Your university years have resulted in a degree with your name, your major, and the school’s name in an ornate font—that doesn’t really represent the rising rates of imposter syndrome in academics, hypercompetitive nature, and the desire to break into other pursuits of life.
For years, much of the population has considered following this “cookie-cutter” route: attend four undergraduate years, graduate from college, and get a job or go to graduate school. It is—or was—the traditional, promising route towards securing a career.
If there’s anything Generation Z is known for, it’s definitely our ability to redefine the standard. Sure enough, we’re rerouting this educational path too. It isn’t just our indecisive tendencies when choosing a path, but we certainly are pushing for the most efficient—some will say shortest—way to reach our intended outcomes and professional successes. If you ask today’s college-age groups about their take on higher education being a necessary and worthwhile investment, you’ll mainly be met with the flip side of the matter: there are alternatives to a standard college pathway that spare the expected negative financial, emotional, and social factors that students often deal with.
As the most outspoken generation yet, we like to work smarter and not harder, but this isn’t necessarily a shortcut to our career success. Reported by Fast Company, around 49 percent of Generation Z does not envision themselves graduating with a degree from an institution. As other young audiences weigh in, the common reasons for its decreasing popularity include the wide selection of opportunities where people can receive the same quality of effective training, acquire the proper hard and soft skills for their career, enroll in apprenticeships or programs, and the ability to do so at a significant fraction of college tuition. It’s generally in one’s best interest to gain as much relevant experience as possible without the blow to finances—as the average cost of tuition in the United States is around $33,000.
On the other hand, while corporate jobs seem to be highly sought after, numerous young people have reconsidered the greater benefits and work-life balance by starting their own initiatives; Oberlo’s findings have cited a large increase in small businesses at 9.8% from 2017 to 2021. A quality found in many young adults, the heavy prioritization placed on different lifestyle practices like traveling, volunteering, and other pastimes have greatly disrupted the views on the typical 9-to-5 commitment, which is typically associated with a 4-year degree and the standard career pathway. Many have also become interested in relatively low-maintenance streams of income lately, such as investing.
One of the defining characteristics and motives behind pursuing a higher education is to sharpen up on field-related skills and a competent background in a particular industry. However, company-specific training programs are causing the need for degrees to become unneeded. With arguments that the current college model doesn’t specifically tailor to certain careers—as hands-on experience takes the lead—and that an employee’s required skills often differ between companies, some corporations have already released their own “curriculum” and modules to equip their future workers with the skills needed for their practices. The expansive prospects of technology have opened the door with collections of self-taught courses, tutorials, and self-initiated projects. Today’s employers have started to value these actions highly over a college degree, due to it being considered as action-oriented and an actual real-life application.
No, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your Instagram stalking days count as your breakthrough into your marketing research career. Would it be a good addition to your knowledge? Honestly, it might—only because employers do see their employees’ authenticity, firm goals, and drive as a sign that they’re willing to learn more about opportunities to fulfill the job successfully (and when we want to know something that’ll benefit us, Generation Z really does whatever it takes). Additionally, with the economy and various job sectors recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have since aimed to make their positions more accessible. Workers are needed to take up vacant openings as business operations return to a more “normal,” pre-pandemic state; hiring managers have turned off college degree filters on job listing platforms. A hallmark of this action, MarketWatch has stated that “opening up the pool of applicants for certain jobs has made the candidate pool more diverse.” Could this be a stepping stone in increasing equitable practices and inclusion in the workforce—like for those who initially couldn’t afford the overbearing costs of college or received training elsewhere?
A degree isn’t the make-or-break factor anymore. Instead, it now seems like a pure passion and determination to learn could potentially replace a college education, and it’s pretty clear that Generation Z has already checked that box.