• Sharebar

Hey fellow monkeys,

Why haven't you taken that job in the field you love ? Well, according to Daniel Gulati in his HBR article, your college degree could be a much greater influence on your decisions that what you'd think, and not necessarily in a good sense. Even though academic and professional credentials can be a great fit fore many, Gulati identifies a major problem related to these degrees :

Credential overhang. Defined simply, it's the perverse way in which our university schooling limits our career options, rather than enhancing them.
So why would you want to reconsider that B-school application ? The author sees three reasons for this.
  1. Student debt limits your career choices
    It's no surprise that the amount of money you owe is going to be a factor in choosing a job. When you have to repay part of a six digit amount of debt, you can hardly afford to risk it all by starting your own company. And guess what Gulati found to be one of the main career related regrets in people's lives ? Well let's just say that taking a job for money is high on his list.
  2. The Rubber Stamp Syndrome
    Historically students were educated to become producers and consumers, nowadays they are progressively becoming the product of modern education. The baby boomer generation went to college to learn, we are merely getting a degree to have the job-market equivalent of "organic" stamped on our resume. In today's globalized job market, college degrees are progressively being used as a means of recognition more than an actual opportunity to learn.
  3. Increasing past costs influence present decisions
    The more the costs of education increase, the more people want to use them solely as money generators. And these costs have been increasing slowly, the holders of bachelor's degrees are more indebted than ever, and master's degree are slowly becoming the norm for certain jobs (as it already is in many European countries). As we spend ridiculous amounts of money towards multiple credentials, we tend to sacrifice opportunities to have a more fulfilling career. Microeconomics aside, trying to find the quickest answer to this problem ultimately leads to poor life choices : an unsatisfactory job, difficulties committing to a partner, unhealthy stress levels, deteriorating relationships with others ...

To these issues, Gulati proposes two solutions. First, you should repay your debt as quickly as possible. Being debt-free allows you to make the best decisions for your career and your life. Then, instead of going for that expensive degree, why not focus on actually mastering your subject. WSO is full of examples of people who did not get into the greatest schools but who still showed enough promise and mastery to get to the top. Why can't that be you ? Do not get me wrong, a degree or a CFA is great, but do not let it limit your career and life choices.

1

The WSO Advantage - Land Your Dream Job

Financial Modeling Training

IB Templates, M&A, LBO, Valuation. Learn More.

Wall St. Interview Secrets Revealed

30,000+ sold & REAL questions. Learn More.

Resume Help from Finance Pros

Land More Interviews. Learn More.

Find Your Mentor

Realistic Mock Interviews. Learn More.

Comments (20)

  • Amphipathic's picture

    Don't understand why OP is lumping CFA and college in the same boat at the end of his piece. If anything, they are diametrically opposed. College costs six figures, material is spoon-fed by professors and TAs, and the value of the degree is nebulous because college standards are so low. CFA L1 costs only 1.3k (including study materials), material is self-taught, and employers know the exam is tough and requires full understanding of the material.

  • Ruhm's picture

    Even though it is not as expensive as a college degree, it will still weigh on your decision making process. If you look at it with regard to the opportunity cost, it represents a serious value. If you have a bachelor's degree AND a CFA, you might be more reluctant to change careers than with a bachelor's only.

  • CountryUnderdog's picture

    Definitely agree with the rubber stamp syndrome. I do feel as if I'm not at school to learn, and am here merely to "prove" I am smart enough to be trusted with basic data entry, making ppt look pretty, and to not drool on myself when speaking to a client.

    "They are all former investment bankers that were laid off in the economic collapse that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have no marketable skills, but by God they work hard."

  • FrankD'anconia's picture

    I've been saying #2 forever. College is only as helpful as its ability to act as a product differentiator in the job market..... have every ass hat and their brother go and you can kiss that differentiation good buy. The "bar" is going lower and lower for what requires a college degree and imo it is because A) more and more people are going, and B) you don't even know what you're getting with them. It's the whole lead a horse to water but can't make it drink thing. Back when people actually went to learn, the products coming out were actually different than when they went in because their intentions were right. Now people don't even change because (like mentioned) it's evolved into nothing more than a 4 year stamping process. Fwiw, my money is on the fact that in due time this same problem will effect graduate level degrees, and to a lesser extent professional certifications (if not already).

