7 Things I Hate About Not Having A Degree

7

I was not encouraged to go to college when I was a kid.

When I say ‘not encouraged’ I mean I was told this: You need to just go out and get a job and support yourself.

I’m paraphrasing  but that was the message. I took that message to heart and it became my truth. I was going to work, not school.

College seemed exotic and something that was behind a thick layer of plexi-glass.

I remember visiting a college when I was in high school, the whole junior class went. I was amazed. Kids not much older than me living on their own. They even had a bowling alley.

I have no idea why I remember the bowling alley.

When I was 25 years old, I made an attempt at being a college student and took one class a semester while working full time and taking care of a toddler. It wasn’t that intrusive and I was young. I had energizer bunny levels of energy when I was 25.

I attempted it again when I was 27 years old. I was newly divorced and struggling to not have a mental break. I had just transferred from a job I had held since just after my 21st birthday to IT. I hated it so much but I  stuck with it because I needed to support myself and my son.

One night in July, I called my mother. I sat outside long after the sun had gone down but there was still no relief from the heat. Zach and I lived in a shitty 3 room apartment with no air conditioning in a questionable neighborhood. I cried because everything was falling apart. My marriage ended. Zach was unhappy and my boss was unhappy with me. My mother told me to pack my things and come home. Maybe I could even go to school. Full time.

So I did. I quit the company where I had worked for 7 years and used the little bit of retirement money that I had built up to go to school.

I made it three months of living at home when I realized that living with my father was the worst of all worlds. Getting a degree wasn’t worth the soul sucking pain of living in a house with another human whose goal in life was to tear mine down.

I abandoned my plan of becoming a psychologist and bluffed my way back into computer programming. Within a short time, Zach and I were on our own again and resigned myself that the 21 hours of college I had accumulated over a few years were the only hours  I was going to get.

Sure, I could go to school now if I wanted, but I honestly don’t want to. I don’t want to work all day and go to school at night and on weekends. I don’t want to cram for tests. I have other ways I want to spend my spare time. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few things that I still dislike about not having a degree:

1. “You don’t have a degree? Really? You sound like you went to college”. I have heard this a number of times and I know that it’s not meant as an insult, but honestly? You don’t have to go to college to gain  knowledge. I read a lot. I’m not a dumb ass. I’ve educated myself on many subjects. My education might not be conventional, but that doesn’t mean I’m not educated.

2. “It’s just a piece of paper”. Okay, this one not only minimizes the work that people put into their education but it’s also not true. It’s not just a piece of paper. It’s a members-only invitation. I was the director of IT at my old job. My boss recognized my value and put me in charge. He did not do me any favors by promoting me. When it came time to look for new work, most places wouldn’t even consider me for management because 25 years experience just isn’t enough, I had to come with a degree. Trying to get a programming job when you hold a director’s title is also difficult. I had to answer the “Why would you go backward in your career” question quite a few times before finding the job I have now.

3. I don’t have any cool ‘when I was in college’ stories. Mine would involve trying to find a babysitter. The whole dorm life, drinking with friends and cramming for tests subculture is completely foreign to me. I was riding the bus to work and living off my data entry job when other people my age were pledging sororities or planning a trip abroad before settling down.

4, My self education is lopsided. I educated myself, but only in subjects I wanted to learn about. This explains why even though I’m a computer programmer my math skills might be equal to those of a 6th grade student.

5. Hard transition from childhood to adulthood. It seems to me that college is that time where you get to try out being an adult while still having a foot in childhood. Obviously, I could be off as I didn’t go to college but I still feel like I missed something. I’m aware it exists, but it has no context in my life. Kind of like Australia. (Hello to my Australian friend)!

6. No degree frequently makes my ‘what I’m anxious about now’ list. When I’m with a group of people who I know had a formal education, I feel like I have ‘dumb ass’ smeared across my forehead in mud. This is my problem. I can’t at the moment remember a time where someone attempted to make me feel bad because they were educated and I was not. Honestly though, I got that covered for them.

