Although some may try to forge a future without higher education, a university degree is worth it

A post-secondary education can build character, teach good work ethics, and open up doors to dream professional fields

Courtesy of SFU

Written by Amal Abdullah

The concept of higher education has existed since the ninth century, when Fatima Al-Fihri, a woman who moved from Tunisia to Morocco, created the first university. Nearly 1,160 years later, a university education is considered an essential milestone in a successful life trajectory. However, in recent years, more and more arguments are being raised that a degree is not required in order to make a career, and certainly not to make a life.

From what I’ve heard, the no-school camp reasons that one can build a successful life, saving all the years of grueling effort and time spent in university, by being enterprising and innovative. They also claim to argue that the supplementary years spent after high school gaining an institutionalized education creates conformists, prevents people from taking risks, and stifles creativity. They use the many cases of jobless university graduates as an example of university not working out. 

“Why bother following the traditional route,” some ask, “when the end result is the same?” This school of thought usually seeks to earn its bread and butter through entrepreneurial and innovative ways, and its graduates have seen both sides of success and failure.

I am going to argue against this notion. If this model has worked for centuries, and the vast majority of people still attend school, then we cannot call university completely useless. While everyone has their own reasons for going to university, with the most common being finding well-paying employment, there are two reasons that I feel are the most pertinent.

Firstly, a university education provides students with skills and experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, which put them on the path to professional success. At the classroom level, students must juggle multiple courses that require high levels of commitment, read through incredibly dense content, complete assignments, and study for tests on short, stressful deadlines. Most students also work part-time jobs, sometimes taking on multiple jobs at a time, which only add to the already hefty schedule on
their backs.

With all these responsibilities and commitments, students are forcefully put into a position where they must learn to manage their time well and spend it productively, milking the little free time they have to do things that they enjoy. As a result, students adapt to an accelerated lifestyle that builds character and teaches professional work ethic. Students are better suited for the workforce than their no-schooler counterparts.

Furthermore, the university experience opens the door to creating connections and forging relationships that are important in a professional life. As the no-schoolers argue, a degree is not sufficient in order to obtain a good job and one’s personal networks are infinitely more important in realizing a successful career, a fact embodied by the common saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

The expectation, or at least the hope, is that the students pursuing a post-secondary education are the brilliant minds who will become the movers and shakers of our communities once they graduate. Being in a university setting is the best way to get in touch and build connections and friendships with these people. This is not to say that all our friendships are for self-serving reasons, but there is no doubt about the fact that connections and networks are important for professional success.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, globally renowned for their success, dropped out of university before finishing their degrees. While this seems contrary to my argument, it is important to note that they dropped out of Harvard University, one of the best universities in the world, after having created the foundations for their respective softwares with their peers. If they had not been influenced by the bright minds at Harvard, it is possible that Facebook and Microsoft would not exist.

Overall, is a university education helpful for a successful life in our day? I do not think that anyone can deny that it is, though there will always be risk-seekers among us who will embark on the journey to go out and create their own futures. The university experience allows students to gain coveted skills and experiences, and it opens the doors to professional networks and connections, which are essential in the professional world. If you are reading this, you probably believe that a degree is useful to some
extent, too.