Nomadic Lifestyle Tips

Why Your College Degree Doesn’t Matter

‘Tis the season. High school graduates are preparing for the next phase in their lives with bright eyes and high hopes. Big decisions are being made and big changes are happening. It’s an exciting and terrifying time.

Naturally, these big changes bring a lot of questioning (second-guessing and anxiety always pair themselves well with big choices). Of course, no-one wants to make the wrong decision. And I’ve been receiving a lot of e-mails from yungins looking for advice.

Hilary with Compass copy

It’s the quintessential battle: Continuing Education versus The Unknown Wonders of Life. Is college really worth it? Do I wish I would have started traveling sooner knowing how my degree sitch worked out?

I suddenly have a say in validating their wanderlust and molding their futures. You know, no pressure.

So in an effort to do my part to help these recent graduates, I’m breaking down my answers to the most asked questions. And after almost two years of trying to avoid the daily grind, here’s what I have to say…

To college or not to college? That is the question…

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous loan fees, or to take arms against a sea of uncertainty and by traveling end it…

Sorry. I had to. But I’m back on track now.

After a lot of thinking, discussing, and questioning. I’ve finally formulated my opinions. Here’s my final answer, Regis…

hilary-c17-standing

We are lifetime learners. So give yourself the education to help you in your lifetime.

While college it’s not a perfect system and not the right fit for everyone, it provides a means to learn about yourself in such a condensed amount of time that few others opportunities do. Where else can you explore hundreds of different topics, get involved in thousands of different activities, programs, social groups, seminars, and lectures? I mean, clearly it’s not the only way to learn and explore. But it’s an effective tool- if you use it wisely. So use it.

But don’t you learn through traveling? 

Of course. We all learn everyday. But I needed to learn how to analyze situations, myself, and others in order to get the most out of travel. I can tell you right now that if I went to live in a village in Fiji when I was 18, I most likely would have died. 1. I had a flare for the melodrama, and 2. I wouldn’t know how to handle that kind of situation.

College gave me an opportunity to develop coping skills and take those skills and apply it to my travel situations. Everything comes in time, and for me, college worked better coming first. But you can find a way to incorporate travel into your degree or studies. They’re not mutually exclusive. With a little creativity, and a lot of hard work, the possibilities of how you ‘do’ college are endless.

Hilary fiji sunset

So you’re saying I need to go to college and get a degree. 

No. Unless you’re becoming a brain surgeon or an aerospace engineer, your degree really doesn’t matter.

Crazy travel girl just said whattttt?

I’ll say it again. What degree you graduate with doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s probably one of the LEAST important things about your college education. If you are going to graduate and ‘just’ get a degree, don’t even bother. Because that’s not what college is about. That’s not what LIFE’s about.

Let’s face facts: 60% of college graduates won’t go into their studied disciplines.  So instead of looking at it as a way to get a job, consider it an opportunity to hone your skills and motivation for life. It just so happens that along the way you can earn scholarship money, get awards, publish papers, meet lifelong friends, and get a degree which in theory will help you get a job (prices and participation may vary).

You are given an opportunity to practice independence, pick your own interests, interact with social groups, and learn to work with people you most likely dislike. You’ll follow projects from beginning to end, doing it all yourself. You’ll learn how to assess situations, how to speak to people, and how to prioritize what really matters and what you need to let go.

Photo by Anika Munshi

Photo by Anika Munshi

Just like anything in life, it’s the actions you take and the amount of time you invest in your education and your ‘life prep course’ that will determine whether or not you get anything out of it.

I now use psychology everyday to assess myself, my environment, and to communicate appropriately with the people around me. I use my words as a way of helping me achieve my goals and share my experiences with friends from all walks of life.

hilary & kanga

I thought I would end up being some high-profile professor at a college, all hoity toity sipping on expensive lattes. And now I’m living paycheck to paycheck, geting dirty down volcanoes and playing with lions for fun.

Which life is better? Who’s to say?

hilary-feeding-lioness-copy

But I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t gone to college.

So what’s your point? 