  • dolph's picture

    You say taking a job for the money is one of people's most common regrets. Then at the end you say people should repay debt as quickly as possible.

  • In reply to dolph
    Ruhm's picture

    dolph:
    You say taking a job for the money is one of people's most common regrets. Then at the end you say people should repay debt as quickly as possible.

    This is not necessarily a job issue, but more of a personal finance problem. Some people have not chosen a job purely for the money, but are still unable to save money aside to repay their debt. An indebted aspiring writer with an English degree does not need to buy the newest Nike model, if you know what I mean. Furthermore, repaying college debt before getting a mortgage would be wise.

  • In reply to CountryUnderdog
    Edster's picture

    CountryUnderdog:
    Definitely agree with the rubber stamp syndrome. I do feel as if I'm not at school to learn, and am here merely to "prove" I am smart enough to be trusted with basic data entry, making ppt look pretty, and to not drool on myself when speaking to a client.

    I couldn't agree more.

  • In reply to Ruhm
    Amphipathic's picture

    Ruhm:
    Even though it is not as expensive as a college degree, it will still weigh on your decision making process. If you look at it with regard to the opportunity cost, it represents a serious value. If you have a bachelor's degree AND a CFA, you might be more reluctant to change careers than with a bachelor's only.

    I disagree. First, the CFA is not simply "not as expensive as a college degree." It is two orders of magnitude less expensive. And L2 and L3 only cost $550. This is peanuts, and these sums are not going to compel anyone to stay on a path they don't like for even a moment. For the record, a college degree (or close completion) is required for sitting for the exam (which is a bullshit rule IMO).

    As for opportunity cost, yes, those 250-300 hr could have been spent studying something else, such as a new language. But if I spend that chunk of time learning Mandarin, which also has serious value, am I compelled to go down a China route? No. EVERYTHING has opportunity cost, that is a fact of life. The opportunity cost for the CFA is far lower than normal higher education, which is why I think it is such a neat program. I know several grad students without any business background who took the CFA because of an interest in finance, passed it, decided it wasn't for them, and then moved on without any regrets.

    You should stick to the thesis that college is a useless rubber-stamping exercise that loads people up with debt that limits career options, which is spot-on.

  • In reply to Amphipathic
    Ruhm's picture

    Amphipathic:
    I disagree. First, the CFA is not simply "not as expensive as a college degree." It is two orders of magnitude less expensive. And L2 and L3 only cost $550. This is peanuts, and these sums are not going to compel anyone to stay on a path they don't like for even a moment. For the record, a college degree (or close completion) is required for sitting for the exam (which is a bullshit rule IMO).

    As for opportunity cost, yes, those 250-300 hr could have been spent studying something else, such as a new language. But if I spend that chunk of time learning Mandarin, which also has serious value, am I compelled to go down a China route? No. EVERYTHING has opportunity cost, that is a fact of life. The opportunity cost for the CFA is far lower than normal higher education, which is why I think it is such a neat program. I know several grad students without any business background who took the CFA because of an interest in finance, passed it, decided it wasn't for them, and then moved on without any regrets.

    You should stick to the thesis that college is a useless rubber-stamping exercise that loads people up with debt that limits career options, which is spot-on.

    Thanks for the criticism. It is true that I do not know that many people who have taken the CFA. Among the ones I talked to, some felt that it was discouraging them from switching to another job. Would you agree that, even though finance professionals are needed in most industries, CFA-related skills might be less transferable than say language skills ?

  • In reply to Ruhm
    Amphipathic's picture

    Ruhm:
    Amphipathic:
    I disagree. First, the CFA is not simply "not as expensive as a college degree." It is two orders of magnitude less expensive. And L2 and L3 only cost $550. This is peanuts, and these sums are not going to compel anyone to stay on a path they don't like for even a moment. For the record, a college degree (or close completion) is required for sitting for the exam (which is a bullshit rule IMO).

