Why You Still Need A Degree

03/12/2015 3:31 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Smiling teenager with copybook looking at camera

When I was in my final year of university finishing up my Bachelor of Media degree, I was doing some work experience with a TV producer. (At that time, I was majoring in TV/video production.) I was complaining that my degree was pointless in securing TV work, because it was all about who you knew and getting your foot in the door. The theory you'd studied didn't matter to prospective employers, unless you had actual experience to back it up. He said something in response that I've never forgotten:

He had been a TV producer for decades, but his degree was in psychology. "Your career path may be winding, and you may end up somewhere quite different to where you started, but get your degree," he said. "It doesn't matter what your degree is in, but getting a degree in SOMETHING matters. It shows that you've got the drive to continue learning, to better yourself, to invest in yourself. And as an employer, that matters more to me than what you actually studied."

Little did I know that my career would take me in a completely different direction and that my first "real" job would be at a PR agency in San Francisco. Or that seven years later I would establish my own boutique PR firm back in Sydney.

Because I didn't actively study public relations, and majored in a different area, everything I learned about PR, I learned on the job. But what I gained from my university education has undoubtedly carried over into my career.

The thing I remember most about starting uni is that nobody actually cared whether you did or didn't pass your subjects. It was a world away from my relatively small high school, where in some classes there were only seven students and where our teachers would do anything to help us do well in the HSC, including spending time with us outside of class hours. But at uni, it was all up to me. Sink or swim.

I learned, for the first time, how to think for myself. How to explore and research and analyse something until I had formed a point of view of my own. How to gather information, weigh up the opinions of others and sift through it all until it made sense.

It also taught me how to juggle deadlines. There were no teachers checking in asking how we were going with our assignments or essays. And nobody would say a word if you didn't deliver. You'd simply fail.

Granted, this feels like several eons ago. The Internet existed but nobody really used it. I had a Hotmail account but wasn't really sure what to do with it. (LOLz right?) These days, it's a completely different ball game. Twenty year olds are making millions because they look good in a bikini or know how to make a green smoothie on Instagram. And the Silicon Valley is riddled with child geniuses who've made millions before they're 25 years old.

But despite that, call me old fashioned, I still won't interview a junior candidate unless they've got a university degree.

I feel exactly the same as that TV producer did. I don't really care WHAT you studied, but I care THAT you studied. I care that you wanted to take an extra three or four years to develop yourself, to challenge your brain, to become better. That means something to me. I also think it gives you an extra few years to do some growing up before you get into the work force.

Of course, I'm sure there are many exceptions to my self-imposed rule. I'm sure for every graduate success story there is one that belongs to someone that walked a different path. But we are fortunate enough to live in a society that makes tertiary education pretty accessible to almost everyone. And to not take advantage of that would seem ludicrous to folks in other countries who aren't as lucky.

In conclusion, (see what I did there? I'm writing an essay!) I don't think it matters if you don't know what you want to be when you grow up. Just go out and further your education. What's the hurry to get into the workforce? You've got your whole life to do that. (Trust me. We have an ageing society. You'll be working until you're one million years old.) Just pick something that interests you and go from there. You won't regret it.

La Trobe University's Bachelor of Arts is designed to give you the knowledge and practical skills you need to adapt to an ever-changing job market. Create your own opportunities and study a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe.

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