Assumptions about college are being turned on their head. Real world experience is providing a better context for learning and a more direct path to life and career opportunities.
College has value, but not the universal value most assume. The worst thing you can do is go as a catch-all or backup plan or default. Go get a degree if you have a specific, tightly defined goal and college is the only way to get it. Doctors, lawyers, and other professions that legally require degrees are examples. But even here, it’s so much better to get experience in the market before you settle on one of these specialist paths. There’s no way to know if you’ll like it just by thinking about it, and once you head down that path changing direction becomes a lot harder.
A professional apprenticeship is the ideal way to learn, grow, discover your own interests and strengths, and transition into your first job or career. Here are five reasons an apprenticeship is better than more school…
A better context for learning
Education researchers like John Holt find that learning happens pretty quickly when the learner is spending “focused time” on something. The thing is, “focus” comes from the learner and is intrinsically motivated. Real learning happens out of either necessity or interest. Learning is fastest and most effective in the moment of interest or need. It’s ineffective to pile on busy-work and drudgery to try to master something totally disconnected to your interests or personal advancement. Studying marketing in a classroom when you have nothing on the line and may not need the knowledge for another few years is an almost impossible way to really learn. When faced with a real-time real-world marketing conundrum, you’ll do whatever it takes to find the answer and solve the problem. You’ll learn.
Apprenticeships hit on both interest and necessity. If you’re apprenticing somewhere interesting to you, you naturally want to learn more about it. Necessity kicks in because the real world of commerce is so much more demanding – and exciting and rewarding – than an artificial academic setting. When solving a customer problem means sealing a deal. creating value, and getting paid, learning happens.
If you really want to learn, put yourself in a valuable learning context and get some skin in the game.
A better signal of real ability
Degrees are a way of the past. Google is your resume, you are your credential.
A degree says something about your ability, but it’s increasingly unclear what. Meanwhile, you now have the ability to demonstrate projects completed, outcomes achieved, and skills mastered with personal websites, LinkedIn, Quora profiles, Amazon book reviews, GitHub, and more. It’s limited only by your imagination. The degree is only a valuable signal in the absence of something better. Something better isn’t hard to build, and real work experience is one of the strongest, clearest signals available.
If you’re a business, imagine trying to figure out which candidate for a job will be best based on major and GPA. How to map that 3.7 in English Lit. onto some kind of reading of emotional intelligence, grit, or digital savvy? It’s guesswork. Contrast that to a candidate who can show you the things they built and the results they got working for a real company, apprenticing alongside experts in the field.
The little secret hardly any college students know is that their degree becomes irrelevant as soon as they have their first meaningful experience. Just like a college degree makes your high school diploma irrelevant, work experience pushes the degree out of the picture. If you’ve been successful in sales or graphic design or any other area, companies will want to see your work more than a degree.
I’m a huge fan of risk-taking in pursuit of an interesting life, especially when you’re young. But because your desires and interests are likely to change a lot early on, risks shouldn’t be the kind that hem you in to one particular path for years to come. Don’t let your past or present self enslave the you of the future.
Ask yourself, what’s the downside if this doesn’t pan out? Where will it leave me? Compare the downside of college with an apprenticeship.
School means tens of thousands of dollars and half a decade of your life. Graduation comes with expectations and economic realities that can severely limit your pool of options. Paying back loans requires a certain income level that might preclude living in some cities, trying that startup idea, taking a more interesting but lower paying job, or an excursion or adventure you might not have the chance to do later.
An apprenticeship means a few months or a year, and little or no cost (you might even make money!) Switching direction is very easy. Just because you worked in sales for a summer and fall doesn’t mean you can’t become of developer if you discover along the way that you love coding. In fact, you’ll have an advantage because you’ll bring a richer real-world context. If while working for a cool company you discover you love what the accounting department does and you want to be a CPA, you can go do it at any time. You won’t be carrying a lot of debt and pressure to stick with something forever.
I don’t think it’s ever too late for people to pursue things they enjoy or, more importantly, avoid things they hate. I don’t think you’re stuck on a path forever just because you majored in it. But we’re human. The amount of courage and sacrifice required to pursue a writing career after you’ve gone six figures in the hole for a prestigious law degree is probably too much for most of us to muster. Don’t put yourself in a position where failure means you’re stuck or trying new things is so costly.
The upside of more school means a bullet on a resume.
The upside of an apprenticeship means knowledge, a network, experience, tangible value creation, and likely a job. Oh, and a bullet on a resume.
Unless you love all the hoops of college, (and I don’t mean the parties and campus scenery and social life or even knowledge gained in classrooms. You can get all of that without paying tuition), the stuff you can only get from registering and seeking that official paper, you’re probably unnecessarily condemning yourself to dullness and monotony. Why? What’s the point of life if you’re bored and unhappy? What’s the point of grades and accolades if they don’t connect to things you genuinely care about and you didn’t enjoy getting them?
Apprenticeships are a great transition for young people into the real world. The real world and real work are hard. But so is beating that video game you love or improving your tennis game, painting, or fantasy football roster. The most fulfilling stuff is challenging, but it comes with a reward. It’s not the meaningless pain of boredom, it’s growing pains, and growing is what it’s all about.
Growing up, learning to build your own structure and master your own schedule are tough but amazing. Freedom is thrilling. Realizing your power as an autonomous adult is a pretty great thing, and you can’t do it by following instructions and turning in assignments in an artificial world. Having a tough conversation with a boss where your job might be on the line, closing a deal, seeing a product you helped with go live (and seeing the glitches and problems that come with it!) are amazing opportunities to engage the world as an individual, not just a widget on a conveyor belt.
Take a year to go work somewhere with something genuine on the line. A place where you could be rewarded for success and held accountable for failure to deliver. It beats more classrooms any day.
Get it all and then some
The Praxis program was designed with these realities in mind from the get-go. We want you to get amazing experience apprenticing – not just at any old company, but a growing startup – and gain the skills and tools you need along the way. We prepare you for the world of work with a professional bootcamp. We help you build a brand and a digital paper trail. We challenge you to design and complete a portfolio of projects, and we provide individual coaching and a network of peers, professionals, and business partners.