Must you have a university degree to be successful?

That having a university degree is important in our society goes without say. Indeed, the more the merrier. But is this always true? Consider Brian John Spencer’s story below;
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

That having a university degree is important in our society goes without say. Indeed, the more the merrier. But is this always true? Consider Brian John Spencer’s story below;

He went through five years of university and two years, three months of job hunting for university-related jobs. The five years of university were distinctly routine. Studying Law and French, we had anywhere between six and ten hours of class a week and about five months of holiday a year.

Everything was library or class-based. There was very little careers advice, no CV or interview help and certainly no exposure to the real world of law. After the four years of undergraduate study, he was very good at reading books, but had little understanding of how the real world worked and no experience of on the ground law practice.  Compounded by the economic slack, he was essentially unemployable (does that sound like our typical university student?)

Armed with a degree and no job, he did what he knew best: went back to the university library (took up a year long Masters degree). That year and the 15 months that followed were essentially spent banging on doors looking for jobs. It was a soul-destroying experience. He had worked industriously his whole life and wanted to work and earn a wage more than anything, but the dictates of fate said no at every turn.

He then had an epiphany. He had to make the biggest decision of his life: to go on a six-month unpaid government work scheme – as in line with my degree pathway – or make a complete about-turn and go on a vocational sports coaching programme. Certainly not an easy decision.

As you can guess, his parents wanted me to go on the government scheme, saying that it would improve his employment prospects. But after two years, three months of battering on doors, he decided to make the break, to go with the fitness and coaching course. So he took the symbolic leap and enrolled on the fitness course.

The beginning was filled with uncertainty, but as he progressed, his confidence grew; he had made the correct decision.

He suddenly saw things as they were: He hadn’t gone to university to study law because that was what he wanted. He did it because that’s what society, his parents and others expected. He was very good at school; good at Maths, English, Art and languages. And because law (or in our case IT) was deemed the most esteemed, he had to go down that route. Anything else would have been a waste, or he was told.

But his real passion was for sport, fitness and healthy eating. Unfortunately, it just took him a long time to have the conviction and self-understanding to realise this was where his future could be.

There are many lessons one can take from Brian’s story. One thing is certain, though; it is not unique. He learnt a big life lesson; Quite simply: university is not the golden ticket to success that society says it is.

This is also not meant to degrade or disparage university education in any way. Rather to make us think through it.

There are hard questions that a student (or would be student) needs to answer; what is a university degree/education to you as a learner? Why do you need the degree? Is the degree the only path you can use to achieve the desired knowledge/skill? Indeed is it relevant to you? Are there better alternatives?

It is unfortunate that most of us go to university for cosmetic and short term reasons. Think beyond university. Get involved in the area you want to work in. Years of real-world experience are more valuable than empty degree title.

If you want to be a writer or journalist you don’t just go to university and hope things will somehow fall into place, you write! Get a blog and write daily; pester editors and established journalists. Build a presence in the area you are passionate in… live out of your passion.

The same applies for other disciplines too. Investigate your options fully and don’t just automatically go with university; that’s to go with the herd – and the herd’s not always right.

Give serious consideration to whether or not university is the right option for you and remember: you can be very very successful without a degree

You can focus on relevance; or you can keep on keeping up with appearances.

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