7. What doors might have opened for me? I managed to make a decent life for myself. I’ve moved  mountains in some ways. I do find myself wondering what I might have been able to accomplish if I had a formal education.

I’m still working toward self-acceptance and actually making strides. Part of that acceptance includes me being happy with myself even though I was not formally educated. It includes the understanding that sometimes my work life is more challenging, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been successful.

If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely go to school.

 

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  • Ditto on so much of this…the director thing seems to have totally killed my employability too. Really not in a good place today so I’ll leave it at that.
    x

  • I’m SUFFERING through college right now, but not becuase college itself is rough. It’s just every other damn thing in my life is crumbling. Thankfully even though I don’t have a lot of support “at home” I work with GREAT people who are on my tail constantly about “what are you working on for school” or “I know things are rough, but PLEASE just remember your on the path towards better” I would hug every single one of the guys who DO have my back, but that might become an HR/harassment situation….lol

  • I have a degree (English; all purpose-no purpose) but I’m still not doing what I “really” want to do. Yes, having a degree has probably made it easier for me to move around (although it’s clearly less about what the degree is in, and more about having a degree in something, anything). But I still don’t know what I want to do and I sort of feel like I’m running out of time to figure it out. And even when I figure it out, will I have the energy?!?

    • ALL PURPOSE NO PURPOSE!!

      I have that one, too. I realize it has arbitrarily gotten me a few perks (like the ability to be promoted before someone with more experience within a company! WTF is that!??!)

      It’s a privilege that colors my view on the matter…

      I’m also still paying for it through the nose and am still stuck in a job search that isn’t really focused or moving.

      I have the “you have a college degree why the eff do you sound like an absolute moron?” anxiety when I am in social settings.

      Life is so fill of win/wins!

      • Ha! I have those moments as well..once, in a meeting, I said this: I think it would be more better….

        not even kidding. I just trailed off and stopped talking

  • I went to university for nearly two years, but I had to drop out because of mental health issues. I totally understand what you mean about the people who say “But you’re so smart…!” I can’t count the amount of people who have told me to just go back one day, because it’s not like university costs a shitload of money or anything, right?

  • Honestly I have a degree and I still feel the same way you do about a lot of this stuff. I’m sure it’s not exactly the same but I’d bet good money…if I had good money…that if you and I ever had a long conversation about the topic we’d be sharing very similar anecdotes/ideas/feelings. I left high school with the expectations of my family riding on my shoulders. And thanks to a lack of funds I almost immediately had to leave school. I started my family and helped put my wife through school and kind of figured I’d be working in kitchens or with my hands for the rest of my life. I wound up getting to finish but it took 12 years to get a 4 year degree. Then when I got that, I was told “hey…good for you. Guess what? You’re gonna really need a master’s to do anything in the field unless you want to be the best educated cook.” So I started that and was promptly told that I was still going to need a post-graduate certification or license to accomplish anything more than getting paid what a fry cook makes but have a more interesting job description. I wound up being the first person on both sides of my family to graduate with a 4 year degree and I’m more of the black sheep than ever. I’ve been told to my face that I’m an idiot for not just taking that job in the union or getting that job-specific certificate from the local vocational training institution. My wife and mother are the only ones who haven’t turned on me for not taking the blue collar “sure thing”. I’ve gotten everything from “man, I don’t get it…why wouldn’t you rather be working instead?” to having almost every female relatives tell my wife (both behind my back and right there with me) “I don’t know how you put up with him, I don’t care if he did take care of my kids…if my husband didn’t have a job I’d leave him.” This was, by the way, whether or not I had a job at the time or not. I think that the only thing we might disagree on is that I think a degree isn’t really more than a piece of paper. Sure, it might be kind of an important one but thus far mine has only been a pass to get the next piece, then the one after that, which would then be the members-only invitation for me to take a 2 year internship and a 9 month supervision following my licensure and certification. I may just be bitter at this point but I’m at the point that I’m tired of hearing that I should be proud of my education and that I’m qualified or capable but there’s still that next hurdle. Maybe I am just minimizing the work I’ve put in so that it seems like less to be upset about. Maybe I’m just jealous of the people in the field who came before me when a high school degree and a passed test or 2 got you the job. Maybe both. All I know is that other than a semester and a couple of stories that came from bad choices which would have occurred whether I was in school or blowing off steam on the weekend with my drinking buddies, I really only have a piece of paper and a slightly out of date reference library.

