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the importance of going to a "good" school

Jeanne Boyarsky
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In the STEM vs STEAM thread, Paul A wrote:
are now waking up to this slowly because they can't get into good schools with just average SAT scores anymore


In my reply, I used the word "good" in quotes. I have trouble with the concept that it so important to go to a "good" school. The quotes are because "good" means "top rated." It's not that the others are "bad" schools. Granted some are, but most are perfectly fine.

Seems like this would be a good discussion. Do you think it is important to go to a "good" school? Do you think that has changed over time? Do you look at the school on a resume/CV?

This might be regional, so please mention which country you are talking about.


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Jeanne Boyarsky
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I'll start. I went to Queens College which is part of the City University of NY.
Pros:
  • They have a strong Computer Science program
  • It was affordable (I got a full scholarship), but tuition was only $3200 a year (in 2002).
  • I could live at home

  • Cons:
  • In high school, I had to listen to years of "oh, you are going THERE" (in quite a tone)
  • I had to explain at interviews why I choose that school. People who went to NYU didn't have justify that choice.


  • Ultimately, I felt going in that it could make it harder to get my first job because I thought some employers would care. I chose to go anyway, figuring I could just change jobs after a couple years and then my experience would matter more than my school. That turned out not to happen because a well known investment bank always interviewed for interns at my school because a top person at their company went to the school. Once I had the name of that bank on my resume, my school became less important.

    One reason I hear for going to a top known school (Ivy League in the United States) is for networking. For entrepreneurs that probably matters more at the college level that it does for someone who wants to work for a company.

    When I interview, I don't care where someone went to school. I care what they learned (which doesn't appear to be a function of what was taught). For entry level, I do care that people have a degree in something from somewhere that isn't a fly by night operation.
    Anayonkar Shivalkar
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        5

    Well, it depends upon what we call 'good' here
    Are we talking about schools with top rated students and where good companies come for campus placements? Or schools with good teachers?

    IMHO, the second type of school definitely has a positive impact on students. The college I attended for bachelor's degree (in India, we call it 'college' and not 'school'. Here, school means place where we go for 1st till 10th standard ) was not 'top rated' (at least at that time), but had really good teachers there. Also, it had really beautiful library and students were always encouraged to do new stuff (e.g. to convert college computer lab from Windows to Linux - first time it didn't worked because nobody knew how to use Linux, but later on we figured it out ).

    And I would totally agree with you - that usually students learn a great deal in school with good teachers (than school with just good students).


    Regards,
    Anayonkar Shivalkar (SCJP, SCWCD, OCMJD, OCEEJBD)
    chris webster
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Do you think it is important to go to a "good" school? Do you think that has changed over time? Do you look at the school on a resume/CV?

    This might be regional, so please mention which country you are talking about.

    It probably depends on what job you're after, what qualifications are required, what qualifications/experience you're offering, and as you say, which country you are in.

    Here in the UK, the higher education landscape has changed radically since I went to university in the 1980s. I got a good degree from a good university (Glasgow), but it was in German - not the most marketable of subjects! - so it took me a while to find a job in IT. As only about 20% of kids went to university in my day, I think having a good degree still encouraged employers to view me positively, but I have never actually had a job where I would say a degree was an intrinsically necessary requirement - intelligence, analytical thinking, skills and experience certainly, but nothing that can only be acquired through a university degree.

    Back then, there were around 70 universities in the UK, plus a larger number of more vocationally oriented colleges and polytechnics, some of which could award degrees as well. In the early 1990s, there was a lot of talk about how the economy needed more university graduates, so instead of looking at the actual skills required (rather than the piece of paper) and investing in developing those skills, successive governments decided to expand the definition of "university" to include the other colleges, which were then all expected to provide degree-standard courses.

    In some cases, this was a great success, as these "new universities" often brought useful and distinctive ideas into the market for degree education. But in other cases, the new university degrees were mainly aimed at recruiting students to qualify for extra funding i.e. cash-cropping students but not necessarily providing worthwhile degree courses in return. The Blair government stated its aim to have up to 50% of school-leavers studying for a degree, which rather missed the point that what we really need is people with good skills, not "degrees". This policy further boosted the numbers of graduates trying to find graduate-level jobs in an economy which simply doesn't really need that many university graduates.