Keep growing. Keep learning. Try college or trade school. And no matter what you major in, or if you study for a year or a decade, just make sure you commit. Because what you put into your education is what you’ll get out of it.

confucious duck 2

And who knows? Maybe you’ll find that school is for you and you become some high-powered attorney and that works for you. Or you may end up using your summa cum laude organizational skills to assist Miss Piggy with her wardrobe. Life’s weird like that. You won’t know until you do it.

Hilary-Miss-Piggy-edit

Tell me your thoughts!

Do you have a different opinion for graduating hopefuls about higher education? Do you think that college degrees are important? Leave me a comment and let’s discuss! =)

41 Comments

  • Reply

    Ingrid

    June 8, 2013

    Excellent advice….you are wise beyond your years. Happy travels :-)

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 8, 2013

      Thank you, Ingrid! Your compliments are always greatly appreciated. =)

      Do you have any advice for fledgling high school graduates? Anything you wish you did differently or that you’d recommend doing again?

  • Reply

    Jordan

    June 8, 2013

    Sage blog, Hillary. I remember the commencement speech that Dr. Jones gave. He was the Dean of the grad school, also my undergraduate thesis advisor. In a single word, he resonantly drove home a big ole correspondence to what you are wonderfully expressing.

    “Commencement,” he said. “Commencement is not a completion. Be proud of your accomplishments, and all you’ve done thus far. Though, today is your commencement. Your commencement is a world-sized PAUSE, a world-sized epic plateau of a pause before you go off into your own next epic cycle. Your pregnant pause plateau has commenced… Now, Go on and get out there… after you celebrate of course.”

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 8, 2013

      Thank you, Jordan!

      Love that! Obviously it had a deep affect on you. Thanks so much for sharing. =)

  • Reply

    Hailey

    June 8, 2013

    College is incredibly important. While maybe not the specific degree in everyone’s case, but the experience, the relationships you develop, the communication skills you gain and being able to say you graduated is priceless.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      Agreed, Hailey! Thanks for contributing your thoughts. =)

  • Reply

    Megan

    June 8, 2013

    Well put. I’ll admit, I can be bitter about my college experience, but that’s all because of my own silly decisions: graduated in 3 years (& only spent 2.5 actually on campus), with a very silly degree, while working way too much and taking way too many classes. In hindsight, not the best way to get the full experience. BUT, I did do 2 study abroad trips, gain a boatload of valuable work experience early on (that I hope to bring out of the office someday soon), and meet a pretty rad dude. So, all was not lost, and I’m mostly still pro-college ;-)

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      I’m with you, Megan! The end of my college experience was also pretty bitter, but I too tried cramming SO much in in my four years. I attended one frat party for all of twenty minutes and then went home to work on papers. If I could do it again, I would have taken a year abroad, studied language, relaxed a little bit more, and try to enjoy the experience versus just focusing on the end goal. It sounds like you got some AMAZING experiences out of it, though! Thanks for sharing. =)

  • Reply

    lythya

    June 9, 2013

    I agree. The most important thing about college is the experience itself, although the qualifications are important, too. It’s a bit different for every person. For me it’s not that important what I choose, as long as it is useable. Like chemistry, for example.

    Btw, I LOVE your new theme/cover!

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      Good insight! Thanks so much for sharing. =)

      And thank you! I’m so happy to hear you like it! While I’m in this iterative state, I’m very open and looking for feedback. So, I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the new look! =)

  • Reply

    Demetrius Evans

    June 9, 2013

    Hilary, you continuously inspire me. Thank you for being you.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      Awww! Thank you so much, Demetrius! You are so sweet. I really appreciate your comment. I don’t know how I do this, but I’m happy to hear it happens. =)

  • Reply

    youngjeninspats

    June 9, 2013

    While a lot of what you say here is true, there is one thing that needs to be stressed and I think you overlooked: if you ever want to work abroad you WILL need a university degree. It won’t matter what it’s in, but you will need to have one. Almost all countries require foreigners to have a university degree to get a work visa. It’s part of showing them why they should hire you and not somebody from that country. So if you want to travel, a degree isn’t necessary. If you want to work and/or live abroad, GET THAT DEGREE in whatever you want. Seriously, it isn’t even about the companies caring, it’s a visa requirement.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      Ahhh! Good mention! I didn’t even think to add that. So lucky to have such knowledgeable friends around the world. =) Thanks for the insight!