      • I really do care more about the hurdles than the people. Honestly, I’ve made mistakes that might upset anyone and I’ve gotten flack for doing what I consider the right thing and outside of a couple honest misunderstandings here and there (which usually wound up being cleared up relatively painlessly) it’s let me know who I can count on and who I can’t. That’s actually kind of a blessing. That being said…I still really hate being asked why I’m not already in the field or teaching somewhere by new people.

  • Hello from Australia! You’re right about the piece of paper being more than a piece of paper, although it used to be easier in Australia to get by without it. Now you need a piece of paper just to be a cleaner – almost. But it’s also not as straightforward as that, either. After several attempts, I finally got an Arts Degree. Which qualifies you, really, for exactly nothing. And after years of trying to make it in the Arts world, and feeling burnt out because the industry is so underfunded you have to work part-time hours for full-time jobs, I’m now trying to make the transition to something that requires me to have practical skills. And finding that not only do I not have ‘that’ piece of paper, I’m considered over qualified to get it. Fun times. Also, if it makes you feel any better, I managed to go through college without any of those ‘when I was in college’ stories because I was too shy to mix well.

    One question – do they have anything in the US that allows you to get credit recognition for the knowledge you’ve already gained from x number of years in the industry + self-education? Here they have a thing called Recognition of Prior Learning, which means you could cut down how much study you have to do to get the piece of paper. If you’re in anyway still wishing, that could make it easier.

  • I am *SO* with you on #6 – I just feel like a dunce, and I fully admit to being an academic snob, and rating degrees, even though I don’t have one. Or the money to get one (another factor). And it bugs the hell outta me when people are talking about ‘that one time, in university’ and I got nothing.

    I don’t know that I’d currently *do* anything differently than I am now…I’m content, I’m well educated (lop-sidedly) and quite happy with being able to devote so much time to writing and having a life, buuuuut….it still grates.

  • I totally hear you on this !!!
    While I did get a degree – I got it going to classes in the evenings after work and 1 yr in fell pregnant and so landed up doing most of it at night with a new born baby/toddler around while A was studying one week every month away from home. Definitely not the ideal situation.
    I probably could have gone to uni had I wanted to – not sure who would have paid as my folks didn’t have money – but I wanted to work and earn money. Studying part time as a working married mother meant I didn’t do any of the ‘student’ things that were happening. I would dash into class – do what we had to do – and then A and K would pick me up and I’d go home – no socialising with other students who were all heaps younger than me anyway !!!
    The only reason I landed up studying was because I was basically told at work that unless I had a piece of paper, I could expect to stay at the bottom of the ladder forever (pretty much) – I didn’t enjoy studying and even when I did my Cert IV and Diploma of Remedial Massage – I didn’t enjoy studying – I have so many better things to do with my time – I got those qualifications so my clients can claim my treatments on private health cover.
    Have the best Sunday night and take care !
    Me xox

  • About the math thing… if you can count change and add and subtract, even with a calculator, and balance your checking account, you already know all the math you need to know, unless you are a closet rocket scientist. Or something.
    .

    • Yeah, I got all that shit down. And no…I’m not. But I DO have a friend who is a rocket scientist..who, by the way, never once said or did anything to make me feel inferior. This is all my problem.

  • I felt the same way, self-conscious because I have no degree. Until a friend looked at me and said, “That makes what you’ve accomplished even more impressive.”

    That comment changed my opinion of myself.

  • I often go to the land of “What if?” Even though I have a degree, I’ve never found a job where I can use it (or was hired because of it). I often wish I had been smart enough to get a degree that I could have used and then applied myself to a real career that actually paid well — instead of playing in radio for 16 years.