    In recent years, the introduction of ever higher student fees and the reduction of state support for students at university has been justified by the claim that graduates earn more during their lifetimes than non-graduates. But this claim is based on previous generations of graduates, when there were fewer graduates in the market and most of them could find graduate-level jobs so they did indeed earn more. But since the financial crash many current graduates struggle to find anything other than minimum wage drudge-work, and after a couple of years of this their qualifications are regarded as irrelevant by employers who can take their pick from the cream of this year's graduates instead.

    So to answer your question, I think in the UK a "good" degree in a relevant subject (or at least a "hard" subject like STEM) from a "good" university is probably more important than it's ever been, at least for people in the first few years of their careers. Later on, I don't think it makes much difference and nobody ever asks me about my degree (over 25 years after I graduated!), although I'm sure if I had an Oxbridge degree it would probably impress some people even at my advanced age.

    These days, employers often insist on a good (2.1 or 1st) degree from a Russell Group university before they will even consider applicants for graduate or junior roles. I'm sure a posh kid with a degree in History of Art from Oxford and lots of family connections will still manage to find their way into pretty much any job they like, but for most youngsters today it's a pretty tough market, especially when university fees are now £9000 (about $14,000) a year even for a bog-standard "new" university and there are few scholarships or bursaries available. Student loans are available, so less wealthy students can still afford to go to university in theory, but I know a lot of families think twice about encouraging their kids to rack up £50,000 or more in debts to get a second-class degree in Media Studies from the University of Boghamptonshire, only to find the best job they can get after graduation is flipping burgers at McDonald's.

    Meanwhile, the problem with not going to college is that in a jobs market where up to 50% of job-seekers may be graduates, you're going to look like a failure to any employer who uses possession of a university degree as a filter to exclude "unqualified" candidates. So today's 18 year olds are damned to enormous intimidating debts if they go to university, or being locked out of the "graduate" job market if they don't.

    Friends of ours are thinking of sending their daughter to study in the Netherlands or Denmark, because the costs are much lower, the standard of education is high, and she'll probably have far better opportunities when she graduates. If I were 18 I know I'd be looking seriously at that kind of thing. Meanwhile, a lot of people feel a British university education is starting to look like it will soon be the preserve of the wealthy once again.

    I know the US has always had a fee-paying system, so maybe it works better for you guys. But I think our education system is totally screwed, and I pity the poor kids who have to find their way through this mess and still hope to enjoy a decent standard of living and a rewarding career in the long term.


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    Paul Anilprem
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        8
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:In the STEM vs STEAM thread, Paul A wrote:
    are now waking up to this slowly because they can't get into good schools with just average SAT scores anymore


    In my reply, I used the word "good" in quotes. I have trouble with the concept that it so important to go to a "good" school. The quotes are because "good" means "top rated." It's not that the others are "bad" schools. Granted some are, but most are perfectly fine.

    Seems like this would be a good discussion. Do you think it is important to go to a "good" school? Do you think that has changed over time? Do you look at the school on a resume/CV?

    This might be regional, so please mention which country you are talking about.


    There are basically two kinds of students - those who need jobs and those who don't. The ones who need jobs usually come from lower and middle class families who have little or no family business or property off which they can live or create a job for themselves. Their prime objective is to get into a degree program that increases their chances of getting a job.

    From this perspective, there certainly are good schools and bad schools. Specially in India, bad schools are really horrible. Most of these bad schools are privately run either by political bigwigs or seedy businessmen with loads of unaccounted cash. There is no faculty and no equipment. Just a building and a permission to run a few degree programs. I won't say a number because people may not like it but I believe that a majority of Indian schools are like that.

    This is what drives the competition for "good" schools. These are mostly run by the government. Fees are low. Faculty and facilities are among the best. Kids from 9th grade onwards study like crazy to get into one of these. You should see the condition of the parents whose wards take the national entrance test for these schools. They are probably equally stressed out and exhausted.

