You don't have to search very long to find an argument against a college education. It's too expensive (agreed), or entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg didn't attend college, so neither do you (assuming you have once in a lifetime idea, and the motivation and skill to turn that idea into life).
Personally, I learned some really great skills while getting my college education that have helped me in both my career and my entrepreneurial journey.
- How to acknowledge and counter an argument. If you can anticipate an objection, and develop a counter-argument that is thoughtful, reasonable, and well-constructed, you are learning how to sell.
- How to be a better writer. No matter what you do in your career, you will have to communicate your thoughts and ideas in written form.
- How to stick with something until completion. I often tell people that completing college isn't a matter of intelligence, it's a matter of jumping through hoops and overcoming obstacles until you complete a goal - and then you move on to the next goal. That's what life and your career is all about.
That said, there is one crucial skill I didn't learn in college, and it is one that I think every college should teach students, regardless of major or career goal:
Colleges need to teach students how to sell themselves.
Selling yourself goes far beyond creating a resume, or even gaining job interview skills. Learning how to sell yourself requires figuring out how to frame your skills and abilities within the context of your customer's needs.
A customer might be the anthropology department you are looking to teach in after graduate school.
A customer might be a company with an internship that could set you on a path toward your dream career.
And, if you are one of the growing number of student entrepreneurs, a customer might be that early adopter that is so crucial to showing your viability as a company.
The reality is that no matter what you do you'll spend much of your life selling yourself. You will sell yourself to employers, employees, colleagues, friends, potential spouses - in short, everyone that you believe could be an important addition to your personal and/or professional life.
Since colleges do not teach students how to sell themselves (or at least didn't in any of the multiple programs I attended) I'll share a bit of what I've learned about selling myself:
- Know what you're talking about. Effective selling requires knowledge, not, you know, bovine excrement.
- Understand your target's potential objections, and try and see things from his or her point of view. There are always at least as many reasons to not hire as there are reasons to hire you. Consider those objections from an analytical - and not a personal - perspective.
- Be confident enough to say when you don't know an answer. Again, being cloaked in the smell of bovine excrement is a powerful reason why others will not want to buy what you are selling.
- If you aren't genuinely excited to be talking to the person across the table - regardless of whether or not they are your next boss or your 100th customer - then you are wasting your time and theirs. And, if you are genuinely excited about working together, let that shine through.
There used to be an informal dating "rule" that required waiting a couple of days after a first date before calling the person again. I called this really amazing girl 20 minutes after our first date to tell her how much I'd liked the two hours we'd just spent sharing a Grand Slam breakfast inside of a smoke-filled Denny's.
Three months later we got married. It was the best sale I've ever made.
If you want to sell yourself, know what you are talking about, analyze potential objections, be willing to say you don't know an answer, and let your enthusiasm show.