Is College A Scam?

A couple weeks ago I received a response on my very first post on the Student Branding Blog. The reply was left by Eric, who is clearly frustrated by the state of the economy and the job market.

Eric wrote:

“I’m not even a recent graduate, I send out on average ten resumes to jobs I’m qualified for a day. I hear back maybe once a month. I’m a 5 year experienced engineer who cannot even get a call back. Nobody gives a shit right now about finding a job that makes them happy, we’re desperate for something to pay our bills. Its really hard to not get insanely angry at this whole scam that was college.”

My response to Eric encouraged him to network more in person rather than sitting behind a computer and emailing his résumé to online job postings. I also invited him to connect with me on LinkedIN for some input on his job search. I have yet to hear from him but, in the meantime, Eric had me thinking.

Is college a scam? Is a college degree really necessary to be successful? Does college pay?

Personally, I am an advocate of higher education. As the job market becomes more and more competitive, a college degree will be necessary to compete for decent-paying entry-level positions. This is not to say it isn’t possible to be successful without a degree.

Take, for example, the following uber-successful  individuals:

  • Mary Kay Ash
  • Richard Branson
  • Coco Chanel
  • Walt Disney
  • Bill Gates
  • Peter Jennings
  • Steve Jobs
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Joel Osteen
  • Rachel Ray
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Russell Simmons

None of these individuals graduated from college. Some didn’t even graduate from high school. However, they all have one thing in common – ambition. Loads of it.

Ambition is something you either have or you don’t. However, it is unique in the fact that you may not have it at first, but you can acquire it over time. In other words, although you cannot buy ambition, you also do not have to be born with it. One day, you may be struck with an idea, and suddenly, you are full of ambition.

Which leads me back to the question, “Is college a scam?”

A college degree does not guarantee success. Success requires much more than a college degree and a solid résumé. Success requires drive, perseverance, dedication and many other traits that a college degree will not provide.

While I empathize with people in circumstances such as Eric’s, I believe a college degree is absolutely necessary for some people to succeed but certainly not for everyone.

What do you think? Is college a scam? Was your degree worth the expense?


Claudine Meilink is a Career Services Consultant for the Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Among other things, Claudine provides career and major counseling to students and alumni, teaches a Career Leadership Academy for freshmen and sophomore students and serves on the Service Engagement Advisory Board. Claudine would love to connect with you on twitter orLinkedIn.

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10 Responses to “Is College A Scam?”

  1. avatar Robert says:

    I cant get a job without a masters degree for an entry level job at under $30,000 right now in my field.

    • avatar Claudine says:

      The first step is to eliminate the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. Without knowing more information, particularly what your field is and past experience, I cannot make helpful suggestions. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIN if you’d like some feedback on your job search and career direction.

  2. Very good points! I don’t think college is a scam. However, for anyone to be successful, you need to have the skills and be able to do the job better than your counterparts. And as you’ve said, you need drive and ambition. I empathize with Eric and those like him. But there are ways to make yourself more visible. Networking, on and offline for one. Maybe starting a blog showing his expertise would help.

    Great post by the way!

    • avatar Claudine says:

      Exactly! Last week I gave some suggestions for job seekers to stand out. By becoming involved in other activities outside of the job search, job seekers can connect with people and network while building skills. It’s a win/win.

  3. avatar Mike D says:

    College is where you go to drink beer, have sex, and create a network. You can get the education yourself – you pay to have a social aspect to that education.

    • avatar Claudine says:

      Sorry Mike. I have to disagree. Employers actually care about your degree and your involvement in student organizations and other activities while you were in college.

  4. avatar Marta says:

    I totally feel that college is not neccessary! These day is all about skills. Employers want to know that you can get the job done. On the flip side college teaches you alot of life lessons before entering the real world. It’s definitely something to think about.

  5. avatar Heather says:

    Very good good post Claudine! I think a lot of people fall short in that they do not get out there and NETWORK! It’s really the most important part of your job search and a lot of people should consider themselves very lucky to get an interview through posting a resume on a website.

    A college degree is definitely a good way to get your foot in the door. So I do not at all think college is a scam. I believe people on the job search need to remain positive and positive things will follow :)

  6. College is not the scam. The scam is that our culture has convincing us that the purpose of higher education is solely about jobs. Higher education is meant to educate. The liberal arts tradition has focused on critical thinking, knowledge creation and having an education and informed democracy.

    So, if you feel ripped off, it’s not intrinsic to college, but rather what you were told college was going to do for you. Now, I do believe strongly in John Dewey’s feeling that although a career is not the purpose of higher education, it’ is a logical outcome. So, there *is* a schism there. But, if one’s only marker for “success” in the college experience is a job, then the problem is more about the question than the answer.

    And if one’s only motivation for attending college was a job, then perhaps a technical community college that focuses on training in specific fields would’ve been a better choice.

  7. avatar Alex says:

    I tend to agree with Gary Alan Miller that originally the purpose of education was to educate, not necessarily just go get a piece of paper to get a job, which is what it has become today. However my one main problem, possibly tied piece of paper problem, is that only do people now go to colleges just to obtain a piece of paper, the colleges themselves focus less and less on teaching and more and more on their monetary gains.

    After being disappointed in my classes and the lack of an actual education and ending teaching my self the information, I dropped out. If colleges were going to treat learning as a business I was going to tell them what a bad business they were running. Am I successful? I don’t know, I am however self-employed and make well above the average that college grads these days are making.

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