Here is why most university degrees are worthless, Part 1

I needed a foreign language credit for my undergraduate, so I decided to take Russian, since I had grown up speaking it. So I took a Russian assessment test. It was harder than I expected, but I was still pretty surprised when told that I would have to start from scratch with Russian 101. When I challenged the head of the Russian language department, he asked me a series of grammar questions, which only confirmed the test results. So I took the few semesters of Russian needed for my degree. I got easy A’s – not because I was fluent in Russian, but because I had been trained by 13 years of schooling to memorize grammar rules for tests. My friend Tim took them with me, and I think he would not dispute that he learned absolutely nothing while getting the same grades.

16 years later, and 26 years after I had last spoken Russian on a daily basis, my uncles, who only speak Russian and Hebrew, came to visit. Within a few hours of speaking (and drinking) with them, we were talking and joking together. I had been reading at a college level when I left the USSR, and all I needed to jog my memory was a little language immersion. It turns out I’m not a total beginner. The head of the Russian language department, who had learned the language in a classroom, and probably had never lived in Russia outside of supervised university trips had no interest or ability to spend a few hours with me, and do more good than three semesters of classes. Not everyone can re-learn a language with a few hours of immersion, but everyone has different needs and learns in different ways, and our schooling system is designed for mass instruction without any regard for individual needs.

A month ago, I changed my job from technology to marketing. A graduate degree and 14 years of experience in tech, and I suddenly decided to do something different. Do you think I could have done that if I defined myself by my university degree? I haven’t read a book on marketing (not proud of that btw, just saying), much less taken a class on it, but was I worried? No – because I know how to Google, I know how to ask for help, and I know how to Get Shit Done. And I’m getting it done, my useless economics, political-science and MIS degrees be damned.

Meanwhile, do you know how many unemployed/underemployed marketing/communications graduates there are? I’m hiring one as an intern next week – who wised up to his useless degree and got Praxis (God bless ‘em) to show him to do marketing – starting with marketing himself.

Who knows what I’ll be doing a few years from now. I’ve thought about writing a few books, maybe doing travel photography for a while, or even a starting a hedge fund. If I thought that I needed four years of school for every job, I would still be an unemployed economics graduate.

4 thoughts on “Here is why most university degrees are worthless, Part 1”

    1. This is a misleading statistic because a university is nearly universally viewed as the only means to a successful career, so highly motivated people are brainwashed into thinking that success means going to school. If these people were aware that another option was open to them, they might be even more successful. I have a post about this coming Wednesday.

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