds for the rest of my life. When I got to University, despite studying a subject I had an interest in (particularly in the final year), I detested the entire experience. I hated the place, the people that went there, the people that taught, the whole culture. I very nearly dropped out and had to re-take a year to finish.

    I was working almost full time hours as well as studying, and preferred the immediate result of getting paid at the end of the month, whereas I felt at Uni I was just stupid. I would often skip classes and instead work for a whole day! I just couldn’t see the benefit of the place. I eventually passed and now am the owner of a BSc (alongside thousands of others) as well as thousands of pounds of student debt.

    A few months after graduating I obtained a “proper” job in e-commerce (completely unrelated to my degree and my success in applying for the job was related solely on the four years experience I’d gained working while studying rather than the degree itself) and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been at my job a year and am growing within the company and completely enjoying life.

    University was so unsuited to me that I thought there was something wrong with me. I’m doing just as well now as I would have without the fancy piece of paper, and wouldn’t have the debt! University and the idea of it is thrust upon young people as the be all and end all with no thought about what they want or how they might go about achieving it, or any concerns about the financial implications!

    Yes, if you’re aiming for a career in the medical field or something specific, University would be a good path… but for the majority of people, if you’re willing to work hard to gain experience, you can be just as successful and happy as those with the pieces of paper. I just wish more people would see that!

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      February 22, 2013

      I’m so glad you are happy with your life now. Although, your university experience has certainly opened your eyes to a world you feel you are not suited to, and that’s helpful in defining your self-identity as well. I feel that if you are not seeking for higher (and usually more abstract) knowledge of a field, university is probably not the best choice.

  2. jamesrazor
    February 4, 2013

    I agree. It seems modern society has placed too much glory on analytical intellect and the sort of skills they try and plumb into you at university, whilst under grading practical intelligence and the ability to do things with your hands. Both are great forms of intelligence. it’s just a shame that modern society has, as you mentioned, placed one on top of the pedestal rather than placing equal worth and social acceptance on both.

  3. larkycanuck
    February 1, 2013

    I totally agree because i am facing this myself. After getting my BA, then further diplomas and an MBA i found i was becoming more unemployable. how could that be? i realized employers are looking for skilled trades and engineers (here in Canada). so now im going back to trade school and unlearning all my education to start all over again.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      February 1, 2013

      It’s unfortunate that university is still ingrained as the ideal pathway to success. I hope you don’t “unlearn” your knowledge. Anything you learn is useful to you, the key is just waiting for the right time.

      I wish you best of luck in being able to obtain a job. The Ontario teacher job market here is packed, so I will be facing the same obstacles as you.

      Canadians, unite!

  4. Danielle Harris
    January 31, 2013

    Finally, someone who rants about education on the same lines as I do! I love it:)

  5. lindaricke
    January 30, 2013

    Amen. I am so glad to hear someone say this out loud. Not everyone should go to university. It’s not racist. It’s not classist. It’s not snobbery. We are all given different gifts, and not all of them require a university education to train for their sharing.
    Thanks for this post.

  6. jonathanhilton
    January 30, 2013

    Thank you for this! I agree as the expectation has become a college education as a symbol of success, In the United States, education has become a mass production, with little concern for quality. Everything is online and fast as you can, and you can get in debt really fast as well. I was fortunate to go to a great college but I have learned much more over the past two years because I want to than organized education ever taught me. Thank you for the great thoughts.

  7. jcmarckx2009
    January 30, 2013

    I am indoctrinated in the university system and say to my son, “WHEN you go to college.” His mom has no college education and says to him, “IF you go to college.”
    I like your take on employers looking for practical experience to go with the education. I have an education, but not much practical experience, and therefore, cannot find a permanent job. My best friend has a PhD is Classics and can’t get more then a lectureship position on a semester-by-semester basis.
    Education has changed.

  8. zeudytigre
    January 30, 2013

    The other big consideration, fairly new in the UK, is the huge cost of a university education. Do we wish to encourage our young people to start their lives saddled with such a massive debt? I don’t think the impact of this on the economy as a whole has yet been thought through (young people struggling to pay for accommodation even if they can find a job, the subsequent impact on the housing market and so on). At a more personal level are these young people going to be able to make quality of life decisions (travel, marriage, children and so on) when they cannot afford to put money aside due to debt repayments from the start of their working lives? Going straight from school to a situation where a young person can pay their way rather than borrow massively must make these options seem more attractive. I don’t think the media talks straight about this. Universities may be the best option for the academic but it is no longer something to drift into. It has become a risky investment.

  9. elkement
    January 30, 2013

    Interesting – thanks! I am from Europe, but I feel there’s a similar trend over here.
    I have recently read that South Korea has started promoting vocational training again – after having been obsessed with academic education before. They use the term “meister” schools using the traditional German name for the highest achievement in vocational training.
    So probably we will see a renaissance of skilled trade also in Western countries?

    • ensensesolutions
      February 1, 2013

      Hi a skilled trade has served me well for over 35 years, sure could have benefited from more education though, but it is what you do with it that makes the difference.

      If you just end up flipping burgers to pay off a $60,000 debt for an engineering degree, wasn’t it a loss of both time and money?

  10. ensensesolutions
    January 30, 2013

    I do these things without a university education although I wish I had one at times, a grade 10 drop out in 1969 hasn’t stopped me though … This is what I accomplished so far ;
    This gives you an idea why more knowledge would be a true asset;
    another link on my social position; “Why honoring OUR forefathers treaties Is important!”

    Still working on changing the world lol!

    Love your posts! and follow them with great interest when I can!

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This entry was posted on January 30, 2013 by in education, school, society, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


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