Your Degree Alone Means Almost Nothing, So You Better Start Making Friend

Everyone has heard the complaint, “All the companies hiring want 3-5 years of experience. Well how am I supposed to get that experience if no one will hire me?”

College degrees have been devalued. It’s simple economics: the market has been flooded with college grads, gradually at first but much faster in recent years, and therefore having a degree is less valuable as there are more graduates to go around. Scarcity raises value.

Now, that is not to say that people shouldn’t doggedly pursue degrees. There is an often-touted statistic that individuals with college degrees will on average make $1 million more than those with only a high school education. However, looking at the numbers and adhering to the “correlation does not equal causation” line of thought, this claim is dubious at best.

There is value to college though, one that goes beyond churning out well-rounded, liberally-educated young people who are really good at jumping through hoops and meeting deadlines and learning how to brown nose authority figures to get what they want.

College forces people to spend copious amounts of time with classmates and professors who share passions and job aspirations.

Tons of people have degrees. Tons of people participate in internships. These accomplishments are now the bare minimum.

Once students hit their upper division courses, the faces in class tend to stay pretty consistent. Classmates are pursuing the same degree, likely looking to land in similar career fields. The professors are likely people who have worked in the field professionally, or at least have a great degree of education concerning the career the student is pursuing.

Use these people.

Not in a nefarious way, of course. However, students cannot underestimate the power of a strong network of peers and professional mentors when trying to break through the brick wall of inexperience following graduation.

Too often, graduates that find themselves with limited employment opportunities once they hang up the cap and gown immediately think graduate school is the golden ticket that will open all the doors — the same song and dance guidance counselors gave them about college. Just a few more years and few more letters after their name, that’ll make all the difference.

Maybe. But maybe not.

This is not to knock grad school, but it is not for everyone. For some, their fields don’t necessarily warrant the extra structured education; experience working in their field will serve just as well. For others, the high cost of grad school simply makes pursuing it a financial impossibility. Either way, it should be understood that grad school isn’t a magic wand that will make a person employable.

For some employers, those extra letters mean extra dollars in that person’s salary. It can be a company turn-off.

Instead of spending more money and time to become potentially less employable, students need to take networking seriously.

Office hours with professors shouldn’t be seen as only a time to fight for a higher grade, but for students to get valuable one-on-one time with someone who is a skilled and knowledgeable professional who has skilled and knowledgeable professional contacts in that student’s chosen career field.

Academic advisers can direct students to on-campus networking events and career mixers with movers and shakers in a chosen industry.

A student’s classmates in upper division courses will likely pursue similar career opportunities, and most likely a few of them will find decent positions in good companies. Those companies will eventually need more employees, and a job seeker with a friend in the company who has the boss’s ear can be the deciding advantage in a hiring decision.

Greek organizations have utilized college networking for as long as they’ve been in existence, giving preferential treatment to brothers and sisters simply for wearing the same Greek letters.

Students don’t need to endure pledge week and membership fees to find a similar network of likeminded colleagues to rely on following graduation — though they can if that’s their thing.

On- and off-campus student organizations, campus jobs, professor office hours, conferences and volunteer opportunities involving local businesses give students a variety of opportunities to meet influential individuals in their chosen fields.

If a student isn’t involved in a student organization relevant to their career aspirations, they’re doing college wrong. “I don’t have time” is not, and never has been, an excuse.

College is just like anything else in life: people reap what they sow.

Students can coast through school, get a degree and become another inexperienced name and number on a resume to get tossed into the trash by a tired-eyed intern.

Conversely, they can amass an army of friends and professional contacts who share their passions and goals, who understand the trials they faced during college and who can offer a helping hand during the difficulties of post college job searching.

As a group of wise men once said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”