    However, I’m learning quickly now that the “What if” game is pointless — we can’t change the past and everything we did (or didn’t do) has led us to this point in our lives — where we are hopefully smarter, perhaps a little more balanced, and open to what life offers.

    Think of all that you have accomplished, Michelle — and all you have overcome! You don’t need a degree to be the wonderful woman that you are, my friend!

  • Yep, i finally went at the ripe old age of 35 and did journalism/writing, only to realise afterwards that I don’t need a degree to write. I spent ten years thinking about going and could have completed many by then. Now, I can’t do journalism as I would have to start at the bottom with a wage that wouldn’t compete with other careers I’ve had. SO now, I don’t care, I’m just cruising. As long as you have an open mind, it’s all than matters. some people need a degree to learn not to judge and learn the world is bigger than themselves. Sounds like you are there.

    • I really am pretty much there. I regret not getting a degree, but I have reached a place in my life where I am accepting of the fact that I don’t have one..mostly..but when is life black and white?

    • She’ll change her mind 100 times. I thought it was a foregone conclusion that my kids would go to college. My older son didn’t finish high school. He did get his GED, but still..not what I THOUGHT was going to happen. Pretty sure the younger one is college bound, but I’ve learned to not assume that I know what will happen with my kids. My older son has made some noise about starting his higher education career..I’m crossing my fingers.

  • I just got my Associates Degree and I had the same “experience” you did. I have 3 kids and a full-time job (and a few part-time jobs thrown in there as well). I didn’t get the “college experience” either. Although, I was in the military and that was a wild ride at times, but even that was just a job for the most part. I use to think about all the shit I “missed out” on, but to tell you the truth, I would have flunked out of college if I would have gone right after high school. However, my mom went back to school and got her degree at 42… anything is possible Michelle 🙂

  • Ugh, I can’t believe anyone would say you “sound” like you have a degree, that’s the most pretentious drivel I’ve ever heard. Do you know how stupid a lot of people are who graduate from college? I doubt I have to tell you. While yes, it can be a ton of hard work, it’s also a matter of circumstance and whether you have resources available to you– there need to be better programs and options available for women to have children AND go to school. Our country is still way behind in figuring that out. Argh.

    • I think that anyone who wants to go to school should be able to…it shouldn’t put them in the poorhouse and it shouldn’t be unavailable because of their money situation…but that’s just me. Well, me and a lot of other people who feel the same way..but whatevs.

  • Michelle. *grabs you by shoulders* You are strong and smart and amazing, without college. I didn’t go, and I’ve never been sorry. I always felt like it would have been a 4-year detour AWAY from my life, plus expenses.

    I had the opposite experience growing up– HUGE pressure to go (“You’re smart. You *must* go to college or you’ll end up barefoot and pregnant and married to some dumb logger, and be a huge failure. Did we mention you’ll also be a loser?”), but somehow I was also given absolutely NO help getting there (no money, no guidance, no job, no savings, no counselor, no scholarships)–though with my dad’s income of “will-barter-for-dental-work” and with my straight A grades, I NOW know that I could have gone on scholarships, but it took me helping our 18-year-old get to college NOW, for me to realize that, which, yes, retrospectively pissed me off more than a little, but I’m OK now. (*deep cleansing breath*)

    When I didn’t go, because I had no idea HOW to go, I got chewed out a lot at first by my mom and, for some reason, my first gyno (“What are you going to do? Stay in that little town forever, waiting for Shane to marry you?” – “Yep”.). But I liked my life, even then. I still do. I just didn’t take 2-4 years out of it to do the college thing, but I have never stopped learning and studying (only it’s the stuff I *want* to learn–without all those stupid core classes, plus it’s FREE. I win.). I have probably handled more income in our lifetime than a college degree would have EVER given me, plus a lot of my degree’d friends aren’t using theirs, and most of them aren’t living happily ever after as much as we are. Sure, we struggled when we were young, but so did they, and they’re still paying on their college loans, while we are planning a trip to France. Go figure.