    For middle class and lower class families in India, it is pretty much a must to get into a good school. There are very few options otherwise. Everyone, including employers, knows this. When I graduated (from one of the top schools) and joined my first job (which I had accepted almost a year before I finished the degree program), I learned that salaries for new hires for the same position were based on which school they were recruited from. So the guy who joined with me was getting paid lower for the same job just because he came from a school that was ranked lower than mine.

    School doesn't just affect the first job of your career. It affects almost a decade of your career because that is the first thing employers look at. They see what school you are from and lowball you on the salary. They know you don't have many options and they take advantage of that. Last year I met one of my classmates from 12th grade by chance after almost 20 yrs. Our fathers were colleagues at work. He is also in IT but it took him almost 12 years to reach the salary point where I was at 4-5 yrs out of college. He went to a run of the mill school that wasn't visited by any employer for campus recruitment. So he had so slog it out at a low salaries for long time in small companies. His first salary was 1/3 of mine. He worked really hard and is doing well now but it took him such a long time just because wasn't from a well known school.

    I am sure you will recall threads on JavaRanch talking about a "bond" signed by an employee looking to switch job. I never had to sign any such bond. But I know now that a vast majority of the companies make students graduating out from unranked schools sign a "bond" that forces the new hires to work with them for up to 3 yrs! It is exploitation, plain and simple. But they have no option.

    If my description above scares you, then let me tell you that this is nothing. Students making their career in IT at least make a decent living after slogging for a few years. But students from other disciplines such as Mechanical or Electrical, are stuck at a very low pay scale for all their lives.

    A degree from an unranked school will drag you down more than you can imagine. It is not an insurmountable problem but it just takes a long time to overcome the prejudices that are attached to it.

    I hope you can now see how important it is to get into a "good" school.

    Personally, I find all this very unhealthy for the society.

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    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Anayonkar Shivalkar wrote:Well, it depends upon what we call 'good' here
    Are we talking about schools with top rated students and where good companies come for campus placements? Or schools with good teachers?

    It’s more top rated schools than schools with good teachers. That’s part of where the quotes come from.

    chris webster wrote:I know the US has always had a fee-paying system, so maybe it works better for you guys. But I think our education system is totally screwed, and I pity the poor kids who have to find their way through this mess and still hope to enjoy a decent standard of living and a rewarding career in the long term.

    It’s broken here in the US too. University feeds go up quite rapidly. And thanks for posting about how things have changed over time.

    Paul Anilprem wrote:From this perspective, there certainly are good schools and bad schools. Specially in India, bad schools are really horrible. Most of these bad schools are privately run either by political bigwigs or seedy businessmen with loads of unaccounted cash. There is no faculty and no equipment. Just a building and a permission to run a few degree programs

    So for India, we don’t need the quotes around the word good! In the schools have to be accredited (and there are actual standards for doing so). I school with no faculty and no equipment wouldn’t be accredited.

    Paul Anilprem wrote: I learned that salaries for new hires for the same position were based on which school they were recruited from. So the guy who joined with me was getting paid lower for the same job just because he came from a school that was ranked lower than mine.

    Wow.

    Paul Anilprem wrote: I am sure you will recall threads on JavaRanch talking about a "bond" signed by an employee looking to switch job. I never had to sign any such bond. But I know now that a vast majority of the companies make students graduating out from unranked schools sign a "bond" that forces the new hires to work with them for up to 3 yrs! It is exploitation, plain and simple. But they have no option.

    Yes, it’s hard to believe that is legal. But I see so many posts on the topic, it must either be legal or so prevalent that one is forced to play.

    Paul Anilprem wrote:I hope you can now see how important it is to get into a "good" school.

    Thank you for taking the time to write all this. In the US, the emphasis on going to a “good” school tends to be limited to certain parts of society. And it’s nothing like what you described. I’m glad you brought this up in the STEM thread. It definitely warranted a thread of its own and I learned a lot about the education system in India.
    Paul Anilprem
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    Anayonkar Shivalkar wrote:Well, it depends upon what we call 'good' here
    Are we talking about schools with top rated students and where good companies come for campus placements? Or schools with good teachers?

    It’s more top rated schools than schools with good teachers. That’s part of where the quotes come from.

    My observation is that top schools are also the schools where top teachers are in India.

