Go to College

There is a curious rebellion against higher education. I get the sense that it’s an overreaction, a correction to the unquestioned emphasis placed onto college over the past few decades. The millennial generation is no longer seeing the gains enjoyed by previous generations[1], and education itself has moved away from teaching critical thinking and evaluation, and increasingly towards supplying a certification in work competency.

So when someone says college is “a poor choice for a lot of people”, that’s a misguided – if somewhat understandable – sentiment.

First, a pet peeve: the piece is referring attending school in preparation for a career in software development, but speaks as if the norms in the software industry are universally applicable across all jobs. For many occupations, schooling is formal and necessary accreditation, and sometimes acts as a stepping stone to other professions that may require additional years of study. Even if engineering managers accept self-taught prodigies onto their teams, the vast majority of employers do not and should not ignore college degrees. Let’s stick within the computing-related majors.

There are a few reasons against college:

On the other hand, the simple advantage in going to college is that it opens doors, particularly early on in a career. Employers are biased towards the schools in recruiting, and most technical interviews – regardless of experience level – are centered around testing concepts taught in school. These aspects aren’t insurmountable without formal instruction, but our industry has catered its positions towards college graduates, and it’s a substantial opportunity cost to pay for a few years’ head start.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. Although the data continues to show that college graduates enjoy a wage premium, above and beyond the raising costs of tuition.
  2. During my tenure in school, I took two classes in rhetoric. I was both humbled at the level of my own writing, and impressed at the power and importance of clear communication.
  3. I’ve never heard of anyone skipping out on school to join a major corporation.