Is earning a University degree no longer important in your journey to financial success?
I had a conversation with a friend recently. He is the founder of a successful sneaker retailing business, which he started after graduating from the University. He has done pretty well for himself through this business. He told me how he decided to become an entrepreneur after his job hunting led to no avail. To quote him, “My undergraduate degree is pretty much useless, I haven’t used it a day in my life to earn my bread”.
It's safe to say stories like this are becoming common these days, as many University graduates turn to entrepreneurship and freelancing to earn a living, due to lack of employment upon graduation. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics states that 13.9 million, that is 34.9% of Nigerian youths (aged 15-34), are presently unemployed. About 2.9 million of these youths hold graduate and postgraduate degrees from tertiary institutions.
Given the time, cost and energy that goes into earning a University degree (not to talk of the constant roadblocks, like ASUU strikes for those in Nigerian public Universities), many young Nigerians are beginning to question if going to the University to earn a degree is in fact worth it?
If you’re most likely going to end up an entrepreneur to earn a living, is it smart to spend all that time and money earning a degree, when you could invest that into starting and running your own business?
Short answer, it depends.
The massive youth unemployment in Nigeria can be attributed to numerous reasons and not just the “worthlessness of a degree”.
For starters, there are too many candidates vying for very few jobs.
Each academic year, Nigerian universities and polytechnics admit close to two million students and produce about six hundred thousand graduates. Compare this figure with the declining number of jobs created in the country (an average of two hundred thousand per year by 2021) and it becomes clear there is bound to be a shortage of jobs.
Moreover, many graduates do not have the functional skills required to fill in available jobs.
Although this is not entirely the fault of the graduates, most Nigerian tertiary institutions are not well equipped to provide students with the relevant training required to build functional skills. This is due to poor infrastructure and low investment from the Government, amongst other reasons.
Before you discard your pursuit of a University degree, you should consider that statistics show that people with University degrees fare better than those without one in the job market.
Currently, having a degree remains the safest pathway to financial stability. If that’s the case, maybe instead of questioning the importance of your degree, the question should be “How do I make my degree more valuable?”
Here are a few tips to dramatically improve the worth of your University education and increase your chances of “making it” in the real world.
This is one thing I wish I really invested in while studying for my undergraduate degree. I keep imagining how skilled I would be at my job, if I had consistently practiced a skill since my first year in University.
Having an in-demand skill can give you a significant advantage over your peers in the job market. Stories like that of Njoku Emmanuel, a 19 year old blockchain developer who earns thousands of dollars working remotely for international companies, only seem to highlight this fact more.
Depending on your interest, there are several skills to learn. You could learn to code, design, or make videos for social media. You could even learn the very profitable skill of Forex trading by taking advantage of the classes offered by Kwakol Academy. With consistent practice, you can become an expert trader, earning more from an additional skill.
If you’re still in school, Universities are ideal environments to pick up a skill. There are usually lots of free or cheap resources available to enable you on your learning journey. You might not even need to pay for an internet subscription if your school has free wifi.
Learning and becoming proficient in a skill can be the best thing to do for yourself. It will not only broaden your employment prospects, but may also enable you to become self employed or even start your own business.
Having a good network can be your best asset upon leaving school and entering the job market. I can testify to that because I have gotten most of my employment through my network.
The thought of networking might make some of us (introverts) nervous.
When we think of ‘networking’, we usually visualize attending events and striking up small talk with as many people to develop connaissance. But this isn’t really what networking is about. Networking is establishing contact with people who might be valuable to you, and letting yourself be known for the value you can provide. This can be done through various means.
Universities are great places to expand your network.
Universities bring people from diverse backgrounds together in one location. Your classmate might be the child of a business magnate, or even a brilliant scholarship recipient coming all the way from South Africa. Take the opportunity to talk to the so-called nerd who’s constantly working on something on their computer, they might be the founder of the next Tech Unicorn. I mean where else would you so easily be able to befriend a potential billionaire, than at a University?
The opportunities to network are numerous!
If you’re not the type to go around making friends, you can take advantage of your key competence and let people know you for it. You might be that person who is really good at building websites, or the go-to person when it comes to knowledge on socio-political affairs. Build a personal brand for yourself and let people seek you out for it.
Social media has made networking even easier.
You could constantly share images of your work on Instagram, or share your knowledge on Twitter and LinkedIn. People feel more comfortable working with someone who is familiar to them and constantly being visible for your expertise creates that familiarity.
To put it simply, if people know you as an expert in your field or industry, who do you think they will reach out to when they need someone competent to work with in that field?
Get as much experience as you can.
This might sound absurd given the lack of job opportunities, but there are many ways you can gather work experience. From internships to volunteering, it is important that you get as much work experience as you can for a number of reasons.
First, it’ll give you a good idea of what employment feels like, and the opportunities that exist after graduation.
This will help you determine your areas of interest in time, and know what skills you need to focus your energy in developing. You might even discover that you do not enjoy working in your desired field of study, and have enough time to re-strategize or explore other fields for alternative interests.
A ‘plus’ to interning or volunteering is the opportunity to meet and work with experienced professionals, who have already gone through the struggle of settling into the job market. Their advice and possible mentorship can be invaluable to your career growth.
In fact, if your employer at your internship or volunteer job is impressed with you and your work, they might decide to give you a permanent job upon graduation from the University.
Even outside of formal internship and volunteering arrangements, you can rack up considerable and demonstrable experience through self-directed practice. For instance, you can maintain a profile online where you share progress and projects you work on as you develop any skill that interests you.
In conclusion, the importance of your University degree might still be debatable.
However, this shouldn’t hold you back from becoming financially successful. If you leverage on your skills, network and acquire work experience, getting a University degree may be the stepping stone you need to financial success. Moreover, it’s not the certificate that matters, but the person you become in acquiring it.