Value of college degree overrated

When I met an old childhood acquaintance in a store a few weeks ago who is on her way to college this weekend I implored her not to graduate. Real life, so to speak, responsibility simply sucks. Stay in school I told her!

Indeed, my own college experience was such that I’ve always wanted to go back. Real life isn’t all that bad, except for the constant bills in the mailbox. And the aging, although the wisdom that comes with age is almost worth the body falling apart bit. But my years at the university were good times, and that without ever once getting drunk or high.

However, I’ve wondered about the value of my degree in the past five years or so. Is college really all that? The impression me and my fellow high school students were given back in the early 90s was that it is all that. If you’re gonna be a somebody you gotta go to a four-year school.

I don’t really believe that anymore, and neither does John Stossel.


I didn’t go to college just so I could earn more money than a high school grad, which seems to be the focus of this video. I trained my eye on the university because I really wanted to be an architect, and there was no way to become an architect if you didn’t have degree. Of course, I changed my major two years in, but that’s another story for another time.

From time to time I wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t attended the university. A two-year school seems like a good option. In fact, people I knew at Southeast Community College were getting a better education than I was in graphic design, and I could studied ceramics there as well. I’ve also thought of owning rentals. A lot of people don’t have the right temperament to do this well (including our landlord down in Arkansas from four years back), but I believe I do, and it seemed like a way to make a good living. And maybe I’d be building furniture.

Other than pointing out our cultural blindness with respect to four-year degrees, I like how Stossel’s spot affirms the value of working with your hands, something The Aesthetic Elevator is all about.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

— I Thess 4:11

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

5 Responses to Value of college degree overrated

  1. Tobias says:

    Going to college doesn’t get rid of the bills or the aging. If you were to go to college as a life-habit (as opposed to temporarily) you would have the same problems.

    In general I always counsel people to not get a degree unless the career they are pursuing requires one. Even a career in engineering does not necessitate a degree, although if you want to get “higher” it makes you more competitive, some companies require it, and certain state licensure requires it for some things of course.

    I personally consider college-styled learning to be a highly over-rated and inefficient method of learning. If you want to learn something, first thing is to try yourself, second thing is to see if a friend/someone you know will teach you, third thing is to find a professional. A professional teaching a small class privately is more effective than the traditional college class “lecture style”.

    That’s my opinion, anyways.

    • pcNielsen says:

      Of course you still age and owe people money, but not in the same way IMHO. I wasn’t really suggesting that being in college made these thing go away; I was observing midstream of thought the pain that is “real life.”

  2. Spritopias says:

    The value of the University experience isn’t in what the University gave to you, but what you gave yourself there. It’s the same with High School, or church, or anything really. You get from life what you put into it and how you view it. There is also the question of finding the correct university experience for the learner. Some people thrive in the large settings like the University of Nebraska, some do better in smaller settings like Concordia University in Seward. I think many people don’t get what the should from university because they don’t ‘stretch’ their minds and imaginations, or experiences.

  3. Marysienka says:

    I recently read a book I first heard about on this blog, Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matt Crawford, and I absolutely loved it.
    I agree that college learning isn’t for everyone (I myself didn’t go, though I did take a few community-college courses post-H.S.) and that you get out of that experience what you put into it. It was hard to hear, but I think it’s true that some people are by nature more hard-working and dedicated, and even just plain smarter. These are the people that will be vying for the most high-powered jobs.
    But another reason not to go (but instead to follow a vocational or apprentice track) is the earning potential. Crawford reminds us that not only can electricians charge $50+ an hour, but they also have job security: once they have that knowledge, they are employable anywhere. Greater and greater numbers of white-collar jobs are being shipped overseas: if you can use a computer to do it, why pay more for an American worker? Today’s desk job, Crawford tells us, is like the factory job of yesteryear – what matters is not your particular skill set or talents (or bachelors degree), but how well you fit into the system as a cog fits into a machine.
    I could write twice as much regarding the emotional, mental, and (dare I say it) spiritual satisfaction that comes from working with one’s hands and being able to fix stuff. But I still need my morning coffee …
    Love this blog, guys!

  4. Sean says:

    I earned a degree in finance over 3 years ago, and there is NOTHING I can do with it that I couldn’t do without it. So, yes, I believe it is overrated. All I have to show for my hard work and dedication is a piece of paper and student loans that I will probably spending my whole life paying for. I hate to say it, but I regret going to school, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have gone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: