It’s no secret that a good education improves your odds of success. Without a degree, many of the best job opportunities will be out of reach. It’s possible to make up the deficit through effort and determination, relevant experience, and good networking. But most people are willing to take on student debt precisely to avoid having to play catch-up in the first place.
However, even if you have a degree, you aren’t guaranteed a straightforward path in your career. Up to two-thirds of college graduates struggle to advance after their school years. Employers list the degree as one of many requirements; graduates may be lacking in the technical or soft skills necessary to succeed.
If a college education only gets your foot in the door, what do you need to do to go further? And should we start to reconsider the value of a degree?
More than a degree
As we move further into the digital age, the pace of developments in technology continues to pick up steam. As a result, there is a growing gap between what students learn in school and what they need in their jobs.
A decade from now, as many as 85% of today’s students will be working in jobs that don’t exist yet. And a quarter of our current workforce will have to learn new skills or else prepare to find new jobs. Clearly, the modern education system has a lot of catching up to do.
In spite of this, we continue to recognize the value of good schools. While a degree might not assure you of landing your dream job, it confers many other benefits. For instance, college graduates are more likely to have knowledge-based jobs that are compatible with remote work. Indirectly, a degree thus gives you greater safety from COVID-19 and the impact of a recession.
The underlying mechanism is a cumulative advantage. A good education is more likely to result in the formation of good habits and relationships with other students who are geared for success. Later in life, graduates are more likely to be proactive in seeking assistance to further their development or manage their finances, estates, and wills.
Exploring options and best practices
Evidently, the value of education doesn’t lie in the degree itself or how it directly translates to career success. The accumulated small advantages you gain in other areas are a result of those years you spend in school.
Without necessarily realizing it, you’re actually being forced to acquire good habits in order to pass your subjects. You practice networking and soft skills through daily interactions with your fellow students.
However, once you depart from the structured world of school, those advantages will only carry you so far. You have to continue building up that momentum and take control of your own development. Otherwise, you’ll slow down and eventually hit a career roadblock or plateau.
Fortunately, there are many ways to pursue further education in today’s world. Online resources can often meet your needs in a specific skill. Even informal tutorials, videos, or industry blogs are a great way to pick up new skills or stay on top of the latest developments in your field. Those options will only expand further as our educational institutions increasingly take their presence online in the wake of the pandemic.
At the same time, don’t forget to build upon what you’ve learned in school. Learning is really more about systems and habits than the actual subject matter. Use your network to find mentors and absorb knowledge through interactions with your peers. Rediscover your student routines and make the best use of your free time to learn new skills.
As you strive to continue learning, you’ll naturally seek to improve within whatever skills or fields are most relevant to your career. Yet you also need to address the modern need for breadth and diversity of knowledge.
Even in the narrow realm of the academe, for instance, while you can continue to add to your credentials with research work, you also need to improve as a mentor. Teaching your students or research assistants to be more effective is a different sort of skill from what you’d gain through focusing solely on your expertise. Yet working on this facet of your career can make you a better communicator; your ideas become more influential.
More than ever, success in today’s world requires us to expand our range. We need to acknowledge that the world is constantly changing, and making progress in your career is never a solo effort. Further your learning, but add breadth even as you go deep. This will help you stand out and make new connections to propel your career forward.