Bachelor’s degrees aren’t what they used to be


There is a mantra many of us say to get through these stressful years of lectures, tests and term papers: It will all pay off in the end.

But as I slowly make my way into the job market, I am realizing an alarming fact: No one cares about your diploma as much as you’d think.

Go ahead, gasp. I can wait.

More than half of the country’s high school graduates go directly to college. In higher income areas, that figure increases significantly. The bachelor’s degree isn’t the same hot commodity it once was.

Although I always knew more and more people were going to college, I never thought about the implications of that trend. NIU alone sends thousands of bachelor’s degree recipients into the work force each year. Hundreds among these compete for the same jobs. That official piece of paper suddenly doesn’t seem so impressive to potential employers.

This occurred me as I left my fifth interview thus far in my seemingly never-ending quest for a teaching position somewhere in this time zone. I graduated magna cum laude in December, made the Dean’s List every semester for the last couple years and created projects and wrote papers that received glowing admiration from my professors.

And none of these interviewers care.

What they have cared about, without exception, has been my extra-curricular activities and social contacts. I was asked to come in for one interview purely because I knew American Sign Language, and the principal at that school thought that was fascinating.

I was given another interview because my cousin had a friend who worked at the school.

My experiences in journalism have landed me three interviews. My transcripts, however, have left me hanging. Social life 5, academia 0.

Senior English major Laura Gray had a similar experience on her job hunt.

“It’s all who you know,” she said. “I don’t think I would have gotten an interview without any personal contacts.”

This does not come as a surprise to Mary Myers, associate director of campus and employer relations at Career Services.

“In all the methods of job searching … the No. 1 method is networking,” she said. “Over 70 percent of jobs are found through network. Professional organizations are also very important.”

So, while it is important that you make good decisions and study for your classes, it’s becoming more and more important to get out of your dorm room and strike up a conversation with your neighbor, attend an event or take up a new hobby.

This is not a discredit to NIU.

This university has provided me with an education that I am truly proud of, and I know I will carry the lessons I have learned in the hallways of Reavis Hall with me for decades to come.

What is a bigger credit to this university, however, is its commitment to those little gems of individuality.

NIU provides its students with a wealth of opportunities to grow socially: intramural sports, student government, hobby clubs, Greek organizations, religious groups and entertainment planning committees. All of these things provide opportunities for leadership, and it is precisely those opportunities that become your tokens of distinctiveness.

It’s true: Thousands of people leave this university each year with nearly identical diplomas.

But those same thousands also leave with their own unique experiences that make them stand out not only in the job market, but in their communities, as well, for years to come.