I have never let my schooling interfere with my education - Mark Twain
A valuable degree will get you a job.
Ever heard this statement before?
Ongoing debates about higher education as a stepping stone to well paying, professional careers often leads students and graduates wondering if they chose a 'valuable' degree. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject, and it sucks for those college and university students who hang their head in shame, roll their eyes, and say for the thousandth time with a strained sigh, "I'm finishing up one of those degrees that won't get me a job," as if they know they are doing something bad and unforgivable but can't seem to stop themselves.
Universities have, in some cases, improved accessibility to and awareness of their career services to assist students in figuring out a path from school to work. Yet they tend not to take total responsibility for student success in finding a job after completing post secondary studies. Nor should they. I agree with business professor Sean Lyons at the University of Guelph, who said "we're there to develop longer-term competencies: critical thinking, analytical skills, intellectual growth." While it's not a university's job to find students jobs, he does believe that university's aren't forthcoming enough with what the majority of students can expect when they graduate . Most won't find high-paying professional jobs with security and good benefits for up to five years after graduation, and for many, much longer.
How do grads in transition maintain a positive attitude about their degree's worth?
Education alone does not define who you are, what you are good at, and the jobs you can do.
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it really isn't. That little inner voice, you know, the really annoying one, that starts to natter at you incessantly about why you chose that English degree, that you are 'just' an English major, that all you can do is write really good essays with impeccable grammar, and that the only jobs out there for you are teacher, tutor, or writer. Yeah, this is the voice I'm talking about, and I think we all hear it. It tends to pop up at the worst of times - when we can't figure out what kinds of jobs we want, when we don't hear back after applying for a job, when we don't get selected for a job, and when we land a job that we don't really want, or we feel overqualified for. Trust me, I've heard this voice so many times it seemed to become a part of me. Until I realized that it wasn't. I made a choice to turn this voice of.
How to turn negative-self talk about a 'valueless' degree off, if only for a moment.
It IS possible to turn that voice off, and the sooner we do it the sooner we can get onto the career path we are looking for. How do we do it? Understanding the value of a degree not only in terms of getting a job is incredibly helpful. We get all sorts of great learning and skill development when completing a degree. The most commonly thrown around words are "critical thinking", "analytical skills", "research skills" etc. What if we think more outside the box and consider what else we get out of a degree? It is the more interesting skills (both related to employment and life) that a future employer will be drawn to.
What else have you, as an unique individual, who carries your own life experience as you selected your major, completed your coursework, and participated in extra-curricular activities, accomplished while working towards your degree? What was the reason you selected that major in the first place? Think about these questions and write some thoughts down. Then, consider how these accomplishments (which can include skill development, learning opportunities, meeting new people) relate to the kind of work you want to do.
There is value in the work that you did to earn your degree, no matter what kind of degree you have.
When I hear students and graduates say their degrees are worthless, I often wonder if they truly felt that way while they completed them. Was every lecture, group discussion, and presentation unfulfilling, where no knowledge was gained or insight found? I doubt it. It is when a degree is compared to the job market that it seems to lose its value.
Take a moment to think about a map. Your degree is the starting off point. If one linear line is drawn from that starting off point, whether it be history, engineering, computer science, music, or biology, and at the end of that linear line is a career, or a job, that map ends up being pretty boring. It is certainly convenient, but it is boring. Now think about redrawing this map. Start off with your degree. Try branching off three lines from your starting point, and brainstorm some areas you've travelled to since completing your degree. Maybe one pathway led you to a part-time job at Starbucks (this is OK!). Maybe another led you to a volunteer opportunity. Maybe another is yet unknown, but you are thinking about calling up that friend of a friend who works as a career counsellor and has a history degree. Put that at the end of the third line. It hasn't happened yet, but it might. The great thing is, you don't even realize yet how many more lines, or branches, will evolve from the first three you just drew. This is the real value of a degree. It is a starting off point to many interesting connections and adventures. Some will not branch further (that Starbucks job may just be part-time work to pay the bills) and some won't (that Starbucks job may just lead to an upper level management position in the company's Human Resource department). You just never know.
To say one degree is less valuable than another, based on job market statistics and the subjective opinions of friends and family is to discredit something before it has even demonstrated its value. We wouldn't tell a child in their early stages of development that they will never achieve, so why tell yourself the same thing, based only on the earliest stages of your degree's value? It takes work to recognize and extract the value out of a degree, but it certainly isn't valueless.
I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous. ~ Robert Brault
When I started Graduates In Transition I had two goals in mind.
The first was to publish the stories of students and graduates experiencing a transition connected to their careers. There are all different kinds of transitions that lead people along interesting pathways, and sometimes it is only upon reflection that people realize how a life transition was an important stepping stone to a positive career change. I hoped that by sharing their stories, students and grads would take a moment to reflect on how they have all overcame hardships and found successes while courageously pursuing their career goals.
My second goal was to build a community. When students and grads feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, and worried about their job situation, they don't always share their feelings with others. The notion that "everyone is going through it," "this is a right of passage," and "you will eventually get to where you want to be" perpetuates the idea that grads just need to suck it up and stay positive, work harder and faster to fight against the competition, and not let their emotions get the better of them. Otherwise, they will lose sight of the light at the end of the job search tunnel and get lost along the way.
Graduates in transition is meant to offer an alternative response among a supportive community. The students and graduates who share their stories, or comment on and like the stories being shared, are those who do understand what it's like to be in this kind of transition, and how to show support to others going through it. They may have experienced it themselves, or know of a friend or family member who is.
This week, two separate events reminded me of how valuable this kind of community is, and how important it is that we keep growing.
The first was a kind gesture of a guest contributor to my website, who reached out to his own community in asking them to share in my efforts to build the Graduates In Transition facebook page. The response was more than I could have asked for, and I feel it is because those want to be a part of it understand the complexities of transition and the value in sharing experiences. My hope is that my posts and those of guest bloggers finds a place in the heart and minds of each community member.
The second occurred at a wedding I attended this weekend. I was chatting with a friend who had recently quit her job. Her voice carried hints of hesitation, uncertainty, relief, and optimism. You don't have to be a trained career counsellor to pick up on these kinds of things, just a good listener! When I asked her what she was doing with her time, her face lit up as she told me about her "learning goals," a list of goals she had created over years of discovering new things but never having time to pursue them. I responded with enthusiasm, noting that often pursuing a goal can lead to all sorts of interesting pathways and new opportunities. At the end of our conversation she thanked me for the supportive feedback. I thanked her for sharing her story.
It is amazing how a brief conversation between two friends at a wedding made us both feel more rejuvenated and optimistic about our career transition. For myself, it was my friend's openness about her decision to change directions, to try something new, and to share with me her plans, anxieties, and hopes that made me feel reassured of my own journey to get to where I want to be. That is what a community of students and graduates in career transition is all about.
By sharing our stories and talking about what we are going through, we can be more present in the "here and now". This website isn't about the big finish line, it's about the insight of students and grads who have fears and dreams right now, as they evolve in life and work. When we share the ups and downs of our journeys we show one other that this kind of journey is OK. We aren't screwed up, we haven't lost sight, and we don't mind feeling lost as we find our way. The journey isn't always easy. As long as we share what we are experiencing as we transition, we will connect with others going through something similar, and we will feel better.
So please share. Whether it's your own story, or encouraging someone to share theirs, or sharing the stories of others who inspire you or who you connect with, we can all benefit from a growing community of graduates in transition.