The BBC has a story about one of my favorite publishers, Penguin, dropped university degree requirements for jobs.
The article does its best to suggest that the reasons are everything but the one many might suspect, that many colleges no longer add that much to someone’s skills and that grades (another requirement employers are beginning to ignore) mean little. Reality has caught up with dumbing down and grade inflation/
What do you think? If you’re planning to be a writer (or perhaps an editor at Penguin), does it make sense to go deep into debt to get that degree or to put some variety in your life, perhaps traveling and working at a variety of jobs, meeting a lot of different people in the process?
I would note that one of my jobs is a Penguin-like one, editing and laying out scientific texts. For that, I do need some formal education and the writers themselves needs lots of it, typical multiple PhDs.
I’d also add that knowing how to write well, with good grammar and clear sentences also matters. And I suspect that’s a factor that helped Penguin change its mind. Colleges aren’t teaching good writing as a matter of course, so why treat a degree as something that matters? Reading books about writing and and good writers will do anyone a lot of good, degree or not.
For a lot of writing, it’s the experiences and wrestling with how to communicate them that matter. I’m now working my fourth book about my experiences working at a major children’s hospital. My formal training for that job was almost nil—that of an EMT—but the experience has proved a rich source of understanding.
What do you think? Has your education helped your as a writer? Is the education you’re getting now a benefit? Or would you benefit from spending more of your life outside classrooms?
–Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia
I dropped out a few months into grade 11 (Canada) and because I had failed grade 10 history, technically speaking, I only have grade 9. That was during the early 1970’s.
Learning any job took about three months and if by then you didn’t know enough about what you were doing, you never would. I doubt things have changed that much, even with all the computerization. Either you know how to use Excel, you can learn it in three months, or… you’ll never know it.
While I’m more self-directed now, it wasn’t always the case. I think the preparation for working independently upon one’s research in grad school helped, certainly. I think it’s possible to do just about anything without a degree, but that a degree (in something, not necessarily writing) would give some benefits or shortcuts that learning one’s craft without a degree might not.
tl:dr because I’m tired: people learn differently. Some people can do school. Some can’t.
Some years ago, never long how precisely, I was glumming about on a bench in Boston Common, pondering my fuzzy future, and a neighboring wino told me that a college education is free to anyone with a library card.
As was appropriate for the era, I said “Oh wow.” Then got a library card.
25 years post drop out, I’m unable to find employment in my current field. No degree. Can’t get in the door. I can take junior positions at about 50% of my current pay. I can’t do consulting work for the same reasons.
Keep in mind I’ve been VERY successful in my career and accomplishments. But now I’m stuck.
I tell my kids, “You don’t need it… nope, but there will be a day when you desperately want it and you won’t be able to get it.”
They called security. Which, let’s be honest, is the expected result. Once the security folks had completed their assigned task of depositing my neck stump in the refuse pile out back, we headed down to the local pub (if you can call these chain store swill joints by such a glamorous name and not be struck down by the gods themselves) and had a good laugh over it.
Well, that would definitely get Security’s attention. Unlikely to wind up sharing beers at the pub afterwards though – at least not before several conversations with a defence lawyer and, much later, a probation officer…
Dunno about that. I’m not keen on undergoing neurosurgery by a surgeon without medical school and who first picked up a scalpel 3 months ago. I think I might let someone else test the 3 month rule in this instance…
BUT, to indirectly address Michael’s initial question, it would certainly be something to write about!
Gotta disagree here. First, it depends on what kind of school you’re talking about. K-12 (and non-USA equivalents), mostly agree – although I know kids who are not getting the education they need in their school, their parents can’t afford for them to go to a different school, and the situation is bad enough it’s creating a negative effect on their lives. Dropping out of “traditional” school and finding ways to continue your education (self-study, co-ops, et.c) may be more productive, especially if you can find ways to validate what you’ve learned (GED in the USA, etc.) Kids who fail to thrive in school can get burned out on education as a whole; get them out of the bad situation, and they may be able to rediscover their love of learning and still find ways to flourish in the system.
If we’re talking college…well, it’s not as hard as you think to find a good career and decent job opportunities without the sheepskin. What worked for me was volunteering in roles that allowed me to build my skills and demonstrate my experience on my resume/CV while generating references. It’s work, yes, but for some people, it’s more rewarding than mortgaging your foreseeable future with student loan debt. (Those of you in enlightened countries that consider college education an investment, not a cost center – I envy you.)
The point, though, is to NOT STOP LEARNING. Education is in YOUR hands, not anyone else’s, and when you realize that, you will create opportunities regardless of where you do your learning.