The difference between getting a degree and an education

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind quite a lot lately. It’s the misconception that many people have about what a university degree really means.

People often think that the day they get that shiny embossed degree they suddenly become qualified and are now ready to get out and take the professional world by storm. They think employers will be lining up at their door with offers of 100k salaries, company cars, and corner offices. If that’s you then this article might hurt a bit.

university degree and education

Here’s the reality. A degree simply shows that you spent several years studying one or more subjects and managed to pass most of your classes. That’s it. It does not mean you learned anything relevant to the “real world” or that you’re qualified in your field. It’s merely an implication.

Did you ever hear the saying “if it were easy then everyone would do it?” Well, pretty much everyone does go to university these days. Getting a degree is not that difficult. This means you’re going to have to step up your game if you want that corner office.

Tens of millions of students graduate every year. That’s a lot of competition. But maybe you think you’re the one in a million who deserves that awesome job? Like a job at Google! Well to put it into perspective, Google gets over 2.5 million applications every year. If all you’ve got is a degree then most of those people are probably more qualified than you, so good luck with that.

Now, I’m not saying university degrees are meaningless. I mean, I can’t say I’d feel very comfortable having brain surgery done by a self taught doctor. And my writing would certainly be a lot better if I had paid more attention in school. Though, most of the things you’ll learn in university have no application beyond passing your exams. Besides, 99% of what you’re taught in university can be learned through a quick Google search anyway.

If universities actually prepared students then why are there so many unemployed graduates? Why do so many students say they need experience to get a “real job?” I mean, wasn’t that the whole point of going to uni in the first place?

The lack of education in the education system is the reason why so many graduates can’t find a job with just a degree on their resume. While getting a business degree I was taught more about Native American history and organic chemistry than about how to get a professional job. Not by choice, but because that’s how the education system works in the United States.

I went to university to get a good education, but all I got was a degree.

Fortunately, I made use of my time in university by starting businesses of my own. I often skipped my international business classes to drive from the US up to Canada where I managed a business at the age of 21. The experience showed me that employers care about personality, ambition, hard work and what you know. Not just a piece of paper.

For many years prior to that I had put a lot of time and energy into educating myself, but not the way most people did. I read books on investing, I failed a business or two, and I even taught myself how to code websites. It had nothing to do with university, but one month of starting a business taught me more than four years of business school.

You can have a degree and not be educated. You can also be extremely educated and not have a degree. They often go hand-in-hand, but a degree and an education are completely different things. If you’ve got a degree then you could say you’re more “qualified” on paper than Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and Walt Disney to name a few. So where is your billion dollar company? I think I’ve made my point…

It’s a cliché example, but those guys all prove that lacking a degree is not an excuse for not getting what you want. They all spent their early years educating themselves and doing something different than everyone else. They didn’t make excuses, they didn’t wait around for things to be handed to them, and they certainly never said “I can’t get a job because I don’t have experience.” A phrase too many job seekers use to shift the blame away from themselves.

It’s why I encourage people to get an education, not just a degree. You can volunteer, do an internship, read some books, find a mentor or take some online courses (not for a degree) to get experience and expand your knowledge. That will get you a lot further in life than a few extra percentage points on your exams.