Life with a College Degree: Do College Degrees Really Get You Up the Corporate Ladder?


That’s what a lot of college seniors must be thinking at this moment. Finals are about to begin. Rooms are starting to get packed. It’s time to pick up the cap and gown. Graduation is right around the corner. You are about to step into the real world, armed with your degree…

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…And many of you are in for a rude awakening. Sure, your degree is going to give you a leg up in many instances. It may even open some doors for you. But, my dear reader, don’t think that your degree is going to get anything for you by itself. You’re going to have to work for whatever career you want. Furthermore, it might take you quite some time to discover the right career path for you.

Take me and my sister, for instance. Julie has known that she wants to work in Sports Medicine ever since she was a junior in high school. She’s known that she wants to be a doctor ever since I can remember. She entered into the Exercise Science program at The George Washington University and never faltered in her decision of what to study. Now, she’s finishing her first year at Northwestern University in the Physical Therapy program.

I, on the other hand, am quite the opposite of my focused sister. I’ve never really had a “career path,” per se. I still don’t. I do a lot to keep me busy, but I don’t have one specific “career” that I focus on. I went to The George Washington University and changed my major seven times. I entered with Political Communications as a major, and graduated with a BA in Dramatic Literature. I went on to The University of Alaska – Anchorage for my MFA in Creative Writing and didn’t finish because of personal issues. I also attended University of Phoenix and didn’t finish that program because it isn’t recognized in the state I moved to. I’m perfectly happy working from home, and I am now a published author.

Does this make my sister a better person that I am? I should think not. (Although she’s a much nicer person than I am, but that doesn’t really count!) Does it make her smarter than me? No. Does it make me lazier than her? Well, I’ve always been a bit lazier than Julie, but not because I’m “not doing anything” with my degree.

Sometimes I wonder why I got a degree at all. I can’t even remember what I wanted to be when I got out of college. I knew that I enjoyed acting and playwriting. However, I was always discouraged from following those career paths because they come “a dime a dozen.” I’d like to point out that I graduated with Kerry Washington and Herschel Bleefeld… They both followed their hearts and are doing fantastic. I just got published– nearly 8 years after graduating.

So, what the hell was I doing for those eight years? I don’t know. My sister used to call me an “unsettled spirit.” I lived in 12 different states, had countless jobs, ran up all of my credit cards… I didn’t have any guidance.

Correction– I had PLENTY of guidance. “Get a real job.” “Stop moving around so much.” “Quit this nonsense and settle down already.” And I followed that advice. I stopped moving around so much and tried to settle down in California. I was in a miserable marriage, working as hard as I could to support two people. Believe me, this wasn’t what I planned to do in college.

Fortunately, life fell into place for me. Things often have a funny way of working out. Now I am married to a wonderful man. I am published. I’m paying off my debt. I’m working the jobs that I want. I’m writing on a daily basis. Most importantly, I am happy.

So, what does having a degree have to do with all of this? A lot, to tell you the truth.

A Degree Demonstrates Conviction
Regardless of what your degree is in and where it is from, it demonstrates that you set out to accomplish something and you accomplished it. A degree will impress that upon anyone who learns that you have a degree. Be proud of it!

A Degree Suggests Responsibility
You had to be at least somewhat responsible to graduate college. Even if you were out partying every night at the Sigma Chi house, you were still able to complete your degree. That suggests to potential employers that you are responsible enough to take on the job.

A Degree Indicates You Have Some Experience
If you have a degree in computer science, it pretty much indicates that you have had at least some experience within the field, even if it is just in the classroom. If you’re going for a job and you have a degree, you’re more likely to get the job over someone without a degree or experience. That’s just the way things work.

A Degree Hints at Maturity
With the ideas of responsibility, conviction and some experience playing around in your potential employer’s head, they are clearly going to assume that you are mature. After all, you went through years of college. The job they have to offer is theoretically the reward to all of your hard work. Of course you’re going to possess maturity. Do yourself a favor and let that maturity shine through!

While a degree can make a potential employer think some, if not all, of the above, there are some things that a degree will NOT do.

A Degree Won’t GUARANTEE a Job
Sure, having a degree opens a lot of doors for you. You can apply for jobs that people that don’t have a degree can’t apply for. However, just because you have a degree from Yale and someone else has a degree from a school with a less-prestigious reputation doesn’t guarantee that you are going to get the job. Brush up on your interviewing skills.

A Degree Won’t Impress That Many People
If you are expecting a potential employer to ooh and ahh and drool over your degree, you’ve got another thing coming. Remember that you know NOTHING about the person that is hiring you. You have no idea of their educational background. You went to Brown? He went to Harvard and graduated Valedictorian. You struggled through a few years of college and received a degree. Good for you. Next.

A Degree Doesn’t Mean You Will Like What You Do
Just because you have a degree in Psychology doesn’t mean that you will actually enjoy working in the psychology field. You might have spent 4 years at Northwestern and enjoyed every minute of getting that degree, but find that you HATE your job in the field. Hey– it happens. College isn’t the “real world.” Believe me, I wish it was. I had a blast in college. I loved the jobs I had back then. Looking back on it all, did I love the jobs or did I love everything else that was going on? I was able to take the lower paying jobs because I lived on campus. I didn’t have to worry about everything that was associated with the “real world” because I wasn’t in it yet. The responsibility kicks in once you realize that you have to pay rent, buy your own food, pay bills… You get the idea. Those fun jobs become a necessity.

A Degree Doesn’t Confine You To Working in Your Field
As I have mentioned before, I matriculated in Dramatic Literature. Fresh out of college, I worked for a technology corporation as a public relations aide. I got this job because the boss liked that I had a degree– even if it was in a realm completely outside of his company’s business. Dramatic Literature was a far way off from public relations in a communications technologies firm. On the flip side, don’t confine yourself to a field just because that is what you have your degree in.

Be proud of your degree. After all of your hard work, you certainly deserve to be proud of yourself. Just make sure that you don’t get cocky. Most importantly, follow your own instinct. If you think you are going to be miserable working somewhere, pass that job by. If you find that you are miserable somewhere that you thought you would be happy, move on to something you would rather do. Find what you really want to do. Life is too short to be unhappy.