Tony Guo is an entrepreneur and CEO of RunRex, a web consulting firm. He studied biology and law at two very prestigious universities, and learned a lot along the way.

But his recent comments contain words of wisdom for any who are contemplating university education.

Here's what Guo said in a recent post on LinkedIn:

My two degrees cost $410,016. NYU cost $71,754 a year or $287,016 for 4 years. William and Mary Law School cost $41,000 a year (out of state) or $123,000 for a 3 year J.D. I now work in digital marketing where the most talented person I know doesn't have a degree. He only has drive. Life is so weird isn't it?

We could sum up Guo's point in a single sentence:

The way the world learns is changing.

There's More Than One Way

I believe strongly in the power of education. And I recognize that certain career paths require a college degree: for example, you can't effectively practice medicine or law without one.

But for the rest of us, how much does university education really teach--in terms of practical, real-world skills? (Disclosure: I attended college full-time for a year, before leaving and never looking back.)

Some argue that it's the overall experience of college that's beneficial, not just the degree. Fair enough, but the way we learn has changed drastically in the past decade. With knowledge more readily available than any time in history, you can teach yourself to do almost anything.

Guo's a perfect example. In response to his post, one reader asked if he was happy with his decisions and where he is today, to which Guo responded:

"I am. But if I were to be honest, I could have gotten here without the degrees and saved 7 years + tuition. What I do is entirely different from what I learned in NYU (biology) and William and Mary Law. Some will argue that I learned how to learn... but my NYU classes were 550 for intro to chem and 500 for intro to biology. And they mostly were of professors reading their notes."

Guo and I aren't the only ones who feel that the traditional path isn't right for everyone.

At a recent conference, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner spoke about what his company looks for in new hires, highlighting qualities like passion and fire, a great work ethic, perseverance, loyalty, and a growth mindset.

"These are qualities that you don't necessarily pick up from a degree," he said. "There are qualities...that have a tendency to be completely overlooked when people are sifting through résumés or LinkedIn profiles. And yet, increasingly, we find that these are the kinds of people that make the biggest difference within our organization. Increasingly I hear this mantra: Skills, not degrees. It's not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It's just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees."

Laszlo Bock, the former head of HR at Google and author of the bestseller Work Rules!, echoed similar thoughts in a 2013 interview with The New York Times.

"After two or three years, your ability to perform...is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different," said Bock. "You're also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently."

So, if you're an employer, what should you look for instead of concentrating solely on degrees? You can start with these six things.

Look, I'm not against everything higher education has to offer. But I do believe that pushing this path as the only way to success is not only wrong, it's dangerous. Especially for those who are self-motivated, college simply doesn't provide the best ROI.

It's not just about money. Time is even more precious.

Of course, everyone has to make their own decision, so make the one that's right for you.

But before you do, ask yourself: Is a degree really necessary for what I want to do?

Because you can learn a lot in school. But you'll learn much more outside of it.

Published on: Jul 27, 2017
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