Excerpt from Race to the Starting Line: How to Succeed In College by Leaving Grades Behind.

CHAPTER 1: “What does a bachelor’s degree mean to an employer?”

Sounds like a simple question with a simple answer. Many students I speak to respond to this question with various statements:

  • “A bachelor’s degree shows your experience.”
  • “…shows accomplishment”
  • “It lets companies know how smart you are.”

The real answer is far more basic. Based on years of experience as an employer interviewing many candidates, as well as asking many friends who are heads of HR departments from companies large and small, I’m here to tell you the real answer:

A bachelor’s degree tells an employer that you’ve learned how to learn.

That’s it. That is what four to six years as an undergrad tells the working world. Upset? Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Just think about it. How much of what you learn – considering all the courses you take as an undergrad – will apply to your career? Most schools require a heck of a lot of so called “General Education Curriculum” (GEC) classes, such as history, physics, or another language. Do you honestly think knowing the date of the Magna Carta will be a question on any job interview? No. (It’s 1215 A.D. by the way.) Even for careers that require higher degrees (like engineering, medicine, or law), undergraduate courses only prepare you for a big test and/or more schooling.

Regardless of your major, you’ll be taught the true work relevant skills either on the job (through work training), in an advanced degree (through grad school), or on your own (through your work experiences).

I’m not knocking college. In fact, in the following chapters, I praise college as the shortest period in your life that rewards you with the most opportunities for success. Nor am I knocking all these “extra” courses that are unrelated to your major and seem to be a waste of time. In fact, my most memorable courses were Philosophy 101 and Introduction to Shakespeare – both GEC classes which had nothing to do with my Molecular Genetics degree.

What you need to realize is that your time as an undergrad will train you to consume a large amount of data and: demonstrate you’ve learned it (by mid-terms), formulate your own theories (by writing papers) or apply it in some way (by having laboratory classes). The skills required to analyze, formulate or apply what you learned are critical requirements for the jobs of the Real World.

Oh, please. I can hear you groaning through the page. I know, I said it: The Real World. It’s not even in reference to the TV show.

There is a reason why your parents, professors, books like this and others call it the Real World. The Real World doesn’t let you explore your career or life options with the same ease and relative lack of consequences as college. Why? The Real World requires commitment to one or more of the following: to a job, to a mortgage, to a spouse, to your children, to Uncle Sam (taxes), to student loans or more. Think of college as the shallow end of the swimming pool where you can get used to the water, practice your strokes, and let go of the edge – all while knowing your feet can touch bottom any time.

It’s true that your degree shows the world that you’ve learned how to learn. But the years in college are for you to expose yourself to new knowledge, explore vastly different career options, and more importantly, learn about yourself and what makes you happy.

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