It’s a rough market out there for recent college grads, with lots them surprised to be washing dishes, working retail, or answering phones for a living. And while a lot of that is due to a still struggling economy, another reason is one that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention.
Just having a college degree isn’t so special anymore.
Fifty years ago, a college degree was a virtual guarantee that you’d be successful because as a college grad, you were joining a small and elite group. But today, lots of people go to college, many of them to highly selective schools. Employers have plenty of college grads from which to choose when they’re looking to fill open positions. So while there is an even bigger ocean of difference between having a degree and not having one today, the world doesn’t just throw great jobs and money towards every college grad.
The answer isn’t to attend more selective colleges (there are plenty of Ivy League grads tending bar right now), and it’s not to get a graduate degree. The answer is to have a remarkable college career, whatever the college is that you attend.
“Remarkable” means “worthy of notice or attention.” A lot of college students do enough to get by, they join a club or a fraternity, they have some fun and graduate with a degree four years later. That’s fine, but it’s not remarkable.
A remarkable college career means that you leave college with stories to tell about how you made an impact during the last four years, like the intensive research you did with a professor to find an AIDS vaccine, an organization on campus that you led and grew by 200%, or local non-profit where you were instrumental in tripling their fundraising efforts.
You might have counseled a student who was considering suicide during your stint as a resident advisor. You might have studied abroad in Spain and come back fluent in Spanish. You might have learned technical skills running the lights for drama productions, fixing computers in the library or working in the mechanical engineering club to build a working submarine. You might have found an internship, part-time job or other real-world experience to add to your resume. But whatever it is, you've got a lot more to show for (and tell about) the last four years than just a degree.
Wherever you go to college, you’re going to have four years where all you have to do is learn and have fun. There will never be another time in your life when you have that much freedom to do some remarkable things while you’re taking classes you want to take and going to some great parties (both of which you should do liberally).
So as a high school student, the pressure shouldn’t be on getting into the most selective school you can get into. The pressure you should feel is to find the right place where you can be remarkable.