As I approach the end of my post secondary career, at least for all intents and purpose thus far; I find myself increasing disillusioned with the purpose of my degree.
Many people I have spoken to have said that the light is at the end of the tunnel and that for better or for worse, I will have completed my higher education with more knowledge than I entered in with. But for what purpose? Increasingly, I have found myself thinking that the purpose of a degree is to convince potential employers (and clients, in my case) that I have the qualifications to successfully compete for and do the job that I set out to do. However, is experience not just as vital if not more so than qualifications?
I suppose the question is how one defines the term ‘qualifications’. In my all-too-brief stints in the working world, which increasingly informs my experience in marketing and advertising, I believe that it is the tasks I complete that give me the qualifications; not my education. Why do I say this, you may ask? As I attend a traditional university, much if not all of what we are taught is theoretical. We are not given opportunities to apply such so-called knowledge outside of the confines of projects contained within the lecture hall. This is an enormous difference from that of more applied post secondary institutions, of which the one I worked at the latter half of last year fits into.
In my institution, nearly any and all applied experience we must go out and seek ourselves, much of it through our co-operative education program, of which I am a huge supporter of and participant in myself. In the applied institutions, however, your practical experience is integrated into the very fabric of your education.
For example, at the institution where I was a staff member for all too brief of a time, their MBA students were given projects, not from the professor or instructor, but from actual businesses looking for help at no cost. This help is in the form of business or marketing plans as well as other projects. These students also have the option of creating their own plans for their own start-up businesses. Throughout the process, the students’ plans are judged by three different independent panels of potential investors; therefore giving them the opportunity to see whether or not their businesses will succeed. This is an element that I find myself wishing frequently was available in more traditional educational institutions. As one struggling with a part-time freelance writing business in the marketing and advertising field myself, I believe there would have been many pointers and opportunities for advice that I could have received.
It is not as though I rely strictly on school to assist me with my business or searches for work experience however. I have attended networking events and have a student membership in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in an attempt to grow my network, obtain advice and gain work. But, it would have assisted me greatly had I had such applied opportunities integrated into my degree.
There are those who will disagree with me on the purpose of a degree. But the fact remains that my education will not teach me how to craft a brochure for a graphic designer, or a website for a photographer. Each client’s needs are distinct and separate from another, as are their target audiences. These are skills learned through trial and error, to which I have no teacher other than my own two hands and communication with my client. In my institution, my writing abilities extend strictly to academic forms of writing, which assist me little in my business or work experience as I do not intend to move to higher forms of post secondary education.
There is a debate then, between the importance of theoretical and practical knowledge. As I have said before, I find myself increasingly disillusioned as much of the courses I am forced to endure to complete my degree have little or nothing to do with my career path. Those that I do take an interest in, I somehow think that the option is still available to me to obtain books, articles and alike on such subject matter without having to pay tuition in order to gain such knowledge. The argument of course, can be made that the chances of my being willing to go out and search for such material is slim to none; nevertheless the opportunity is available to me.
I suppose the second debate would be on the definition of qualifications. All the jobs in my field, communications, that I have discovered, all explicitly state experience as their first preference, with the degree as a secondary point. One could then venture a guess that experience is the most important qualification when seeking employment. The degree then, is simply there to convince the individuals/company that you are marketing your skills to, that you have the training to excel at the position in question. Again, as I have said before, however, my theoretical knowledge obtained in completing my degree has done little or nothing to assist me in creating a solid, attractive and creative advertising piece for a client.
So is there anything that remains to be done in this circumstance? The fact of the matter remains that I will not get farther in my career path without my degree, whatever the true reasons for having one. And thus, with a year and half to go, I suppose my only recourse is to continually seek employment and freelance opportunities and to bite the bullet and complete the last of my academic experience.