April 30, 2012

Career Advice

Learn by Doing, Not in Class

By: Joanna Robinson

Most DC young professionals are here for a few years as a temporary post between college and graduate school. Unfortunately, higher education is increasingly less valuable (because so many people consume it) and the costs continue to skyrocket (because of government loans and subsidies). It shocks me that so many people continue to choose the graduate school path without really calculating if it’s a good investment based on the time and the expense.

I’m pretty anti-higher education overall (read James Altucher for more on the topic) because it is overpriced, too time consuming, and the market value of the results tend to be paltry except for a very few industries (engineering, some healthcare fields, etc).

Before I started my business, I briefly thought of going to business school. Instead, I just started my business. For $15,000 in startup costs I created a company that was earning about $250,000 in annual revenues in the time it would have taken me to do an MBA. Not only was I not experienceless and $100,000 in debt on school costs, I had a company that was growing and – more importantly – two years of problem-solving skills and street smarts under my belt.

In my view, graduate school allows you to pay someone else a lot of money to forestall doing something instead of just doing something. Even for a trade with a reputation for high wages such as law (the most common path for DC people), the extremely high time and money costs of studying them alter your career path (forcing you into the “meat-grinder” law firm to pay down your debt), lower your quality of life (the big law firm lifestyle sucks), and hang over your finances for years. Within a few years of graduating college you haven’t even begun to recuperate the costs for your four years in an undergraduate degree.

Tucker Carlson recently told a group of young people that both college and graduate school are essentially useless for a writing career. You can definitely hone those skills on your own, pitch stories, work with writers better than yourself, and build a career by doing rather than attending classes and completing school assignments.

Building websites and doing video editing are two highly valuable skills to employers right now. Both of those things you can teach yourself on evenings and weekends, or by watching online training videos, or attending workshops. You can also apprentice yourself to someone who can do those things so you can learn by shadowing them.

Many skills that are valuable to employers like myself can be self-taught or acquired by working hard and learning from smart people around you. That’s a much better use of your time than more school.

Joanna Robinson is the Owner of Lunar Massage, a growing chain of massage studios in Washington D.C. She is a former Membership Director and now Board Member of AFF.