      • Reply

        youngjeninspats

        July 3, 2013

        Seriously…I have so many friends wanting to come overseas, but without a degree there is absolutely no way to help them. On the plus side, studying at foreign universities is often dirt cheap, so learn a foreign language and kill two birds with one stone :-)

        • Reply

          Hilary

          July 12, 2013

          Is that so? I had no idea… And what great advice! I’ll have to start recommending that =)

  • Reply

    Vy

    June 10, 2013

    Great post! That’s such an interesting perspective. My parents have always emphasized the importance of education; to them, it’s a requirement in order to get a good job and secure financial stability. They keep urging me to rush my classes and scold me when I have “too much fun.” College, to them, is only about the diploma. That’s how it was in Vietnam, where they’re from– there was none of that going to college to “discover yourself,” only going to college to rise up from poverty.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to convince them otherwise. Regardless, I have no regrets about going to college. It’s given me opportunities to explore and travel, last year to Japan, and soon to Australia! College is great in that it can open up opportunities for both now and the future. College is what you make of it, really– and I feel like not enough kids take advantage of what college can do for them. It’s more than a degree!

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      I think you’ve definitely got the right attitude, Vy! And I can imagine that it would be hard to communicate that to your parents who come from such a dramatically different society. I feel so lucky to live in a place where we have the opportunity to explore and enjoy our studies. I agree they are incredibly important, but I kind of wish I would have taken more time to explore within the comfort of college and not rush so much to be ‘free’ from that system.

      How exciting that you’re heading to Australia soon! What part? What are you going there to do? Give me the details!

      • Reply

        Vy

        June 13, 2013

        I’m going to be in Sydney for the next semester to take classes! Their semester starts in July, so I’ll be there pretty soon. I’m hoping to see as much of Oz as I can while I’m there! If I recall, you’ve been to Australia, right? What places would you say are definitely worth visiting?

        • Reply

          Hilary

          November 29, 2013

          Hi Vy!

          I’m so sorry, I’m just seeing this. I hope you had a GREATTTTT semester in Sydney! How exciting!

          Definitely recommend the GBR, Bondi Beach, Manly Beach, checking out the Opera House, botanical gardens, and having a kangaroo burger. But I’m sure you now are much more an expert than I! Can’t wait to hear how it went. :)

  • Reply

    Lythya

    June 10, 2013

    Why is it that suddenly I’m being spammed with all the comments in the comment section just because I’ve commented? I never agreed to receive all these notifications. Perhaps you should look over which format you’ve chosen for the site or commenting is going to be a real pain, and that would suck :P I love commenting.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 12, 2013

      Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry for the issue and will look into that. You may need to uncheck the box at the bottom of the comment section saying that you’d like to receive follow-up comments. But I will absolutely look to see if it’s an issue on my end. I appreciate your patience while I work out the kinks in this new site. As it’s iterative, I’m still getting a handle on all of the quirks and solving them as quickly as possible. Again, I REALLY appreciate your patience as I am a one-woman operation. =)

      • Reply

        Lythya

        June 14, 2013

        That’s it, I never checked any box :)
        It’s so confusing to run a blog!! I have a lot of problems on my own too, so I completely understand x)

        • Reply

          Hilary

          June 15, 2013

          Ugh! That’s no good. =/ I am working with my web guys right now to try and solve this issue. I really appreciate your patience. I know you understand that these challenges sometimes happen. Please know that I appreciate you and all of your willingness to share in my adventures and share your own insight. Hopefully I will have this issue resolved shortly.

          If it continues to be a problem, please forward me what you’re getting so I can take a look at it: Hilary@NomadGrad.com

  • Reply

    Andrea

    June 10, 2013

    Yes, comment. For the love of God, don’t max out your student loans getting a highly specialized degree that doesn’t GUARANTEE a huge salaried paycheck, especially if you don’t know life well enough to know if you’re choosing what’s right for YOU or just choosing what pops up first. And, learn as much as possible, whatever you do. Can’t express how irritating it is to meet people who say “I don’t like to read.” I’ve had zillions of experiences, much schooling and many jobs….but I learned 80-95% of what I know, reading. Oh, crap I’m about to miss the bus! :) Good post Miss N!

