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Does College Prepare Students for Reality? The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As a new marketing intern, I juggle between life as a college student and life as a professional worker. In doing so, it has begged the question of whether college adequately prepares professionals for reality. Living in a culture where education is held on a pedestal and is necessary for practically any higher-level job, it only makes sense that we should analyze how relevant earning a college bachelor degree is to the success in a future job.

The criticism I would have of college undergrad programs is what and where their focus is and how it helps prepare a student for a professional career. Three areas I believe college focuses are different from professional ones are individual risk and responsibility, goals, and skill development.

The amount of risk associated with performing poorly is dramatically different between college and a professional job. When you arrive at college you are immersed in the idea that you are independent and solely responsible for your work. A job well done impacts you and you alone and a poor job affects only you and your grade. Starting in a professional job, it becomes evident that it is just the opposite. Since a company can be seen as many small jobs making up one big project, individuals actions, decisions, and work quality affect more than just them, they affect the entire company. Team efforts in college such as group projects (we all either love them or hate them), can help students develop a more collaborative mindset. However, the idea in college is that a student must first become responsible for themselves and analyze the personal consequences of their actions before they can become responsible for others. While this is certainly a logical way of thinking, the fact remains that colleges may not be adequately preparing students to think as a team and see a bigger picture.

Another big question is whether the skills learned in college classes are the skills used in a professional job. In many ways they are. Important skills such as writing, listening, and meeting deadlines are important for both students and professionals. However, many college courses primarily focus on memorizing material.  Consequently, students will typically memorize the material right before a test and forget most of it within a few months. Professional jobs rely more heavily on problem solving abilities, leadership, and analytical skills. With so many college professors spoon feeding their students material to memorize, college students often aren’t able to exercise problem solving, leadership, analytical skills or other real life situations.

The number one goal among college students is to receive good grades. Hands down. Receiving straight A’s is an admirable goal, but perhaps not what colleges should be encouraging above anything else. A high GPA looks great on a resume but what good is a high GPA with absolutely no real life work experience when starting a new job? Personally, I do not think colleges could stress enough the importance of gaining experience through an internship or some other professional opportunity. It understandably could be difficult for a college to openly place experience above grades and course content, but in my experience speaking with professionals on how much of the material they learned in college is used in their job, its almost always very little. College courses develop a baseline understanding, the rest is usually picked up along the way through job experiences. Many college students need more encouragement to step out of the library and to not be afraid to get their feet dirty in a professional environment.

College is responsible for eliminating thousands of dollars every semester in  a bank account and often times can be blamed for staggering student loans that have to be paid off for years after graduation. In today’s culture, most people see this as worth it because of the opportunities it opens up for a professional job. However looking at some of these points, is a college education even relevant to being able to perform well in a job? I would say without a doubt it does, but perhaps a better way to look at it is not what a college education provides intellectually, but what it says of a person’s character.

As I pointed out earlier, skills and knowledge can easily be learned along the way with a person who has baseline intellectual abilities. Character qualities however, can not be learned. A college degree says more than just acquiring the appropriate knowledge and intellect to graduate. It speaks of one’s character in ways that can serve a company more than knowledge ever could. It speaks of discipline, work ethic, motivation, perseverance, and endurance. It provides graduates with a feeling of confidence that will carry over in how they lead and perform in a company. It provides graduates with social experiences that will assist them in working with others. It expresses a level of desire a person has to receive a high level job and learn new things. These character qualities are what will allow someone to be truly successful in a professional job. It is for these reasons that college prepares students for reality and for these reasons that a college education will continue to be necessary for pursuing a professional career.

On a final note, one thing I’ve learned from my limited professional experience so far (and not necessarily my collegiate experience) is that everything I do, including my first blog post, reflects on myself as well as the company I work for.  So at the risk of sounding like a sales person rather than a college student receiving invaluable professional experience from my marketing internship, I’d like to tell you a little about the company I work for and how they factor in after college only gets you so far.

ASPE is a professional, skills-based training company. We teach the real skills needed to excel in a position once you have it, to gain a position you weren’t previously qualified for, or to add new skills to your outdated skill set.  Let’s use our ASPE-ROI division as an example.  A lot of the people taking our digital marketing courses through ASPE-ROI are old school marketers. They are people who have been in the marketing industry for a while but don’t have the new, high-demand digital marketing skills required to be successful in today’s marketing industry. What can they do? I suppose they could do some research and find an undergrad or graduate program somewhere that happens to offer a up-to-date marketing/digital marketing degree. Or they could take our 4-day Google Online Marketing Boot Camp and be given all the tools and resources they need to become a highly qualified digital marketer.  They could even take 5 of our courses to gain their Executive Certificate in Internet Marketing and it would STILL be an nth of the price of going back to school.

In conclusion, don’t take college for granted. Get a degree. Prove that you have the ability to work well with others, that you are motivated, goal oriented and teachable. But once you have that degree, take matters into your own hands and do whatever necessary to gain the real skills you’ll need to be successful in your professional pursuits.

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