Experience over degrees

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

The familiar question that seemed easy to answer in elementary school often stumps college students, even those heading toward their senior year.

When our parents went to college, a bachelor’s degree practically guaranteed them a decent-paying job, so that they could buy the two-story house, two-car garage and the white picket fence. Today, with more people graduating from college and a recession, employers are often looking for more specialized skills.

Graduates are rightfully proud of their freshly printed diplomas, but prospective employers are typically more difficult to impress. Interviewers have a tendency to scan over a resume expectantly before asking, “Yes, yes I understand that you have a bachelor’s, but what else do you have? A few years related job experience? Graduate school? An internship?”

They say this as though the four years of schooling that you did while working a crappy job and racking up a mountain of debt was nothing.

It’s sad that our society often undervalues education and schooling for real world experience. College lasts four years, while a career may last a lifetime.

There’s only four years to experience internships in other countries, classes unrelated to your major and other events that most people don’t have the time to enjoy past college, especially once they’re saddled down with a career and a family.

On the other hand, there are 20 to 30 years to perfect your career, which, after the first few months, becomes fairly repetitive and monotonous. There’s no reason that ultra-rich corporations cannot provide job training to college graduates who have proven their intelligence and capability in their studies.

Unfortunately, most employers take a different stance. That’s why community colleges and trade schools, despite their bad reputations, are admirably practical. Those institutions often offer specific training courses that allow “on-the-job” experience so graduates can easily obtain well-paying jobs either before or shortly after graduation.

According to the Portland Community College Web site, PCC is currently in the process of developing an alliance with a new plant in Hillsboro, SolarWorld USA, to provide students opportunities to become trainers.

Also, trade schools teach students for just a few thousand dollars to become electricians and plumbers, while they are working at apprenticeships that have the potential for advancement and pay increases.

Within just a few years, these tradesmen are making nearly $30 an hour. Aveda’s Web site reports that beauticians earn an average of $55,000 a year. Meanwhile, college graduates are stuck in low-paying jobs or working for free through internships.

Granted, a four-year university provides a well-rounded learning experience that is important for a richness of character and strength of intellect, it could do more to ensure students’ success beyond graduation.

It would be nice if universities made more of an effort to ensure that each student is on the right track toward a successful future, because every student should be able to enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that their investment will pay off in the end.

However, as it stands, it’s up to students to be proactive. To avoid awkward interviews that result in being a college graduate working as s barista in Starbucks or another ground-level job, there’s no time like summer to plan for the future.

The days not spent at the beach are perfect for lounging in the Park Blocks surfing the Internet or talking to a guidance counselor for advice in the comfort of air conditioning.

There’s usually a ton of fliers that offer internships and experience through AmeriCorp, Peace Corps and other non-governmental organizations.

There’s still plenty of time to plan to make the most of the new school year and the new opportunities that it will provide.

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