I applied to various graduate schools in October 2011. I researched the schools extensively and set aside ample time to visit each before I made my selection. Also, I needed to debate whether grad school was the right choice.
I made a list of all the reasons I wanted a master’s degree. Here are the top three: First, I loved my undergrad major—Magazine Journalism—and I wanted to expand my education beyond a bachelor’s degree and learn more about the field that I worked tirelessly in for four years. Second, I was being told that a bachelor’s degree didn’t hold as much weight as it did ten years ago because “everyone has a bachelor’s degree these days.” Finally—and this was a reaction to my second point—I felt extreme anxiety about not being able to secure a job with just a bachelor’s degree and only one internship under my belt.
Now I am a graduate student working towards receiving my master of arts in Publishing & Writing in May 2014, and I am ready for a job—hopefully in the publishing industry. Upon graduation, I will have completed six internships.
In a recent New York Times article, op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman discusses the “shift in the education-to-work model in America.” Friedman theorizes that employers no longer care about the degrees you have or from what institution they were received—whether it be an Ivy League or a community college—they simply want you to “add value” by providing the skills they need.
In this same regard, many graduates are finding that their costly, hard-earned degrees are not propelling them beyond the average applicant—even at the master’s level. According to Friedman, applicants may have esteemed schooling, but they do not know how to apply the skills necessary for specific jobs, and employers don’t want to spend time training even the most qualified of applicants. They want applicants who can transition into a position with minimal effort.
While I am in full support of employers hiring individuals with tons of related working experience, the idea of overlooking highly qualified applicants shines a harsh light on the reality of the job market and the application process.
After completing six internships, I know I will be qualified to work in any publishing field, but every new employee will need some type of training when entering a new working environment, regardless of whether they have the desired skill set or not.
Countering Friedman’s point is another article from The New York Times by Catherine Rampell, which states that “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.” Rampell says that some employers require a bachelor’s degree as a base requirement, even for jobs like file clerks, administrative assistants and receptionists.
With such conflicting viewpoints, where does this leave applicants?
If a certain skill is required for a job, where do you acquire that skill? This brings into question the structure of education. Applicants attending institutions of higher education are learning theory, but how often is this theory put into practice in the classroom? With each employer or company looking for a specific skill, how can an applicant, especially one who went to school for the job they are applying for, know what skill they should perfect to get the job?
It might come down to the job itself. Applicants will have to do the appropriate research to determine whether a job requires a degree, a certain skill or a degree in addition to a certain skill. Clearly, the current standards for hiring are fluctuating, and applicants are trying to keep up with employers. However, it is the responsibility of the applicant to decide if this means he or she should go to school or jump straight into the work force.
Did You Know?
How do you know if the skills you have are right for a job? HireArt is a company seeking to help bring job seekers and job creators together by testing applicants in relevant skills for a particular job. Companies go to them with job descriptions in fields such as marketing, sales, customer service and business development, and HireArt develops tests for them, specifically assessing the skills an applicant should have for one of these positions. The tests are meant to examine on-the-job skills and to give the applicants a chance to show their knowledge or skill level in a video interview.
What are some skills employers expect their employees to have? Good writing and proper grammar usage are two important skills that one of the founders of HireArt notes are often overlooked. Of course, specific knowledge of Excel or other software is important. But the skills are not assumed to come with the degree. Some companies want you to prove you have skills in addition to your degree, while some require having a degree as mere evidence of how hard you’re willing to work.
As The New York Times article “It takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk” notes, the college degree is becoming the new “minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one” to get a job. Despite the associated accumulation of debt, the value of a college degree has increased over the past decade. People with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to have jobs, work the amount of hours they want and make more money than those who only have a high school diploma.