Self-education vs formal education

Is an undergraduate degree worth it anymore? Given rising costs and lower post-graduation opportunities, we examine the pros and cons.

Fast Company's article, Guide to the Generation Flux College Degree shows two sides to the story. The first side, that of the economists, states that there is still great value in an education. The more entrepreneurial side claims that, now more than ever, you can create a meaningful career by identifying your chosen field and mastering it through self-learning.

As the article's author, Anya Kamenetz, states, "The only hole in this argument is that it usually takes much more than what a formal education provides today to be successful, either in your career or more broadly, in life. Mid-level skilled clerical and managerial jobs, the kind that our industrial-era education system was optimized to prepare workers for, have disappeared overseas or are increasingly handled by software. You need a specialized set of higher-order thinking skills, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, creativity, design thinking, a sense of humour, and a killer social-media profile to compete in the job market today. The problem is, you can't rely on developing most, or even many, of these qualities from a traditional college syllabus.

"Kio Stark, who teaches at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, published an eBook last year titled Don't Go Back to School. She interviewed more than a hundred successful independent learners who had either dropped out of college or had skipped grad school to instead do what they loved to do--whether it was computer programming, writing, business, acting, fine art, journalism, or even philosophy. "A lot of the people I spoke to felt that they had no autonomy over what they were learning in college. They were taking tests rather than getting to do more independent thinking," she says."

Here are the main strategies used by other independent learners:

  1. Learn by doing. This could mean starting a business, or an internship at a firm, or building something, or starting a blog. Anything that will motivate you to learn more about the subject you are interested in.

  2. Find your tribe. The one main benefit of traditional school education is joining a learning environment. There is nothing more motivating than aligning yourself with like-minded people who are keen to learn. Find your community, your tribe and support each other in growing and learning.

  3. Focus on the process. Self-guided independent learning is not easy. There will be challenges along the way, costs, judgement and stereotyping. But the sense of mastery and self-accomplishment you will get will help you on your journey to your dream job. Self-discipline and the ability to learn on the job are some of the most desirable skills in the workforce.

To get on a path of "doing" and kickstart your career, check out our Career Planning Life Event.