Why academic degrees don’t guarantee financial success

A few decades ago, a college degree was something special. It was a sure path to financial success for most people.

Soon after graduation (or even before), one would get a job in a good company or the government. That would kick off a successful career with a decent salary, attractive allowances, and opportunities for further development.

Sadly, things have changed over the years. Today, a  Bachelor’s degree is a mere pre-requisite for most jobs; it doesn’t even guarantee you a first interview. There is an excess of Bachelor degrees, and Master’s degrees are rapidly depreciating in value as well. Degree inflation has made employers start demanding degrees even for jobs that don’t really require one.

While education has its place in the moulding of a successful entrepreneur or career professional, it might not guarantee financial success. Most of us know several people who were brilliant in school, but turned out to be less successful in life.

Here are three reasons why college education isn’t a sure way to financial success:

School Doesn’t Teach Financial Literacy

School might give you theoretical knowledge on many topics. But the formal education system is poor at teaching financial skills. They might touch on a few financial and entrepreneurial topics but the knowledge is mostly theoretical. Most students forget the lessons as soon as they write their exams. Adding to the problem, few teachers are well-equipped to teach financial literacy.

After graduation, few students know how to earn money and manage it. Even fewer have working knowledge of topics such as taxes, mortgage, and the stock market. Understanding of financial basics such as earning, budgeting, saving, debt, and investing can mean the difference between financial success and lifelong poverty.

To get good financial education, one has to find it themselves or be taught at home. You can do this by reading books written by successful entrepreneurs and financial gurus. Most importantly, you need to apply financial lessons you learn in your life.

Grades Skew Perception

Let’s say you were a straight A student in school. This has primed you to expect that you’ll be successful in everything you put your mind to. But nothing could be further from reality. In real life, you will fail many times before you become a success.

A Boston College researcher Karen Arnold tracked more than 80 valedictorians - who had high grades in college – over 14 years to find out how they fared in the real world. Overall, these “best and brightest” students had grown into well-adjusted and successful adults. But none of them could be categorised as visionaries or trailblazers. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” explained Dr Arnold. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

This might explain why many successful people didn’t fare well in school. For instance, Steve Jobs finished high school with 2.65 G.P.A, J.K Rowling graduated with a C average, and Martin Luther King got only one A in his four years in college. 

Formal education is all about toeing the line, while to be successful in real life you need to be a risk taker and sometimes a rule breaker. Academics rarely measure qualities such as creativity, leadership skills, teamwork, or emotional and social intelligence.

Many A students master how to cram information and regurgitate it in exams, and are unprepared to solve real world problems. Even more importantly, they don’t even know which problems they should be solving- which is a key element in succeeding as an entrepreneur.

Additionally, students might focus on academic success at the expense of creating lifelong friendships, joining clubs, volunteering and developing their unique talents. We should encourage students to pursue interests outside the classroom, not to be discouraged by bad grades, and focus on solving real-life problems once they leave school.

You might not find your purpose

Many college students use the traditional four-year period to “find themselves”. This mindset has reduced college education to nothing more than an expensive rite of passage for young adults. Many students discover that their college degrees have little bearing on what they really want to do in life.

One American study found that only 27 per cent of students of college graduates have a job related to their college majors. The researchers speculated that this could be due to a labor-market problem or the fact that many jobs don’t require specific degrees. The study excluded people with degrees in law, medicine and other highly specialised areas.

People should view college as a place to develop knowledge and skills in something they already love, not a place to try to figure out their life’s purpose. For instance, if you’ve determined that you want to be an actor, no college class will teach you better than getting actual acting experience. The actor who has four years’ worth of acting is more advanced than one who has graduated with a degree in acting.

The best way to develop skills is through doing -- testing out ideas and challenging yourself to think outside the box. Self-education, practical skills and experience prepare you to pursue your life’s passion more than a college degree can.