    I love that I have probably got what amounts to a Master’s in business management and communications, and I probably qualify as a Quickbooks expert–only without the hold time (lol). I have what amounts to an MT degree after over 15 years of medical transcription for places like Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and another one in medieval English history, after years of voracious reading. I had 7 years of Spanish back in the day, and I am working on mastering French this year. I have a self-awarded master gardener’s and rosarian’s degree in horticulture because of a lifetime in the garden. I can heal my family with herbs that I grow. I know how to preserve enough food to keep us through a year and how to cater a party for 200. I can create wedding cakes to easily rival anything in NYC, and I have fixed so many pipes and irrigation lines that I could be a plumber or landscaper as well.

    I know that if I were to hit the job market…of course, these things would count for very little, or nothing at all, but that’s OK.

    I am reminded that some of the greatest minds in history and of our age…NEVER went to college.

    I’d say we’re perfect, just the way we are.

    *throws up 80s ‘rock-on’ sign*

  • Hi Michelle,
    I have read a few of your articles in the past and this one is great too. I can tell you that you come across as a well educated person. Having a degree may not necessarily make a person better than someone like you. But, not having one would limit your opportunities at work as you rightfully pointed out. I finished my degrees with scholarships and understand the pain of having parents who doesn’t appreciate the importance of a degree.
    I am sure you will ensure that your son will be educated well. My daughter got a scholarship last year but wanted to go to the other school she was accepted. I am glad that she did because it gives me the pleasure of supporting her. I believe that you can make up for most things in life by working harder than anyone else, being friendlier and using common sense that lacks in many people. You not only need to be smarter but a fighter too in this life. I can see both characteristics in you and wish you all the best.

  • I have a BA in history. I’ve been working in computers for over 2 decades mostly doing software testing or network IT. I am 95% self-taught on everything computer. I have been made to feel my lack of engineering degree on too many occasions by those who didn’t know or understand even half of what I have taught myself and grasp almost intuitively (still baffles me that most people don’t understand networking and routing or how to troubleshoot issues). I’ve had my knowledge questioned when someone who “doesn’t get it” finds out I don’t have at least a masters in computer engineering only later to be told I understand it better than most anyone else there. I’ve been working for my current employer for 9 years on the same product line. When the closed the office in California where I was working they relocated me to the Canada home office. But, I still feel like I will be or am judged on my lack of ‘appropriate’ degree, especially if I tried to get a job with a different employer. I have thought about classes, but frankly don’t want to work 40+ hours a week and go for classes in a field where I am increasingly burnt out, paying far too much money for them that I don’t have. I would rather consider spending my money on my next career where hopefully my lack of degrees in the field (one much more creative) won’t handicap me.

    • I understand exactly what you are saying. I am also self taught but it’s often overlooked or dismissed when it shouldn’t be. the fact that we learned this shit on our own speaks volumes.

  • When I was in highschool I was part of a special program they had in Seattle where you went to classes at the community college & got college credit AND it fulfilled your high school credits too. Win-win because I hated my high school. The problem was I took a bunch of classes that I wanted to take that fulfilled HS credits but not as many as the ones I should have taken (like the math & stuff). I wish I’d had more guidance in that department so I really could have graduated with my AA degree the same time I graduated from highschool.

    I have my AA degree and while I’m happy I have it, I know that my resume gets disregarded because I don’t have a BA, even if it isn’t relevant to the job I’m applying for…. 🙁

    • My son is doing the same thing..kind of. He gets college credit for his advanced placement classes. As far as I know, he’s going to go to college. He better.

      It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

  • I have a two-year degree in electronics and it served me well for about ten years. It’s actually my self-guided education that landed me where I am now because I concentrated more on what I like to do and want to do. I went to a local college, so my only “when-I-was-in-college” stories have to do with parents’ house, full-time job, four-hour school nights. There was no wild partying or dorm room adventures for me.