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    Paul Anilprem wrote:From this perspective, there certainly are good schools and bad schools. Specially in India, bad schools are really horrible. Most of these bad schools are privately run either by political bigwigs or seedy businessmen with loads of unaccounted cash. There is no faculty and no equipment. Just a building and a permission to run a few degree programs

    So for India, we don’t need the quotes around the word good! In the schools have to be accredited (and there are actual standards for doing so). I school with no faculty and no equipment wouldn’t be accredited.

    A similar system exists in India as well. But just like everything else, let me just say it simply doesn't work. Good schools have good facilities and staff because they want to be good not because they want accreditation. I know of one good school in India which was first recognized by a top school in the US but agencies in India didn't recognize it for quite some time. Bad schools basically want to make money by hook or crook. So they get all the accreditations they want by questionable means. Students and their parents pay through their noses for a piece of paper really and no one cares.

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    Paul Anilprem wrote: I am sure you will recall threads on JavaRanch talking about a "bond" signed by an employee looking to switch job. I never had to sign any such bond. But I know now that a vast majority of the companies make students graduating out from unranked schools sign a "bond" that forces the new hires to work with them for up to 3 yrs! It is exploitation, plain and simple. But they have no option.

    Yes, it’s hard to believe that is legal. But I see so many posts on the topic, it must either be legal or so prevalent that one is forced to play.

    It is illegal. It is basically a scare tactic and there is also collusion by employers. If you try to jump the bond, other employers will not hire you at the same or higher pay. So even if it is illegal and wont stand in the court of law, few dare go against it.

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    Paul Anilprem wrote:I hope you can now see how important it is to get into a "good" school.

    Thank you for taking the time to write all this. In the US, the emphasis on going to a “good” school tends to be limited to certain parts of society. And it’s nothing like what you described. I’m glad you brought this up in the STEM thread. It definitely warranted a thread of its own and I learned a lot about the education system in India.


    I know that but the reason I brought it up is because I see the US system is going to the same destination. Path is a bit different though. I saw a documentary about how these online colleges offer expensive degree courses and these are basically funded by subsidized loans to the students. I see so many colleges and university sign boards on US highways and many of them are set up on floor in a high rise. I also saw some of friends kids studying for SATs and that reminded me of my days in India. American students come out neck deep in student loans and armed with degrees that don't excite the employers much. On top of it, you have programs like H1B. Don't even get me started on that. It is only a matter of time until this system collapses.


    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Paul Anilprem wrote:My observation is that top schools are also the schools where top teachers are in India.

    In the US, we don't have such a strong correlation. Tenured teachers are chosen for (largely) how they do research.

    Paul Anilprem wrote:
    It is illegal. It is basically a scare tactic and there is also collusion by employers. If you try to jump the bond, other employers will not hire you at the same or higher pay. So even if it is illegal and wont stand in the court of law, few dare go against it.

    That sounds like a big problem. No one person can change the system. And it isn't as if there is a union of IT workers to stop it.


    Paul Anilprem wrote:I know that but the reason I brought it up is because I see the US system is going to the same destination. Path is a bit different though. I saw a documentary about how these online colleges offer expensive degree courses and these are basically funded by subsidized loans to the students. I see so many colleges and university sign boards on US highways and many of them are set up on floor in a high rise. I also saw some of friends kids studying for SATs and that reminded me of my days in India. American students come out neck deep in student loans and armed with degrees that don't excite the employers much. On top of it, you have programs like H1B. Don't even get me started on that. It is only a matter of time until this system collapses.

    I think that topic is more appropriate to this thread (or a third thread) than the STEM thread. It's not really about STEM or STEAM subjects specifically.

    Yes, I see the signs for the schools in a high rise. Most of them largely offer associates degrees. They are targeting people who dropped out of high school or didn't go to college right away. I don't know enough about those schools to comment. I was thinking about it from the point of view of students going directly to college.

    On the degrees that don't excite employers, part of that is a cultural problem. Students are encouraged to use college to "discover themselves" and "figure out what they want to do." Which encourages degrees that are less marketable. Not to say they aren't useful in other ways. If one wants to be an art teacher or work in an art museum, an art history degree is a perfectly reasonable choice. But I think there should be some thought put into that up front. Not, "well I like art so I studied art history. I wonder what kind of job I can get upon graduation."

