Experience vs. Education

By Chimay Skinner

Education is very important and can be what sets one society apart from another. It allows people to pass on knowledge from one generation to the next, avoiding endless trial and error. Without education, societies could not progress in an orderly fashion, as people would have to keep relearning the same things, or simply never learn them. In a place like the United States, when people think “education,” they tend to think of formal schools, starting in attendance from early childhood and continuing on through early adulthood.

It goes without saying that this emphasis on learning is very important for our country’s ability to innovate and improve upon ideas and inventions, but in the 21st century, it may be the case that too much emphasis is being put on formal labels instead of on practical skills or abilities. I do not say this lightly, being one who has participated in classroom activities for the last two decades and has yet to be handed a diploma finally signifying emancipation from book reports and group presentations.

It seems possible that the status of having a diploma has actually become more important to us than what is actually learned in getting a degree. This is not to say that there have not been classes and teachers who have been great industry resources and aided in my preparation for entry into the job market. It just seems like the most I have gotten out of higher education is a strong work ethic, organizational skills, and great relationships, none of which, I’ll add, is exclusive to being on a campus or in a classroom. Being in an organization and working with like-minded people has the potential to yield the same results, without paying excessive amounts of money, and undergoing high levels of stress. Of course, neither experience mandates high levels of stress, but there is no question that at least one produces a monetary income and “real-world” experience, while the other just talk about such things.

There are many opportunities for people to gain real, extensive experience in different fields, but people often don’t think that they’ll have job security without their diploma, so they don’t always venture out and open those new doors. I will soon have my business degree with an emphasis in marketing, and can very confidently say that the work I have done outside of school has been far superior in helping me understand the industry, compared to what I have learned sitting in a classroom.

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For some professions, there is simply no getting around the fact that going to school is absolutely mandatory for entering a particular career. If I had to guess, I would say that less than half of the jobs that people are getting out of college are impossible to perform without a college education. There is no reference or citation for such a claim, but knowing what I do about entry level jobs that post-college students typically find themselves in, it would be hard to argue that with minimal training, any “uneducated” bloke couldn’t learn and get up to speed on the day to day job duties that most companies require.

I have personally been fortunate enough to run into different opportunities throughout my time in school that has given me amazing insights into the business world and helped me narrow down what in particular it is that I want to do once I’m “free” from the restrictions of being a student. What has turned into one of the most educational endeavors of my life is interning at Power Digital Marketing. I am not being quizzed on vocabulary words out of a textbook, and I am not listening to lectures about theoretical concepts. I am working with businesses who play a role in our country’s economy. I am learning how organizations utilize the latest digital marketing strategies to reach customers, and I am using critical thinking skills to come up with solutions to problems that I have never before considered.

Ironically, school is where I heard about Power Digital, so I will emphasize the fact that no matter where you are at any given point, it is very possible to network and stay open to new experiences, school being a good place to do this. Overall, what I am trying to get at here, is not that school is a waste of time, but rather that there are great opportunities to become educated in something outside of a classroom. A good analogy to consider would be learning to ride a bike. You could read as many books as you wanted about how to ride a bike, and you may even be more ready to ride that bike than someone who didn’t read anything before hopping on. But, at the end of the day, both you and the other person will be bad at riding the bike until you’ve gotten on and pedaled for a while.

Before making a major decision in your life like going into debt and potentially spending a lot of time doing something you later figure out you don’t want to do, consider looking for an opportunity to try out something you’re interested in getting good at. It may be the case that you soon discover you absolutely want to go into a school program to formally learn about a particular field, but it is also very possible that you realize you’re learning a bunch of stuff that makes you happy where you already are.

My experience at various jobs, and especially the internships I’ve been a part of so far, has helped me realize that regardless of how many transferable units I have acquired to date, I still have had to start at square one, learning the basics of what I am doing. Aside from being in an actual office with professionals to show you how to do things, there are infinite resources immediately available to us in our 21st century lives. If you want to learn how to become an accountant or an entrepreneur, read some books or watch some how-to videos on Youtube, and then GO DO IT! Find an entry level job, an internship, or volunteer with a non-profit so you can see what it’s like to actually do the things school only talks about.

If parents, or other influential people in your life, are pressuring you into school, it makes sense to consider what they’re saying. Just don’t think that there is no other path available to you. Expectations are likely one of the biggest sources of unhappiness that we as humans deal with. We assume and want things to go a certain way, and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, they won’t go that way most of the time. Consider taking things at face value as they actually come and then make decisions accordingly. School is something to use as a tool if needed but is not necessarily going to be what gets you into the career you’ve always dreamed of.

 

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