    My degree feels like “just a piece of paper” these days. I doubt I’ll ever use it again for anything (here’s to hoping I don’t have to). I also know plenty of people who went to college, have a high-level degree and sound like complete dumbasses when they open their mouths about anything not related to that degree.

    • You know..life really is what you make of it..and all the choices you make along the way are a part of it. I really try to not live with a lot of regret, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always successful.

  • Student loan debt can be crippling. I have an associates degree and work as a paralegal and everyone asks me if I want to be lawyer. I don’t because I don’t want to take on all that debt.

  • Hmm… I have enough college credits for 3 simultaneous Associate’s degrees. I have heavy concentrations of study in Automotive Technology, English, and am ONE course away from everything I need for that piece of paper in Computer Graphics. I don’t have anything to show for all my work though because I cannot pass Beginning Algebra. If you include high school, I have failed it 6 times. I’ve had tutors, went back and took the 2 levels of math before it, the works. I open a Beg. Algebra textbook and I have panic attacks. I was also a certified Veterinary Assistant, though I let that expire because I had zero interest in the field and my mother bullied me into studying that. Despite “officially” being “uneducated” all I have heard for years (when I was looking for work) is that I was too over qualified. Friends who never even finished high school have had no issues snagging all sorts of jobs that I could never get. I think there’s a lot of BS attached to education and the levels of. In a way it makes me thankful I am on disability and I don’t have to worry about it, but part of me desperately wishes I was actively earning my keep. Then again dealing with people in person day after day gives me panic attacks too. O.o

    P.S.- Your #2 reason is exactly what I think of getting married. LOL

  • The only college I did was to take the 4 unit music theory class at College of the Redwoods (our local community college) because I couldn’t call myself a musician and not know theory.
    How did Paul Simon say it? “Though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall…”
    Also, just from reading you online, I would have to say you seem sharp as a tack.

  • OMG. Everything Stef said! I’m much more impressed with what you have already managed with your life than I’d ever be with a degree. Degrees have nothing to do with intelligence; they have everything to do with circumstance and the means to go, and throw a little tenacity in there.

    I have a degree. AFTER I spent years getting it, I realized what I really wanted to do in life. So now I’m STILL paying off loans (nearly fifteen years later) and I’ve a) forgotten nearly everything I learned, b) what I majored in is still interesting to me, but I’ve never done anything with it, c) I’M STILL PAYING OFF LOANS. grrrrr

    Why do they make the school loan interest rates so effing high? It punishes you for needing money to go to college.

    Here’s what I think. Everything happens for a reason. You didn’t go to college. So what? That doesn’t change your intelligence or who you are. All it changes is the opportunity to say, “I have a degree”. Is that worth $50,000 +? Hardly. I’d rather use that money for a new car, amirite? 🙂

  • I have a degree in Comparative Literature. Mostly what that gave me was the ability to bullshit my way through my interviews for a high tech company (at which I worked for almost a decade). But my people and negotiation skills (that I didn’t get in college) are what made me successful there. I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment. Except that I adore your bad-ass, and I don’t give a shit about anyone’s degree status. A quick funny about my degree though–my husband recently joked that I’m finally using my degree now that I’m writing full-time. We laughed.

    • Thank you, sweetness! I’m mostly okay with how things worked out. I just get frustrated that my DECADES of work experience isn’t good enough. WTF?

  • From the small town I grew up in, where you knew everyone [“yeah, he’s got a degree, but he’s an idiot”] to where I am today, I have seen worlds of difference. There are people today who don’t want you to know who they are, they want to hide behind a title or some other credentials. People will even lie about their credentials to get where and what they want. Colleges and organizations have been found to hand out credentials and degrees and titles just for the money.

    However, I think the pendulum might be preparing to swing the other way.
    Tuition is up 440% in 25 years.
    More people with degrees are unemployed.
    People are realizing [I can’t be the only one who sees this] that government subidies and tuition go hand in hand like the notorious military/industrial complex.
    Even educators are beginning to wonder how their colleges employ more admin staff than teachers.

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