Is college education over-rated?

As a graduating student, I’m starting to question the purpose of a college education. Is a ‘degree’ really worth all the money, time and effort? Do we really learn what they think we do, does it really prepare us for the big, bad world? 

I doubt it. After 3 years in college and counting, I have started to doubt that I learnt anything ‘real’ at all in college. I’ve learnt so much more outside of classes and outside of college, and that is probably complimentary to growing older. So when I consider college in isolation, I’m not convinced it’s a value-add.

I found the following video on youtube. It’s so brilliantly made and clearly illustrates the point that I’m struggling to make.


Maybe it’s just me, but spending close to 3.5 years in such a grade-centric environment has almost killed my belief in education, staggered my creativity and made me reconsider any ambition for further education. It never occurred to me that in college, everyone will be running a politically correct race for grades, with all else shut out and sealed in a box. 

In fact, the closest I have come to being inspired in college is when my Advertising professor flashed a slide in his first class, with the following message:

“Good day. I rarely give A-pluses, and I rarely give Fs. However, if you work hard enough, either is possible. I, however, wouldn’t recommend you work that hard to get that A+. It really isn’t that important. Please, focus on the things that are really important. Spend energy on your other courses. Do your extra-curricular activities. Drink. Get your hangovers. Skip classes to squeeze in that Bangkok trip. Come late after breaks so that you don’t waste that cigarette. Do what you are supposed to do – enjoy your life as an undergraduate. And if I ever catch you attending my every class and giving that much effort such that I just have to give you an A+, son, you won the battle but you lost the fricking war.”

Apparently, my prof found the above on one of his ex-student’s blog, who praying that some day, some professor would start some class with such a brilliant message. I can’t exactly say that the rest of the course adhered to the words, but well, it was quite a start!

The pseudo-economist in me doesn’t like to sit still. Actually, the Signaling Model clearly supports my anti-college approach. It is well acknowledged that the returns to college education are definitely higher than those received by a high school graduate. However, economists are still testing if the differences arise due to a difference in productivity at the two levels or merely because of the signal that a college graduate has higher potential (even though his productivity might be equivalent to that of a high school grad). A signaling-styled college education can be proven by studying the returns to education (in a pure monetary sense) during the years spent in earning a college degree. For instance, if you are paid substantially higher for every year that you stay in college, chances are that a college stint is believed to be a productivity enhancer in a profession. Similarly, if a person who drops out of college midway is paid the same amount as a high school grad, it implies that college education is only a signal. 

The graph above demonstrates the ‘Sheep-Skin Effect.’ It is the bump in earnings which results from finishing college, or in this case, finishing e* years of education. This graph also shows that education is only a signal, and does not enhance productivity. A person who finishes college (e*) receives higher returns, than someone who maybe drops out at the beginning of his third year (just before e*). 

As of now, economists believe the productivity : signaling ratio of education to be 66 : 33. Personally, I believe it’s more skewed toward the latter.

So yeah, since big bucks were never my focus, I’m not so proud of becoming a college graduate soon, after all.

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  1. Bumped into your blog and couldn’t help commenting on this post. First of all , you have a great place here.

    Do we need education ? Well I think we have reached a point where this question needs an answer. You don’t need a teacher with a black board and a classroom to get information. There was a time when you really needed them simply because you didn’t have access to information. Right now, a 15 year old knows more about history than his/her teacher does.

    With so much information around us, we tend to think we don’t need a bench and four walls to teach us, we can do a better job without it. I think that’s what your advert professor is also tryin to say. We have access to so much information that we dont need him to get an A+ . So my two cents is, education is important but it doesnt matter from which source you get it.

    The question which needs an answer is “Is education on papers more important ? ”


  2. @ Vinod: I agree. It’s high time we stop categorizing education by school and college!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hey, I agree with you totally..I am not sure if my response would be any differnet if I were at a different college but now i certainly do feel like i am less creative, less confident and less productive after 3 years..

  4. brightlightwarriornika says:

    smiling I’m a college drop out thinking about going back 😀

  5. Well said by you , wonderful post .

    To be frank , wat was told in schools & colleges wil never gona help anywhere in future of course u can have some distinction or goldmedal or watever u can add in your resumel…but in reality i faced personally felt in my life is dat learnt things which helps me to survive in this Techie world is none other than the knowledge wat i got outside college campus…

    I alwayz have a thought in ma mind dat i have wasted 4 yrs of my life in University campus done nothing useful , jus read the subject books & written essays in Exams!!

