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Is a BA Degree still essential for a successful career?


It used to be the mantra of the corporate boardroom and the sine qua non for success in the business world. The undergraduate degree has been a fixture in the job descriptions of countless occupations and many still swear by its value. Yet, there has been a slight change in the “wind”. Not everybody is enamored with college degree. The changes in opinion are subtle, but may be growing. There are number of reasons why a college diploma perhaps may no longer be so essential. These include:

  • The “dollars and sense” argument. A college diploma is a very expensive piece of paper that drives a lot of students into debt. The debt load can force any student into a very serious cost-benefit analysis. Debt makes person wonder when it is sensible to have it as a credential given the high cost. Increasingly, more employers have to look at competencies. A degree only shows that a student has been tested and shown verifiable knowledge of having achieved accreditation standards;
  • A college degree isn’t always important. Understanding that competencies are critical, there is a need to take a second look at college degrees. Google admits that 14% of its employees have never gone to college. The most important thing for this company is the ability to work in programming languages. Anyone can learn proficiency in Java or C++ on their own. This can be online or in any number of computer programming courses;
  • The job value of an undergraduate degree is being questioned. Many Governments have expressed concerns about the public support of various liberal arts programs and have suggested that public funding be based on postgraduate employmentinstead of enrollment. That may sound shocking, but the content of some of degree programs is not necessarily the best. Unfortunately, there are boutique majors that teach esoteric subjects that do not adequately prepare a student for the workforce. In this situation a young person is accumulating massive college debt for a degree in a program that is almost worthless.

Cost and relevancy are becoming major concerns. A college degree has always been a corporate “sacred cow”, but it is possible for a web developer to be highly paid without having a piece of paper. Considering the pressure to find employment and the need to have marketable skills, should a person even consider pursuing a college degree? It may lead only to heavy debt and marginal career success.

It is true there are some jobs that do not require a college degree for success. At the same time, there are others for which a lack of a college degree is a major obstacle. Law schools and medical schools will not allow acceptance ordinarily to anybody who lacks an accredited undergraduate degree. The same is true for graduate schools. Anyone looking for a career as a lawyer or doctor needs to have a college degree. As a consequence, a student may have to have a little change in perspective regarding education.

  • The undergraduate studies need to be carefully evaluated. There is no time for seeking knowledge for the sake of having knowledge. A student wishing to take a liberal arts degree must have electives solidly based in a marketable skill;
  • Certifications are important proofs of skill acquisition. A student could actually be paving a solid career path by taking certification courses and exams. An example would be sitting for the Certified Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) examination series, while still a college student. It helps immensely in an insurance career;
  • Be willing to pursue graduate degrees in job-related areas. A baccalaureate degree in English doesn’t stop a student from pursuing an MBA. A student may consider graduate programs that are focused on job-related skills;
  • Never rest on one’s laurels. This is a call for a commitment to lifelong learning. No student in college should consider a baccalaureate degree as a terminal diploma or and studies. A career should be built on gradually acquiring new skills that can help for progress. Graduation from college should not the end to academic study or obtaining new skills.

A college degree will continue to have relevance in the business world. The difference in the future will be that job related courses need to be a part of the overall program of study. Staying current, particularly in computer technology and social media will enhance a person’s marketability in a very tight economic environment. A willingness to acquire new skills will also be an important part of career success in the years to come.

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