Outline: At times it is normal to look at our academic track and wonder: what did I actually learn? After 3, 4, 5 or more years of a toilsome academic life, what did I really take out from it? Is university education useless and only results in the handout of useless graduate degrees?? Did I get more than just a fancy diploma? I am here to share with you what I feel that my academic life brought me, more than an average and a Bsc or Msc certificate.
FIRST YEAR OF COLLEGE: EXCITEMENT, CONFUSION AND SOME HEALTHY AMOUNT OF FEAR
You are neither the first nor the last student to feel like this. I remember the first classes I took when I started my bachelor’s degree in management at Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics (CLSBE) and I could not stop thinking: what am I doing here? My first impression of college fell short – and I mean SHORT– from what I expected. When enrolling for a business administration undergraduate I expected courses totally related with what I would eventually be doing in my professional life. I thought that all – or at least most – of my courses would be management-related and would provide me with practical knowledge on tasks that I would eventually perform. This was not true at all! Especially during my first year most of my classes were related with accounting, economics and mathematics and none of them actually provided me with practical knowledge for my life after college. That really decreased my motivation and made me wonder what the point of being there was.
THE SUN AFTER THE FIRST YEAR: MY FIRST SUMMER INTERNSHIP
Eventually, more interesting courses arose. I still did not find any particular course with a more practical component, but I had a variety of subjects from finance to marketing and leadership. I remember taking the two required finance courses and thinking: I hate finance, I will never do a master’s degree on finance and I surely will never work at a financial institution – so why do I have to know what expressions like puttable bonds, yield to maturity or adjusted present value mean?
That summer I decided to do an internship in order to understand what “real life” was like. And that is when I began to understand the importance of all the courses I had been enduring throughout my first two years.
My internship was – ironically enough – at a financial institution in Lisbon. I was working at the risk management department and I did not ONCE had to use or apply any concept that I was ever taught during my short academic life. However, that was when I realized where their importance lied.
You see, the point is not so much that you know how to find Cournot equilibrium or what the Porter’s Five Forces are by heart. The point is that all of the concepts you learn will, one way or another, influence the way you think. You may not even realize it, but when you are performing a given assignment or when you are brainstorming or when you need to do some analytical thinking, all of that hard work, all of the things you had to memorize word by word (and two minutes after the exam already forgot) all of those calculations and problem solving, ALL of that influences the way you think now, the way you build your reasoning, how you write and how you make decisions. And it was during that exact internship that I realized that I was different and my mind was definitely very different from what it was two years before.
The courses you take, no matter how boring they seem to be, eventually shape the way you see the world and how you perceive problems and conceptualize new ideas and solutions. And even if you cannot see it now, you will see it eventually and you will start realizing the point of all of it.
Related: Ever wondered how it is to do a summer internship at Goldman Sachs? Well, you just have to click here in order to find that out! And what about AT Kearney?
THE MASTER’S DEGREE: A NEW PERSPECTIVE
I think that, although I came to realize how college changes your reasoning, I did not have a full perception of its impact until I started my master’s degree.
When you first start you feel slightly scared and overwhelmed, wondering how different it will be from the undergraduate. The truth is that most courses are notably different – and for the better! Not only do they get more practical and straight-to-the-point they also require much more conceptualization and do-your-own-research work. But this is definitely a good thing.
Looking back to my high school group works and the way I studied I can definitely understand what deep changes I went through. College allowed me to learn at my own expense what being a “team player” actually means. It taught me how to spot problems and solve them by myself because it has also provided me with a lot of tools that allow me to act without always having to seek outsiders’ advice or information.
College changes you at a personal level because it allows you to mature and become an insightful, analytical, knowledgeable and adaptable person who is ready to start facing the more intricate challenges that the professional life presents.
SO, WHAT USE DOES COLLEGE HAVE WHEN YOU ARE PERFORMING YOUR ACTUAL JOB?
As I am writing this article I am in the process of finishing my master’s degree. As such, my professional experience is not yet lengthy enough for me to be able to tell you exactly what those 5 years end up being useful for. Besides all the personal transformation and self-development you go through when you are taking your degree, the matter of fact is that many of those concepts that you had to practice, learn and memorize will ACTUALLY be useful. You will actually NEED to know some of them in detail and understand them. They were not just taught to justify the excruciating exams you had to complete. I have already used knowledge from several courses such as accounting, marketing, econometrics and finance. Not only that, many times when discussing with colleagues or solving problems on your tasks you end up brainstorming including terms from all kinds of courses, I have found myself basing my reasoning using economic theories as well as finance and marketing terms. Or even suggesting new ways of approaching an issue by remembering statistic and econometric methods.
The bottom line is: college is important for you both at a personal level and for your professional life.
You learn concepts and frameworks and theories but you also learn how to think, how to be more productive, how to approach a problem and how to relate and work with others.
Lastly, your academic life will eventually help you have an idea of what kind of job you really want to do and, if you put enough effort on it, it will help you get that amazing job or at least allow you to enter the right career path that will lead you to it.
Even if you cannot see it right now, this is one of the most important steps in your life and – trust me on this – someday you will also look back, remember all the pain, sweat and tears and think – “well, that was all worth it.”