In my last post I shared my opinion that an MBA is only worth it in certain circumstances. It’s not that an MBA is bad - it just comes with a high cost (both money and time). Most people can find similar career benefits in other ways at a much lower cost. A LinkedIn comment on the post got me thinking about bachelor degrees.
I want to state up front that I believe a 4-year degree is more broadly beneficial than an MBA. It’s not automatically worth it for everyone, but I think it’s a good choice for many.
This post is about how to make a bachelor degree worth it. I refer to bachelor degrees, but the same principles apply to any post-secondary education program.
First, don’t view a degree as a golden ticket
For many career paths, a bachelor degree is a rite of passage and not a differentiator. A bachelor degree does not guarantee a high-paying job that leads to a lucrative career.
In fact, most entry-level jobs are anything but lucrative. Average starting salaries for most degrees range from around $30,000 to $60,000. This is hardly enough to support a large student loan payment.
Second, don’t spend like you’re buying a golden ticket
The single biggest I problem I have with bachelor degrees is the debt that most students become chained to.
Some millennials get headlines for demanding student loan forgiveness and free school.
Yes, rising costs are a problem, but no one forced them to rack up student loans! No one forced them to use student loans to fund a comfortable lifestyle in addition to books and tuition. No one forced them to avoid a job while going to school. No one forced them to go to a high-cost private or out-of-state school to a pursue a degree with low market value.
Students are not supposed to be comfortable! They’re supposed to live in small, run-down apartments or dorm rooms eating rice and beans on hand-me-down furniture. They’re supposed to drive a beater if they have a car at all.
They’re supposed to have a job at the same time, which leads me to my next point…
Third, don’t put off work experience until you graduate
Working while going to school has at least three benefits.
If combined with living inexpensively, working 20+ hours per week during the school year and 40+ hours per week in the summer should allow you to get through school without debt.
Your work experience will prepare you for your post-graduation career and set you apart from your peers going for the same entry level positions.
Working teaches valuable time management skills. The common excuse for not working is, “I need to focus on my studies.” The reality is most college students don’t have the discipline or stamina to study every spare minute outside of class. Work provides a break from school that would otherwise be spent playing video games or otherwise wasting time.
And by working, I don’t mean settling for flipping burgers or cleaning bathrooms for a few hours per week (although any work is better than nothing). Be aggressive about finding work as closely related to your preferred career path as possible.
When I started university, I immediately got a job working events for minimum wage. I saw it as a way to eat and pay rent while looking for a better job. By the end of my first semester I found a job running an online class that paid almost double minimum wage. The job wasn’t posted - I found it by approaching all of the professors in the program I wanted to be in (and hadn’t applied for yet) and asking if they knew of any job opportunities.
That was great experience and paid well, but it wasn’t directly related to my degree. Three semesters later I found a job at a local software startup where I worked for my final two years at almost three times minimum wage.
This work experience not only allowed me to get through university without debt, but it also set me apart from many of my peers who were also being recruited by the Big 4 accounting firms.
In summary, I believe a four-year degree can be worth it for many people. But only if you intentionally make it worth it.
It’s not the diploma that matters - it’s the person you become while earning that diploma.
Question: How else can you make a bachelor degree worth it?