What’s in a Degree?

For those of you who have a University or College degree, surely you have encountered the question: “What are you going to do with your degree?” Ah, an interesting question…and one with an answer vastly changed from some years ago. In some cases it may be easy enough to say, “oh I’m doing such-and-such a direct application with my degree.” However, it would seem more often than not, this answer is not the case. The question needs a subtle alteration because as it stands, the answer can often be, “not much.”

The question addresses a large audience; prospective students, current students, graduating students, and very importantly: the parents of the former. Now-a-days, it can be quite common for a recently graduated student to return home lacking immediate employment or direct application of ones degree, whereas thirty-or-so years ago, having a degree meant having a job related to that degree. Oh how the times have changed; such are the laws of nature.

The fact is you can’t do a whole lot with an undergraduate degree these days (save engineering, nursing, and some arts degrees). The question people should be asking a recently graduated student is, “What are you going to do with your University experience?” The reformed question makes more sense when people understand two things; one, that University degrees hold less and less significance due to the large influx of academics; and two, that that’s OK. Here’s why:

University isn’t about getting a degree anymore – I think not. If treated in such a manner, students will be hard pressed when after 4 – 6 years they find themselves moving back home and not knowing what to do next, sound familiar? If we treat University as a means, we’re going to come to an end all right, a dead-end (insert drum sound here for corny joke). What I’m getting at is that University isn’t so much about the degree anymore as it is the foundation upon which we build our degree. It’s funny though, because you won’t learn in the lecture-hall how to build the very foundation upon which your degree gains significance. That’s kind of left up to you, which is a good thing.

That being said, University is now about taking advantage of the endless resources, outlets, and opportunities available. On-campus jobs to pay for tuition; personal connections made through faculty and staff; resources available through the array of support systems like councilors, advisors, committees, groups, and clubs; exchange opportunities around the world; varsity athletics; residence life – and the list goes on. University isn’t about a degree, it’s about resources, opportunities, connections, and experiences. These are what you are going to apply after you “finish.” You can take that degree and hang it on the highest wall, in the nicest frame, but it’s not going to do much for you, unless you built yourself a rich foundation upon which it can grow and bear fruit.

I said previously that this information is important for the parents of students because they build up expectations about what University is supposed to offer, and those expectations rarely align with the reality of our times. In no way am I trying to deter anyone from pursuing a degree, or suggesting that it’s okay for students to return home after achieving one, only to play video games while EI rolls in.

What I want to make clear is that currently society views NOT directly applying ones University degree as a waste of time and money, when REALLY, the nontraditional implicit application of a University experience is whats going to take us everywhere we want to go in life – assuming we understand the aforementioned shift in what University is all about.

One other thing to consider is that since there is such a large influx of academic degree holders, this forces a lot of students to continue with graduate studies, in hopes to increase career opportunity (and assuming they enjoy their line of research). At the same time, there’s now such a large number of students with Masters degrees, all of sudden you need to have your PhD just to guarantee yourself a job, that’s another 4 – 6 years of studies. BOOM! you’re 30+ years old. Again, nothing wrong if you love research and teaching, but as you can see, it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of this academic rat-race. I recently declined my graduate program for just that reason.

So here I am now, and you know how I’m applying my degree? I’m not, it’s rolled up somewhere collecting dust and I’m 24, sitting at my parents house. But you know how I’ve applied my University experience? After taking advantage of as many University resources as possible – i.e. developing my foundation for life outside school – I’ve now lived and studied at a Shinto Shrine in Washington State for 4 months, gone tree planting around central British Columbia for 3 months, attended and served 10-day silent meditation retreats, volunteered on a farm in Costa Rica for 2 months, and now before going tree planting for one more season, I’m establishing connections in Hawaii to work on tea-farms and I’m learning about sustainable agriculture. Talk about widening the scope of how to apply ones pure Mathematics degree. All of these experiences are heavily influenced by the skills developed in University.

So, what does a degree get you these days? not much, except maybe that multiple thousand dollar student loan. Should that stop you from going to University and getting a degree or sending your young adults to University? Not if any of what I just said made sense. It’s just my opinion, but I think a lot of people out there need to hear this view on what’s in a degree these days. Feel free to offer your own opinion and feedback on the issue because I hear a lot of concerns about it when I don’t think there needs to be. With the right understanding of the University experience, students and their parents need not worry if a degree is directly applied or not.




As I mentioned above, I have now not only established those connections with Hawaiian tea farmers, but I’m living out my dream on a tea farm in the Garden Isle of Hawaii. I’m at the forefront of a burgeoning tea industry on Kaua’i spearheaded by the Hawaiian Tea Society; I’m networking and learning about all things Tea.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Robekkah on May 7, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    You know the saying does go “Never let your schooling interfere with your education” :)


  2. Posted by Anonymous on September 30, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    I love what you wrote on this subject and 100% agree with you!


    • Well Thanks, Anonymous :)

      Another note I should mention is that completing a degree shows a certain level of commitment and perseverance that any potential employer should respect. 4 – 10 years is a LONG time.

      I love Robekkah’s remark above as well.


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