Are university degrees a waste of time and money?

Is it worth going to university today or are degrees irrelevant in today's world?

I have a $45,000 student loan. It took me six years of study to accrue and I like to consider it as my very own albatross. He hangs around my neck and has made himself cosy. He knows we’re going to be together forever.

I have a student loan because I went to university. I went to university because in 1996, according to my parents, my teachers and my friends, that’s what 17-year-old girls who’d sat and passed (most) of their university entrance exams did. The alternative apparently meant entering a post-secondary school hellscape where I would spend eternity working for minimum wage and depend on food court scraps for nourishment. The warnings really were severe: without a degree I would be nothing. NOTHING.

Except of course, this is nonsense. These sort of scare tactics mean a whole lot of people go off to study when they’re possibly too young for it and waste a great deal of money in the process. Honestly, choosing a degree at 17 is madness.

Having said that, a degree isn’t a total waste of time because as well as actual educational value, it has a certain snob value. And by snob value I mean the value we place upon education. Possibly this is more true of our parents’ generation, when fewer people got degrees. But even though these days so many people have a bachelor’s that now it’s honours, master’s and doctorates that are desirable, the same does still apply.

I admit my degree has stood me in good stead – I have been looked kindly upon in job interviews merely for having it. Which is a little bit silly because these days the skills I mostly use for my job I learnt at polytech.

It’s obvious that for some lines of work, e.g. law, medicine, engineering, having a degree in that subject is rather important before you start practising. Some of those jobs really do require some book learnin’.

But for other jobs? When job advertisements state applicants should have some tertiary education, what exactly are they asking for? I’m fairly sure we’re all aware that having a degree doesn’t necessarily make you smarter or better at something that someone who doesn’t have a degree, or an albatross.

And given the student loan situation, why do we set such great emphasis on having post-secondary education? Is it just the snob value or does it imply that you can finish something? You don’t have work commitment issues?

If you had the choice between two otherwise equal candidates for a job, but only one had a degree, which would you choose? Has the person with a degree proven themselves anymore than the person without one? Or just spent three years in what could be described as a very expensive finishing school.

Once upon a time, in third year, I asked my then boyfriend, who was wrestling with some vile equations for his maths degree, what use that sort of thing would be when he entered the real world. He pointedly replied, ‘About as much use as a classics degree.’

Are degrees a waste of time and money? Or the kickstart you need in today's vicious work arena, despite the sword of Damocles that is the student loan (look, classics degree coming in useful).

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