Complete degree or drop out?

Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Dear Career Advisor:

I am currently doing a degree in IT. This is the beginning of my third year and I am doing fairly well academically; however, I am finding the programme to be extremely drab as what I really want to do is media, specifically graphic design. You may be wondering why I chose IT. While in high school I loved the field. I was excellent in the subject, averaging 97 per cent. Of my 13 passes in my external exams, IT was among the distinctions I earned. Now, however, I am realising that I really don't love it that much; it's just that I do very well at it.

What I really want to do is graphic designing; and I'm currently earning a decent income from my graphic designing entrepreneurial venture. I really want to drop out of school to focus on my business, however, my parents will have none of it. They want me to finish the programme and then go to graduate school. This troubles me as I know so many people in the field who have no degree. Not only that, I am of the opinion that graduate school is a waste of time. What do you think I should do?

R Brown

Dear Mr Brown:

Deciding whether to remain in university or quit, especially when the mind is brimming with excellent ideas for earning, is one of the more common dilemmas of enterprising tertiary level students. Be assured that you are not alone. There are also many others who find themselves pursuing academic programmes that are not aligned with their specific interests. The lack of awareness of the plethora of career and training options lead to the continuation of the drift into the popular academic programmes, as many students simply choose programmes and mirror the courses at which they did well during high school. This, they interpret to mean that that's where their strongest interests lie.

Indeed, there are many examples of people who have achieved noteworthy career success without the benefit of a tertiary education. On the other hand, there are many examples of others who have lifelong regrets about not pursuing or completing their college education. As economic trends and consumer demands change, what were once very lucrative career options are projected to become obsolete or at the every least, experience significant decline in demand.

It has also been argued that some of the world's wealthiest people did go to college and in some cases made the decision to drop out of school, much to the chagrin of their parents. What those proponents of dropping out often fail to remember is that the majority of the world's poorest people are also poorly educated.

Before you advance on the idea of dropping out of school, consider carefully what you have invested so far in respect of time, creativity, and financial resources. Then arrange to meet with your school's career counsellor for guidance in career assessment and planning. You will be guided in how to identify, evaluate and align your interests, aptitudes and values towards the planning of your career path.

Another option you might want to consider is that of taking a gap year to get a feel of the market and a better understanding of what the opportunities and prospects are likely to be without a degree. For example, when negotiating graphic designing contracts with large organisations, how will prospective clients view your portfolio and professional presentation if you are without a degree? Will you find that there is a need to use a broker to sit in those boardrooms where the real deals are negotiated and inked? Are practitioners with degrees in your field of interest able to negotiate contracts at higher rates?

Before you quit, talk to current practitioners in the field, both those with academic preparation and those without. In my own experience, I have found that the majority of students who take a contemplative career gap year return to complete the programme or, in cases where sources of funding run dry and they aren't able to continue, express strong desire to do so.

Ultimately, the decision as to how you proceed will be yours. However, since you have asked, I will give my opinion: Continue your degree to its completion. Below are a few of my reasons:

* Completing the degree will give you a strong sense of accomplishment and will demonstrate your tenacity.

* Your career is not just a job; it is a lifelong journey. Consider this degree as not just preparation for a job for immediate earning but for a career.

* A first degree provides a foundation from which you can launch into other opportunities. Your degree in IT does not necessarily mean you will be doing direct IT activities for the rest of your life. You are developing transferrable skills which can be applied across industries.

* In today's employment landscape, technology ranks high among the most desired employability skills, not only for entry into a career but for advancement and for personal business ventures and leadership.

* Career interests and pathways change over time. The interests and passion you have today may very well be different 10 years from now.

All the best!

Carolyn Marie Smith is associate vice-president of student services at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Manchester. Submit your questions to her at

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