  • Reply

    Dorian

    June 10, 2013

    This post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I’d literally just received my un-acceptance letter from the college I’d applied to for transfer/undergrad and had sincerely believed I’d be accepted to. A shining letter of recommendation from the Smithsonian Institute, where I’d interned for a year, three years of Archaeology excavations (even a paid position), and acceptance into underwater field school in Albania (I was one of seven international students selected), yet it still wasn’t enough? Now I’m left with questions, resentment, and stinging embarrassment. The only thing giving me any sort of solace was your expression of college not being a “perfect system.” I’m beginning to question continuing with a college education when I’ve done more with my Associate’s Degree than most have done with a Bachelor’s. Thank you for the advice. Back to the drawing board.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 13, 2013

      Hi Dorian,

      Thank you so much for commenting. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out for you. It certainly sounds like you were more than qualified. I found myself in a similar position when I applied to grad school (you can check out the first posts of this blog for more info :). But if it wasn’t for those rejection letters, I never would have started traveling or looking for an alternative solution. So my point is, there are obviously greater things out there for you. And let me know how I can help any step along the way. =)

  • Reply

    Kate

    June 15, 2013

    I think one of the main points is to think about any debt you’re taking on. Make sure you’re going to get ROI on your investment in whatever way you define that.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 25, 2013

      Good advice, Kate. =) Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Reply

    Jenna

    June 20, 2013

    So glad to see the perspective you convey here. I am a college instructor and I firmly believe that getting an education is essential. There are many other paths and possible ways, but having an education is important for two reasons. First, you mature and develop critical thinking and analytical skills in college, skills that can be applied in just about every other life situation and are important to be successful in your work. Second, getting an education brings much more security and career choice. A lot of people are going to respond that they can’t get a job with their art history B.A. (that was my situation), but then taking 2 more years to go to grad school, getting specialized and then being ready for a rewarding, secure career is in your reach.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      June 25, 2013

      Thank you for sharing, Jenna! Yes, education will never be a negative thing. As with anything, it’s all about how you apply what you learn in life to your objectives. Thank you so much for sharing!

      Whereabouts do you teach? How do you like being a professor?

  • Reply

    Mig

    July 9, 2013

    I agree it doesn’t matter unless you are specializing in medicine or something. Many who graduate don’t use the degree they earned which you pointed out. It took me awhile to finish mine because of costs, but in the long run I was happy I did because it opened up doors for me. While higher education can’t keep up to prepare students for the future of work, having a degree is still a way for employers to weed people out. It would be smart to take some time to figure out what you want before investing money in degree you might not use. Learning doesn’t stop after school.

    • Reply

      Hilary

      July 12, 2013

      Great insight! I agree; if you’re willing to learn through school you’ll certainly learn throughout your lifetime as well. The world has so much to offer us, but starting with a formal education is never a bad thing. =) Thanks for sharing!

      What did you get your degree in?

  • Reply

    MichaelaWanders

    July 14, 2013

    Love this post. College has definitely helped me grow up, know myself more, and given me the lenses I need to analyze my travel experiences and appreciate them!

    • Reply

      Hilary

      July 15, 2013

      Thank you so much! I’m so happy to hear that! What did you study in college?

  • Reply

    Ryan

    July 19, 2013

    Loving the new blog layout!

    I am also stealing your Confucius quote, Hil.

    x

    • Reply

      Hilary

      July 19, 2013

      Thanks so much, Ryan!

      And go for it! Haha. I love when awesome quotes have fuzzy animal visual aids. I think it makes them stick better, personally.

  • Reply

    […] stay calm, though.  As depressing as all that sounds, it’s what you learned – and how well you apply it – that […]

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About Me

About Me

Hey fellow adventurers, my name is Hilary! After being rejected from grad school, I took off on a solo journey around the world. Now I constantly challenge myself to take on new experiences. This blog documents my journeys from Europe to Fiji, swimming with sharks and living with tribes, to becoming an accidental beauty queen and working for one of the top national media outlets. If you like what you're reading, please subscribe! Here's to the next great adventure!

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