    As for opportunity cost, yes, those 250-300 hr could have been spent studying something else, such as a new language. But if I spend that chunk of time learning Mandarin, which also has serious value, am I compelled to go down a China route? No. EVERYTHING has opportunity cost, that is a fact of life. The opportunity cost for the CFA is far lower than normal higher education, which is why I think it is such a neat program. I know several grad students without any business background who took the CFA because of an interest in finance, passed it, decided it wasn't for them, and then moved on without any regrets.

    You should stick to the thesis that college is a useless rubber-stamping exercise that loads people up with debt that limits career options, which is spot-on.

    Thanks for the criticism. It is true that I do not know that many people who have taken the CFA. Among the ones I talked to, some felt that it was discouraging them from switching to another job. Would you agree that, even though finance professionals are needed in most industries, CFA-related skills might be less transferable than say language skills ?

    Well, I think CFA is relatively transferable, but with limits (whereas language skills could be applied in any conceivable industry related to relevant country) . I know one person who ended up not liking finance but loving consulting, and ended up working for Monitor group after graduation. While finance and consulting don't exactly overlap too much, the CFA was a good selling point for her interviewers that she could understand DCF, accounting rules, etc (far more impressive than simply pulling an A in an accounting class in college). Another friend with L1&2 is now working in corporate law and says it's a way to distinguish yourself from other law students lusting after biglaw.

    I should qualify my statements though by saying I only know people with L1 or L2. Unless you want to do portfolio management or equity research, I think it is diminishing returns after that. To become a charterholder you need all three exams plus 48 months relevant work experience. I can see how it is difficult to leave the path after that.

  • In reply to ivoteforthatguy
    Amphipathic's picture

    ivoteforthatguy:
    if you have the balls you can do whatever you want.

    I'm a man who identifies as a woman and I'm offended.

  • In reply to Amphipathic
    ivoteforthatguy's picture

    Amphipathic:
    ivoteforthatguy:
    if you have the balls you can do whatever you want.

    I'm a man who identifies as a woman and I'm offended.

    more of the so-called men on this site should indeed identify themselves as women.

  • streetwannabe's picture

    ^^ haha, but OP. Not sure if it is necessarily the best method towards an end, but there should probably be less people going to college anyways. What the hell to Communications majors expect to do anyways?

    Also, CFA is not has nothing to do with this. People do not (from what I know) take on debt to take CFA. If they do they're an idiot. That is like saying that people who get MBAs are "limiting" themselves. At the point of taking CFA or MBA, it is not limiting; quite the opposite actually.

    "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

  • TNA's picture

    So shitting on college has replaced drug tests as the most common and repetitive theme on this site.

    People need to really stop bitching about working at a job "just for the money". That is what a job is. If it was fun it would be called a hobby or passion. And no job worth its salt will be fun in the beginning. Everything sucks as you are learning a skill or trade. Then you master it and get more responsibilities.

  • In reply to TNA
    streetwannabe's picture

    TNA:
    So shitting on college has replaced drug tests as the most common and repetitive theme on this site.

    People need to really stop bitching about working at a job "just for the money". That is what a job is. If it was fun it would be called a hobby or passion. And no job worth its salt will be fun in the beginning. Everything sucks as you are learning a skill or trade. Then you master it and get more responsibilities.

    Totally agree, but being in college (from what I've seen) most kids that I'm graduating with are not prepared whatsoever for a real job or real life. Not sure what it is, but I feel that I am one of the few people at my school in the graduating class that actually know what I want to do with my life. Well, at least plan to do.

    "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

  • The Greek's picture

    To unlock this content for free, please login / register below.

    Sign In with Facebook Sign In with Google

    Connecting helps us build a vibrant community. We'll never share your info without your permission. Sign up with email or if you are already a member, login here Bonus: Also get 6 free financial modeling lessons for free ($200+ value) when you register!

    Business, always business.

  • ptverdov's picture