Forget Grad School. Is Your B.A. Worth It?

I’ve commented on a lot of blog posts arguing the benefits of grad school versus real world experience. I’ve blogged about how I feel the best way to learn is by doing. But forget about grad school. Was getting your undergraduate degree a waste of time, too?

A fellow YEC member — Donna Fenn — recently shared info on the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Basically, those chosen for the fellowship have each been given $100,000 to drop out of college and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. In addition to the moolah, fellows will be provided with mentorship from the Foundation’s network of entrepreneurs, in addition to other resources.

I was intrigued by this story because, while I felt college was beneficial in helping me develop as a person, I didn’t feel as if it prepared me all that much for professional life.

What do I wish I’d learned in college?

  • how to wake up in the early morning without experiencing crushing feelings of ennui and despair
  • how to dress for the corporate environment
  • how to put together a kick-ass resume
  • how to pinpoint the best jobs for me, instead of applying to everything in blind desperation
  • the importance of networking
  • the benefits of pursuing informational interviews
  • how to do my taxes
  • how to draw up an airtight contract
  • how to query magazine editors and build up my portfolio
  • how to manage my time
  • how to register one’s business name
  • how to know when it’s time to move on
  • how to resign without burning bridges
  • how to market myself to the greatest effect
  • how to negotiate dangerous office politics
  • how to draw boundaries, and master the art of work/life balance
  • how to avoid sweating the small stuff and stop being so damn neurotic
  • how to write a kick-ass press release
  • how to earn what you deserve, and not settle for anything less
  • how to know what you deserve

Of course, college wasn’t a complete loss, education-wise. I learned the importance of a unique cover letter, and I learned that I could write funny (though you might beg to differ).

But still. Wouldn’t targeted mentorship and career-specific resources have benefited me more?

What do you wish you learned in college?

Related: Coffee Break: Home Ex for Entrepreneurs


  1. I went to grad school and in our philosophy class, we discussed how the generation of today are bypassing the educational institutions that were developed over hundreds of years. The system is designed so that a young person can take 4 to 6 years of their life, isolated from the troubles of the world, to just think, ponder, learn, and grow. It’s during this time that we learn to think, analyze, debate, and synthesis.

    I theorize that there are two types of people:

    1. The ones that need these practical skills who are incapable of learning them in the workplace. That is why we have technical schools.

    2. The leaders that use the experience to network and to think.

    Once you’re in the real world, you have little time to reflect and learn, it’s all about production. This is why the newly employed are frustrated because they don’t have the skills to do the basic tasks (write a report, run a meeting, develop a spreadsheet).

    As the employee gains experience, the value of the technical skills isn’t as important anymore and it’s the ability to think that separates line workers from leaders.

    • Hey there Daniel – I can’t deny that I grew a lot as a person as a result of going away to college. The thing is, I feel it was the “going away”… the leaving home… that allowed me to become who I am today.

      But I feel as if the bulk of my learning has been done on the job, or has been self-taught through books, networking, and continuing education (targeted, non-credit classes).

      Not to say that no one benefits from a college education, but the system seems broken to me, especially considering the amount of debt many take on because of it… debt that they may be saddled with for the rest of their lives depending upon the industry they’re in.

  2. I think it would have been useful to learn more about the subtleties of navigating an office environment/corporate culture, and the nuances of communicating with co-workers via email especially. I figured most of it out over the years, but I’ve encountered so many people who don’t understand the etiquette behind when it’s appropriate to CC a person’s boss, how soon one should expect to get a reply on emails, and whether “reply all” is really necessary.

    I feel like my journalism/PR program at Ball State did an excellent job with giving me the technical skills to work in my field (and even expand to similar fields), but a lot of the information I received about professionalism is already extremely outdated, and I only graduated 4 years ago!

    I’ve found a few resources that have been helpful for me:
    1. (AWESOME blog!)

    2. The Big Sister’s Guide to the World of Work (a book, a little bit sugar-coated, but gives more insight into navigating corporate culture.)

    Oh, and I’m working on developing that resource for how to resign without burning bridges. 🙂

    • Thanks for the list of resources, Kristin!

      And YES. You mention that you’ve encountered people who don’t seem to understand basic professional etiquette. I have, too, and it makes me wonder (in an old, fuddy-duddy voice): What in heck are they teaching young folk today!?

  3. Exactly. This is the exact list of things (with a few exceptions) that I expected from college. I got none of them.

    Despite the stigma, if I had it to do over again, I would not have bothered with college. I don’t know what I would have done exactly, but almost ten years later, and 30,000 in the hole I can tell you…college derailed my life…it did not help it in any sense.

    I am not happy that your college experience was lacking. But I am gratifying to learn that others have felt the same way about it as I have.

    • If I had to do it over again… I don’t know. I did benefit from being away from home. I feel as if I came into my own while I was away. And there is that stigma you mention.

      But oh, if only I could create my own curriculum…

  4. I do feel as though my undergrad was a waste of time to prepare me professionally. I majored in business, having no idea at the time I would end up being a freelance writer. Like you, I believe it helped me grow as a person and I guess to some degree, has helped me run my business more effectively. I have thought about an MFA, but decided the ROI for income wouldn’t be worth the cost.

  5. As a senior (really senior, as I just turned 55) who graduated with a BA in communications last summer, there are pros and cons. I got a lot of real life experience before my college degree, but the degree is the foot-in-the-door. How many of you have the connections to get $100,000 to start your own business? Me neither. Working hard isn’t the whole answer either. Because there’s still that glass ceiling in the workplace. And sometimes there isn’t the sugar daddy…em…husband to cover bills for you either. Without the degree (or money), sometimes all that happens is you get a lot of experience.
    Short answer; there aren’t any shortcuts. The only thing that prepares us for life is life. I’m not going for the MFA either. I don’t need to pay someone to tell me to read and write. I just need to do it. As much as possible. And network, network, network.
    Thanks for the…why am I working for pennies KITA. Even at my age, I’m currently doing the ‘build a portfolio’ gig. Some days I DO consider sending out a resume for a better-paying job so I can cover my bills better, but since freelance writing for a living is my goal, I don’t know that a job change would really be in that best interest.

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