There was a time when a degree was the most important thing in the world. The image was common: a newly graduated student, dressed up in freshly-ironed formals, sitting in a line of similar-looking youngsters outside the cabin of the boss, as the receptionist called them out, telling them it was their turn for the interview. Hundreds of Hindi movies must have these kind of scenes.
However, voices in the present environment point to something else. Increasingly, the narrative that is most widely heard is that a degree is not important anymore. Your skills matter. Your knowledge matters. Your experience matters.
One website goes on to take a look at the mindsets of people in India, and how much importance they give to a degree. Accordingly, in the 1980s, “Bachelor’s degree felt like a God-like paper.” Cue the interview scenes mentioned in the opening of this article. Then came the 90s, and apparently, “the Bachelor’s degree lost its charm and you needed a Master’s degree to be recognised.” The 2000s saw the importance of degree sharing its space with “experience and pay-scale.” 2016 onwards, in the current scenario, “college degrees are barely considered when it comes to job and career opportunities.”
This is true in a way. All of us have heard about famous people who dropped out of prestigious institutions, and went on to become extremely successful. In fact, these people and their lives are often used as testimonials to the narrative: you don’t need a degree to be successful.
Forget about these famous examples, many of us know people, within our close circles who have made their lives well, and they don’t happen to possess a degree.
There is another scenario that is getting increasingly common: people who do jobs which are completely different from the subject they hold their degrees in. Engineers becoming film-makers, businessmen and -women, writers is not a shocking story. Or perhaps not pursuing a Master’s in the subject you did your Bachelor’s in is no big deal. So many people around us have done it.
All this leads us to a question which might actually be called a FAQ- a frequently asked question- is a degree important now?
And the answer, contrary to the popular narrative is not a simple YES or NO. In fact, the dreaded two words could be considered an answer: it depends.
Let us think about it.
Why are we starting to believe there will always be a disconnection between one’s degree and one’s skills and knowledge?
Can a person who has a Commerce degree suddenly get a job as an Architect?
Even if the person has a deep interest in the subject, and has studied a lot about Architecture in his free time, would he be able to match the level of an A-grade student of Architecture who has put in time and efforts in the degree? Many colleges and universities have made internships mandatory or at least they are encouraged so that one doesn’t fall behind in the experience aspect.
A person with a BSc in Microbiology might be very well-read and interested in Theoretical Physics. But does that mean she can simply become a Professor of Theoretical Physics based just on her interest as opposed to a person who possesses multiple degrees on the subject?
A graduate in English might be able to teach basic level Computers in primary schools. Should he teach at a college level, is the question.
The debate about the importance of a degree should not be reduced to simplistic answers.
Some ‘shifts’ or choices of professions are relatively easy. This might come across as a little unfair but it is something to think about. Avenues of writing, marketing, the fine arts, entrepreneurship require innate skills, or at the very least some sort of training. But you could train for them on your own. There are online and offline courses offered, books available. And you just need a portfolio in some cases to prove that you are indeed good at it, even though you might not hold an official degree in the subject.
Sometimes, the candidates are provided training by the company they will be working at.
There are countless scenarios in accordance to the profession one decides to go for.
One thing clear from all of this is that you need skills and education. Degree or no degree is a complex issue. Famous college dropouts like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs did have a very deep understanding of what they excelled at. They were “educated” in a way a degree could not do it. How many of us have that vision and courage? More importantly, how many of us have that drive and self-motivation or the resources to be educated, with or without the pressure of a degree?
It is important to have a plan if you do decide to not go for a degree-based education. Skills and knowledge are important. The question is in what way the degree or the absence of it would or would not contribute.