    My college had a minor in business. If you majored in Computer Science, you got to skip the "here's how to use a computer" class in the minor. I met with the advisor of that program senior year of high school to interview and brought it up then. To which the reply was basically that I couldn't know what I want to major in yet and might change my mind. I've always loved computers even in elementary school. I knew I wanted to study computer science for a long time. I didn't know I wanted to be a programmer quite that young, but I knew I wanted to do "something in computers." And the system was set up to not encourage that definitiveness.
    Paul Anilprem
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        8
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:And the system was set up to not encourage that definitiveness.

    That is exactly my point. It is a very good system. Unfortunately, because of mindless globalization, it is at a disadvantage now.
    chris webster
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      20

    Jeanne wrote:It’s broken here in the US too. University feeds go up quite rapidly. ..

    Paul wrote:I see the US system is going to the same destination... American students come out neck deep in student loans and armed with degrees that don't excite the employers much....It is only a matter of time until this system collapses.

    Depressing but true. I don't see how the current system can continue. It's fine to argue that students should pick marketable degrees, but for society to flourish we also need to nurture other aspects of intellectual and cultural life beyond the short-sighted jobs market. If only a minority can afford to study subjects that don't guarantee enough wages to pay off enormous student loans, where will tomorrow's teachers or intellectuals come from? And what about the many professions that require university degrees and are vital to society but are not especially well-paid - teaching, nursing etc? After a century of expanding access to education for women, ethnic minorities and the working classes, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction again.
    Jeanne wrote:And it isn't as if there is a union of IT workers to stop it.

    A separate issue, I guess. But as an old leftie, I find it hard to relate to the idea that ordinary workers in any industry should rely on their employers' grace and favour throughout their careers, like feudal serfs relying on the goodwill of the local lord, instead of making sure that when push comes to shove, they have their own collective voice to defend them in a legal, political and corporate culture that is overwhelmingly biased in favour of the boss classes. A healthy society should balance the needs of both sides of the employment relationship, as they do in Germany for example, where companies are required to set up a works council of representatives from management and staff to help resolve problems before they turn into big industrial disputes. I wonder if the intense financial pressures and competition for decent jobs experienced by today's debt-burdened graduates will further discourage white-collar workers from defending their interests, or if it will increase an awareness that they need to stick up for themselves because nobody else will.
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    chris webster wrote: It's fine to argue that students should pick marketable degrees, but for society to flourish we also need to nurture other aspects of intellectual and cultural life beyond the short-sighted jobs market. If only a minority can afford to study subjects that don't guarantee enough wages to pay off enormous student loans, where will tomorrow's teachers or intellectuals come from?

    Which comes to knowing what you want to do before you start university. If you know you want to be a teacher, there are programs that help with tuition for that. (particularly if you are willing to work in underprivileged schools or in subjects where there is a teacher shortage). Or you can choose to got to a less expensive school. Teaching (at the K-12 level) is one of the fields that doesn't look down on going to city/state universities which are less expensive (because they are government subsidized).


    chris webster wrote:or if it will increase an awareness that they need to stick up for themselves because nobody else will.

    I think it is more likely to not be this. It's important to me personally not to be afraid that if I saw the wrong thing, I'll be fired. I'm really good at my job and well liked so I'm there. At one point, my manager was told to "suggest" that I reschedule my vacation for a meeting. i said no. (The meeting turned out to be when I got back which proved this request was completely unnecessary. But even if it was during my vacation, someone else could have represented our team.) I spoke to someone else at the same company who was "encouraged" to cancel his vacation and he agreed because of pressure. If you aren't really comfortable (or clueless), management gets to use that implicit threat against you. Also, it is scary to defend your interests. I remember when I had to complain about a teacher in high school. (it was a safety issue; I had no choice.). He made comments about it the rest of the term. It's unpleasant to bring stuff up. And these things are way below the level of "sign here or you don't get to work here."
    chris webster
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      20

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Which comes to knowing what you want to do before you start university.

