How to Get the Most Out of Higher Education by Honing In On Skill Sets

How to Get the Most Out of Higher Education by Honing In On Skill Sets

Why focus and specificity will be your friends in this economy

It's been all but proven that higher education, when pursued for its own sake, isn't too much more than a scam. Teens who have been conditioned to believe that there's nothing more important than building a career around a meticulously crafted individual identity show up to campus and spend four years trying to 'find' themselves. Maybe they learn something about their own tendencies and desires, maybe they don't. Either way, the ongoing conviction that every child should finish college has left this country with a surplus of young people who feel that they've earned--and paid for-- the right to a good job that reflects their inner selves. The problem is that there are now way more special snowflakes than there are jobs for them.

Students who enter college with specific careers in mind, like pre-meds and pre-MBAs, aren't really subject to this generational plague of overeducation. It's the ones who dabbled in vagueries for four years that are having the problems. They take crappy jobs (one in four retail salespeople now has a college degree) or they move back in with their parents. Maybe they'll go back to school someday, or maybe they'll keep working at positions they could have landed with just a GED. They feel, somehow, like they were promised more than what they've ended up with.

Surprisingly, it's not just the liberal arts folks that have fallen through the employment cracks. What you studied doesn't have too much bearing on where you end up, but how you studied just might. Dabblers aren't rewarded in this economy. Employers aren't going to be impressed by the period of self-discovery where you changed your major five times and took Indian dance on the side. The college prep push to be well-rounded backfires after a certain point. After a certain point, you've got to focus.

That's why art school grads are actually doing okay out there in the world. Unlike liberal arts colleges, art schools teach you to hone in on a specific set of skills. There are tons of jobs in design, printmaking, 3D graphics. Images are as needed as ever--and a school that forces you to graduate with a portfolio is a school that will leave you with more to show from your education than just your diploma.

So yes: ironically, more grads coming out of top-tier universities may be wishing they had gone to art school instead. Because it's not where you studied that matters most: it's how well you were able to focus.