  6. smallstar says:

    Great post! I am agree with every word that u have said here! 🙂


  7. Great post! I’m in a hurry, so I haven’t logged in to comment…
    But yes, when I finished my masters in nyc, i had almost the same thoughts… its a very strange thought, “I was a genius, but education ruined me!”
    People don’t know just how true that is! 😀
    Running off to work now.. Catch you later! Cheer up, you’ll do just fine! Go to Bangkok and chill out, like your prof says! 😉

  8. @ niyaz, smallstar & Nikhil: I’m glad as fellow / ex students, you all agree. It’s a sad state of affairs then, knowing what we know, and knowing also that things will indeed continue this way. Well, well, maybe college is just meant to be a reality check for life and the things that we’ll do from hereon.

    @ brightlightwarriornika: haha, i suppose it’s a wise choice, considering the society’s attitude towards college grads! just don’t set your expectations too high while you’re in there 🙂

  9. dude, who was this prof? He has to be some cool dude! lol

  10. docmitasha says:

    Firstly, I love this post. Its excellently written and well crafted. I enjoyed reading it!

    I graduated almost nine months ago, and at various points before I graduated, I pondered the same thing. I would miss my life, my friends, but I wouldn’t miss school, right? I wouldn’t miss this rat race. Eight months of sitting around and taking a break and living life changed my perspective. I had always valued what I’d learned, but not learning taught me something too. You’re right that we learn mostly from outside the class, from the way we live and who we interact with. But I think what we learn in the class, under pressure, stress, forceful conditions…what we learn is really what we choose to make of it. I think wherever you go to school makes a difference, what you study makes a difference, and how you choose to look at what you’ve studied makes a difference. In a rigid, competitive environment, with no place to grow apart from academics, I think it begins to be less fun and more work and less creativity. In a place where there is a balance, where you can actually apply what you learn and view the results, where you work hard but play hard, perhaps the situation will be different.

    Either way, being a free bird is always great 🙂 You never regret not being in college still, no matter what nostalgic people tell you 😉

  11. lol ,nice blog…well well…the Brits made our education system a mess and we still follow that…

  12. I think the most important thing from the education is rather what you learn, not what you study. I’m studying Information Systems and as you know, IT is always growing. By the time I graduated, things I learnt might have already outdated.

    But I learnt a lot. And I didn’t regret coming to SMU to study at all. I might have stopped school and help my mom with her biz, you know, but my parents insisted that I should take my degree. This, I presume, is because of people’s general perception to degree holders. Degree on paper is just a reason to respect you. Too many people will turn you down just because you don’t have a degree. So get a degree and be safe, at least. Well at least that’s what my parent thought.

    I worked so hard and I still couldn’t get the GPA I wanted. But then I looked back and realized I’ve learnt a lot. My experience in organizations, my experience in leadership, my experience in music performances, even my experience going to Poland to represent school with the choir.

    So yeah. It’s about what we learn, not what we study. I think. 😀

  13. girishmenon says:

    Could never stand school/college.
    Seriously thinking of home teaching my kids.. if I happen to have one someday..

  14. @ Vinod: I agree. It’s high time we stop categorizing education by school and college!

  15. Very well written article. But I feel College education has to be taken in order to get more understandings of fundamentals. Without a good strong base a building would fall to the floor. So, it might not be all that bad. Yes, the grading system might be bad but not the education itself. Plus, College life is too cool and fun to miss it 🙂

  16. @ sandeep R: Not yet, but I just read up on it and it sounds like a book I’d like to read. Thanks for the pseudo-recommendation!

  17. @ docmitasha, slyvgee: I’m glad you’re taking a more optimistic approach than me towards college. Having come half-way through the process, it’s not great to experience cognitive dissonance! good luck 🙂

  18. You probably wouldn’t believe me when I will say I was about to write a post on this topic.
    Having practical work experience is a must have before goihg for masters!
    Indians are anyway obessessed with higher education.People are doing double PhDs!! 😮
    What do we expect? its a complete change when you go abroad. People do Post Grad/Masters in their 30s.
    I have not yet done my PG despite having a good first degree. Uni rejected my masters application a they accept people who are over 30!
    Great post here..
    And yes can I blog roll you?

  19. great post! i faced that question 1 year ago and decided to drop out from university in my 4th year! i was a political science major and a bright student … but i wasn’t learning anything that i didn’t know … instead my creativity, motivation, independent thinking was killed by this outdated system … the only thing i got out from it was a $ 25000 student loan debt! … high school is necessary because that is where you learn the basics and learn how to bond with other members of society…but post-secondary is overrated … education system needs to be reformed to adapt to the 21st century

  20. A college education in the world many people start to question the purpose. Of college education is useless. But this is wrong. But to say you see the following video on YouTube. See video on YouTube is wrong.

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