Does University Matter?

I read a very interesting discussion on Quora on whether or not getting a university education really matters. Here’s what was said (edited):

Does a university education matter?
Darien said, “The short answer is that not having a degree is going to close certain doors, but you’re going to be the one who has to decide whether those doors matter to you. The answer may very well be ‘no’.

The debt you incur in college, taken in tandem with the opportunity cost of lost productivity, is likely never to pay off financially. This of course depends on your institution and field of study. Engineering, for example, or business from a top-tier business school probably will. A BA in an arts or humanities related subject will almost certainly not.

The importance of a college degree is pretty much directly proportional to the level of bureaucracy in a hiring organization. If you ever desire to work in government or academia, you won’t be able to do it without a degree. This is also true of many non-profits and large companies.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, not having a completed college degree has not kept any important doors closed. I landed the sales/biz dev position I wanted at the last company I worked for and my current startup is funded. (Ironically, it’s an education company.)”

Afterwards, John gives a little personal story:

I used to go to the University of Maryland, College Park in the mid-90’s, studying Mathematics and Physics. I started getting heavily involved in chess, and specifically a online chess playing site which was one of the first companies to have an online business model. Next thing I knew I got a job offer, and decided to do that instead of school. Ten years later, after a few different positions, my career had progressed, and I was making six figures for a startup, holding positions which often required an MBA, despite me not having the Bachelor’s. Then, the startup, like a lot of companies in late 2008, went away.

What happened then? Simple. In a competitive job market, employers want to hire not only the best prospects, but the “safe” hire. I kept getting interviews, second interviews, and even in two cases, third interviews. Nothing happened. Why? In short, I didn’t have the degree. I was appreciative of those who openly told me that the person I lost out to got the job because of the degree they had. In the cover-your-ass world of corporate politics, if the hire who didn’t have the degree doesn’t pan out, then there’s a red flag for you to go after the hiring manager. Additionally, most companies put “BS required” or the like, and I have heard claims that companies can be sued by other prospective job-seekers if they hire someone who doesn’t have a Bachelor’s degree.

So, what did I do? Started applying to schools, figuring that if I was not going to work, I might as well proceed in schooling. I was forutnate enough to get into NYU’s Management and Leadership Program at McGhee, and also fortunate enough to get another great job (within the same week!), and have done both for the past 1 1/2 years. While it may not matter for most, the college degree is a checkbox that is very often required in corporate America. Note, I am going to continue in my education get my Master’s afterwards, and possibly Doctorate, but haven’t fully decided yet.

So does university matter? I personally believe university is less important than what we think, especially in this country where the quality (versus the cost) is something debatable. You can get a good life without going to university. Sadly, it is nearly impossible to get a good job if you have not been to university.

It seems to me, therefore, that if you can get a good education elsewhere (books!) then university does not really matter unless you want to work for some big company.

What do you think?

Additional Resources


  1. depends on whether you want a job or you want to do business. business doesnt need a degree but a job does

    • Is it really a choice between business and a job? I think it more than that, it is about living the life that you want. Whether in a job or running your own business we still want the same things: wealth, happiness, etc.

      Does college/university matter as much as we think in achieving such a life?

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