    This places an incredible burden on young people who grow and develop their talents and interests at different rates. It's fine for people who have a strong vocation or clearly defined interest (or who are only good at one thing anyway), but what about the rest? In the UK, the job options for 18 year olds who don't go to university are very limited (partly because of the competition from graduates for even low-paid work), so what are they going to do while they figure things out? I guess it's a reflection of my own indirect path into my IT career (which continues to meander!), but I don't believe society or individuals benefit from forcing kids into such narrowly defined channels, with little opportunity to grow beyond those boundaries, at such an early age and at such a crippling financial cost.

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:It's important to me personally not to be afraid that if I saw the wrong thing, I'll be fired...

    Sticking up for yourself is an important life skill, but the consistent trend of shifting power away from the individual to the corporate classes over the last 30+ years has created an increasingly feudal employment system which undermines that basic right. And in many ways the "globalised" tech industry is leading the way in this race to the bottom e.g. Amazon's grim employment practices.

    I think working people need to wake up and stand up for themselves while they still can. But I seem to be out of sync with the current fashion - across the media, politics and business - for cravenly worshipping the feudal masters of the technology industries.
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    chris webster wrote:This places an incredible burden on young people who grow and develop their talents and interests at different rates. It's fine for people who have a strong vocation or clearly defined interest (or who are only good at one thing anyway), but what about the rest? In the UK, the job options for 18 year olds who don't go to university are very limited (partly because of the competition from graduates for even low-paid work), so what are they going to do while they figure things out? I guess it's a reflection of my own indirect path into my IT career (which continues to meander!), but I don't believe society or individuals benefit from forcing kids into such narrowly defined channels, with little opportunity to grow beyond those boundaries, at such an early age and at such a crippling financial cost.

    I'm not saying they have to know what they want to study at 18. There is the option to not go to university right away or at least not full time. Working at a low wage job for a year or two while figuring it out what one wants to study. There is the possibility to take free classes (MOOCs) to dabble. Or take one or two college classes a semester while working to narrow down the candidates. That decreases the debt burden.

    I think we compound the "not knowing what to do" problem by spending high school focusing on "getting into a good college." Someone's child that I know is going to a vocational high school. At the beginning, they have them take a variety of subjects and then narrow it down. Then they narrow it down again to the one topic they are going to know real well by the end of high school. Granted, I don't think a 9th grader is equipped to make that decision but at least he graduates with some skill. And if he isn't going to university, he has something he is skilled to do. He can always change to something else, but he has a starting point. For those going to college, I think having the time in high school to explore interests would be more helpful than memorizing vocabulary words. MOOCs could help here too. Since they are free, you can take a number of survey classes to see what you like/don't like.

    In the US, you can now stay on your parent's health insurance plan until the age of 25 which allows a few years of buffer where it is ok to have a job that doesn't have health insurance. (I see other problems with this system but that's a separate topic.) As far as competition from graduates, I'm not seeing why a graduate is more likely to get a job in a store than a high school graduate. The employer knows both will leave in some amount of time.

    Also, one doesn't have to pick what they want to do for the rest of one's life. Later career changes don't put so much emphasis on a degree.
    Paul Anilprem
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        8
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    I'm not saying they have to know what they want to study at 18. There is the option to not go to university right away or at least not full time. Working at a low wage job for a year or two while figuring it out what one wants to study. There is the possibility to take free classes (MOOCs) to dabble. Or take one or two college classes a semester while working to narrow down the candidates. That decreases the debt burden.


    Not knowing what to do after 12th is a luxury few can afford today. They better know what they are going to do after 12th when they are in 9th-10th grade. If they don't then they will be pushed at the back of the rat race so fast they won't know what hit them. You may want to check out one popular coaching institute that prepares kids for university entrance examination: http://www.fiitjee.com/ These guys have programs for 6th graders. 6th graders!! And this is not the only one. There are tens of such coaching institutes in every big city. It is a huge business.

    This is the situation in India. But my point is that you will have the same thing in US pretty soon because American kids will now compete directly with kids from other countries. If an employer needs a java program written, they won't care whether the applicant took 2 yrs to decide that he really loves to program in Java or the applicant hates programming but needs to put food on the table. It is all routine stuff anyway.

    It is a race to the bottom indeed.
    Jeanne Boyarsky
    author & internet detective
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