A College Degree Isn't As Important As You Think, And This Is Why

by Susana Kuehne
Originally Published: 
A young man receiving his college diploma
PeopleImages / Getty

Every time I meet someone new, it seems I always get the same question: “What do you do?”

For me, it used to be easy to say that I am an engineer, because that’s what I studied in college. However, people ask my husband the same thing, and he stumbles over his answer because he doesn’t have a regular job or a college degree.

When people ask him about college and he tells them he never went, they sometimes look away or frown in that “oh, I pity you; I guess you’re not smart” kind of way. But if I’m around, I’m the first to jump in with my proud answer.

“He currently stays home with our son and does a great job at it. He didnt get a degree, but while most of us were studying, experimenting with relationships, partying, and spending our parents’ money on take-out food, he spent six years defending our country in the United States Navy and traveling the world. Although he doesn’t have a full time job right now, he has close to ten years of experience with electronics and could do just about anything with that.”

It makes me mad that people have become so conditioned to using labels and titles as if everyone deserves one that they don’t even ask the personal questions which reveal the most interesting things about people such as:

“Where did you grow up?”

“What are your favorite movies or hobbies?”

“How did you decide to do what you do now?”

It’s not simple to define myself either, just because I have a college degree. Though I studied engineering, it was not particularly my favorite and I wanted a job where I could use my background in a way that made my strengths shine. Luckily, I was able to find a law firm that brought me on as a new hire and has been training me to assist with patents for inventions by individuals and companies alike.

Therefore, now when people ask what I do, they seem confused that I ended up on the legal side of things when my education focused on engineering, which brings me to my other pet peeve about the college labels — just because I went to college for one thing doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do anything else.

I actually would have loved to have studied English, but I was already so good at writing by the time I graduated high school that I thought it would be better to explore my interest in math and science. And if I hadn’t attended a university, I’m sure I would have found something else to do. Society makes you think you’re not as valuable without a degree, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Perhaps people have all these misconceptions about what it means to be college educated because they’ve been wired to believe that only those with degrees succeed, and that they only succeed in their specialized fields.

But there are plenty of moms I know who have degrees and aren’t working in offices. They might have studied finance, education, theology, or nursing, but they ended up staying home to raise their children, and there’s no school for that. No textbook to help you fight off fevers in the middle of the night. No final exam for giving birth. No study group for choosing whether to home school or not. What does that say about the worth of college degrees?

It really only affirms that college is extremely useful (usually) for teaching you skills that are transferable in life. For instance, my engineering degree gave me the ability to refine my research skills and develop astute problem-solving techniques. So it doesn’t matter if I’m analyzing the structure of a building or trying to figure out how to respond to a rejection from the patent office. In both cases, I have clear goals, mostly obvious obstacles and the need to get from point A (where I’m at) to point B (where I need to be). If I practice what I’ve learned in either regard and determine what tools are available to me, I can get my task done.

Same with moms. A finance degree means you’re probably the one managing the money in your household. A nursing degree means you know when to take your kid to the hospital versus wait for a few other symptoms to show up. Conversely, there are women who run their own businesses without ever going to business school; millionaires who dropped out of college; scientists who were too smart to be limited to the four walls of a classroom. It’s all what we make of what we learn, and I refuse to be boiled down to one piece of paper.

I’m more than an engineer. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m a writer. I’m a technical advisor. I’m a swimmer. I’m a creative person. I’m a picky eater. I’m philanthropic.

Don’t ever feel that you wasted your degree because you chose a job that might work better for your schedule but isn’t necessarily in your field or because you chose to stay home. I promise most of what you learned comes out when you need it to. You may not be in an office benefiting someone with your expertise but you’re home benefiting your family with those same skills, and that’s a great feeling.

A college degree might cost over $100,000 in some cases, but it’s never going to have the ability to tell you who you are. It only states that you picked something to do/study, and you finished it. It’s meaningful but it’s not everything, and maybe one day people will stop making others–who are wonderful, talented, and intelligent with or without a college degree– feel like it is.

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