An out-of-college degree

Let's talk about education. About what it really is. And also about what, contrary to what most people think, it is not.

Most people primarily associate education with universities, which they enter after high school. They believe that a good education received at a decent and respected university practically guarantees a stable and well-paid job in the future. But each year, this belief in higher education as a way to ensure a decent profession and comfortable living for the rest of your life grows weaker and is collapsing.

More and more people realize that 5 years at an average university will not bring them one inch closer to a decent and well-paid job. And the problem isn't limited to universities as such, but also exists in our general attitude toward education. It is gradually changing, but not fast enough to keep pace with our rapidly globalizing and competitive world, which sometimes changes at an unbelievable speed.

To keep from falling behind, above all, you need to learn. And here we aren't talking about studying at a university, but about knowing how to re-evaluate values, change established patterns of thinking, and escape the weight of misguided beliefs that are dragging us down.

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn," said Alvin Toffler. This is an extremely accurate observation by an American sociologist and writer.

What's wrong with the traditional system of higher education? Let's analyze a number of misconceptions related to university studies and education in general.

1. A diploma does not equal a successful career.

Many people still think that a college degree will get them well-paid highly skilled work. In reality, this is not so. By and large, this statement was never true. It's just that previously, entering a university was almost the only way to get into any profession — there simply weren't any other options for obtaining the necessary theoretical knowledge.

But times have changed, the Internet has appeared, and, though the obstacles on the path of the knowledge seeker have not entirely vanished, they have become noticeably smaller. Online learning at universities, specialized courses to beef up professional skills and learn tools that have just appeared in a particular field, interactive exploration of challenging disciplines, and remote mentoring from top experts — there are a lot of opportunities for growth. The world is already completely different, but many continue to believe that the path to a good job lies exclusively through a university.

2. The wrong reference point.

Right up until the moment they complete their studies and begin looking for work, most students operate under a misguided belief called the erroneous standard of comparison. Simply put, they compare themselves with their fellow students, and are proud if they do better than others in school.

This illusion persists until you start thinking about a job and turn your gaze in the other direction. If those college students would compare themselves to people already working in their future profession, they would see that they are moving toward their goal at a snail's pace. And given how fast technologies are developing in many areas, they could even be considered to be standing still.

So don't compare yourself with fellow students. In reality, your projects and accomplishments at work are the best indicator of your knowledge and success. Rather than comparing yourself with the dull masses, it is far more correct to compare yourself with the market and the level of the specialists actually working in your profession.

3. Professional training is only a small part of college studies.

When you go to find your first job, you will be asked what you can do, not what you were taught. Your boss will want to know what knowledge and skills you possess that are relevant to the position you're applying for. Unfortunately, the system of learning used by universities is aimed at cramming as much general knowledge as possible into a student, making him or her a rather erudite and well-rounded person (if you're lucky), but not an important specialist. As a result, most graduates have to wait until after graduation to actually learn the profession reflected by the field of study stated on their diploma. And they do this at first job, which is also far from easy to find. You would think that a university is precisely the place where yesterday's high school students are transformed into professionals. Then why does it not work out that way in real life?

4. College doesn't aim to make you a highly-specialized expert.

This is because in most universities do not try to train professionals who can work as specialists immediately after graduation. It is too challenging and complicated a task simply beyond even the theoretical power of most educational institutions, with the exception of the most elite (at least using the traditional approach to teaching). Therefore, teachers do only what they can — provide students with a wide range of general information and cultivate the ability to remember and process data. This skill is valuable, but students themselves are forced to apply it on their own in order to learn the profession.

5. Lack of focus.

If you study more than two subjects simultaneously, you're wasting your time. This assertion will seem wrong to yesterday's high school students and undergraduates. But more experienced people will probably agree with it.

Lessons are super short in high school, not because it's more effective, but because it's difficult for children to stay focused for more than an hour. However, frequently switching between different tasks prevents our brain from working effectively. At work, the demands placed on you will be much more significant, and frequently switching between tasks will considerably affect the effectiveness of your work.

Why do you think we are able to effectively prepare for an exam on the night before, or finish most of a project with only two hours left before the deadline? We simply aren't switching between others tasks. This is what makes you so much more effective. Mastering a variety subjects and sciences in small chunks is often totally less effective than studying a single topic with complete focus.

6. Most years of study at a university are extremely ineffective.

Suppose you study a subject for two semesters. You have two lectures and two labs a week. This sounds quite serious according to university standards. How many hours does that make? With the lectures and labs taking 1.5 hours each, we're talking about six hours a week. In the first semester, we have four months: September, October, November, and December. In the second, another four: February, March, April, and May. In all, that's 8 months with 4.5 weeks each and 6 hours per week, or 216 hours per year. And this in spite of the fact that there are 180 work hours in an average month.

The bottom line is that any one-year course can be mastered in just a month and a half, or in just one month if you're really eager or really need to. It turns out that the many years of study at a university, which most people actually undertake during their best years in terms of their ability to absorb knowledge, are one of the least effective periods of our lives.

7. Lack of practical skills, which are many times more valuable than theoretical knowledge.

In life and at work, our cornerstone is always the result that we must achieve by taking practical steps. Theoretical knowledge is nearly worthless without practice. This is one of the greatest weaknesses of modern higher education — any university's programs are founded on the teaching of theory, which students need to learn to apply on their own.

That is why brilliant students who graduate from a university with excellent grades often do not achieve remarkable results in life, while slobs and those at the bottom of the class, who often do not have a higher education at all, eventually become super successful.

All that matters in life is practical experience. More knowledge at the expense of skills makes that knowledge less valuable. In real life, it turns out that the huge baggage of a theory that is never applied in practice is often a liability, pulling you down. Sad but true.

8. Universities teach general and outdated knowledge.

An out-of-college degree 2

But even the theory that traditional education inevitably focuses on is often not of the right quality. The world is structured in a way that theory follows practice, not vice versa. That's why the knowledge taught at universities is often, let's say, starting to spoil, especially at universities that don't openly claim to be among the top educational institutions in the world. Teachers, the most successful of which have spent most of their own careers developing the ability to teach students rather than working in the profession they teach, do not and cannot have the depth of knowledge that an experienced professional practitioner who is in demand in the labor market.