By Barbara Hewitt
It’s that time of year again…Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Although we may be surrounded by turkey and pumpkin pie, this holiday also presents a time to reflect on those things for which we are truly grateful. Good health, family and friends all come easily to mind, but as I reflect on my life, I am also truly grateful for the wonderful education I have been fortunate to attain. The opportunity to learn about the world, develop new skills, and broaden my horizons are all aspects of my educational experiences I truly cherish. I’ve received degrees from a variety of institutions, including a small liberal arts school, a mid-sized public institution, and a large Ivy League school. Although the experiences differed greatly from one another, all were valuable and have helped me to pursue and reach my career goals.
There are many reasons why I consider an education to be a blessing, but perhaps one of the most practical is that it allows individuals more choice and freedom in their careers. In today’s increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, applicants for most jobs must demonstrate that they have (in addition to some very specific skills for particular jobs) a variety of more general skills, including the ability to continually learn, the ability to communicate effectively, and the ability to solve problems. Developing these high-level skills allows job candidates to shift between industries and jobs more easily in an ever-changing world because they are transferable and are necessary to succeed in a wide variety of work settings.
The skills developed in college can also really pay off in terms of job security. For example, in October 2010 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher had an unemployment rate of just 4.7%. Of course, this is much higher than the 2% average back in 2007 for college graduates, but much lower than the current unemployment rates for those with some higher education but less than a college degree (8.1%), high school graduates (9.2%), or those with less than a high school diploma (14%). Although having a strong educational background does not guarantee that you will always be employed, it does increase the likelihood that you will be able to reenter the labor market in a new position if necessary, perhaps in a different functional area or industry.
A college degree also increases the choice of jobs open to you and allows more control over your career. A wider variety of career options will be available to you simply because you have earned a degree. For example, many jobs require applicants to have at minimum an undergraduate degree, but often the degree does not have to be in a particular field. Consulting is a great example of this. Consulting firms hire individuals with all sorts of academic backgrounds from Penn, but successful applicants have in common a broad skill set such as the ability to work in teams, excellent analytical skills, strong communication skills, etc. Your Penn education will open up many doors for you in the working world, not always because of your specific degree, but because of the fact that you are broadly and well educated. During the coming weeks as you write term papers and prepare for finals (in addition to eating turkey and pumpkin pie!), you may wonder if all your work is worth it. Be assured that it is….and be thankful for the opportunities your Penn education will present to you throughout your life.