The Most Valuable Skill I Gained In College

Assuming I work into my mid 60’s, I’m nearing the half-way mark of my career. Although I attended a couple of quarters of college before spending two years working as a missionary for my church, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what to study until well into my junior year at the University of Utah. And even then, I had no idea where a degree in German coupled with a few business courses would take me.

I didn’t realize that few would ask about my major course of study or what I learned. Sure, they appreciated the fact that I had I degree, but that was merely the first hurdle to jump. Having a degree got me a 30 minute interview slot with companies like Sears, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Deseret Book. If they valued what I learned in four years of college courses, it didn’t come through during the interview process. What did come through was the fact that I’d run the gauntlet of late nights, early morning courses and teacher assistants. I’d stuck it out, and hopefully some of those endurance skills would translate to a successful employee.

Now that I’m more than 15 years removed from the college scene, I’ve thought about what I learned and what I’d change if I knew then what I know now. I’ve thought about what I’ll tell my children when they consider going away to college.

The best I came up with is this:


It’s taken a while to recognize how valuable this been. I grew up in a mid-sized town in Utah where many neighbors shared basically the same values. Diversity was defined by the the color of your skin and by the church you attended each Sunday.

But college changed all this. Suddenly I was faced with ideas I’d never considered let alone heard. I was forced to take a position on topics outside of my comfort zone. I had to research and think through various ideas. I had to fight through many prejudices. I had to finally stand on my own two feet. More than once this resulted in admitting, “I don’t know why I believe this” or “I’ve never considered that before”

Sure, I’ll probably tell my kids that earning a college degree will put them in a better position to earn a good living and how it will teach them valuable skills such as writing and introduce them to topics like music and art which they otherwise may not have considered.

Side note on writing skills – I’m usually able to predict whether or not an applicant has earned a degree before I get to the education section of the resume. Occasionally I’m fooled, but not often. Writing is so important in our business that I Google every applicant’s name looking for details I can’t find on your resume. If I find your blog, I’ve hit the gold mine. If you’re a great writer this can be a very good thing.

If you’re currently looking for a job, do you have a blog? If so, does it represent you well to potential employers?

But my hope is that college will challenge their minds and force my kids to consider new ideas. I hope some will contradict their current beliefs. That’s when the real growth occurs.

I see too many young men and women turn away from college to pursue careers in technology or other disciplines that don’t necessarily require a college degree. For them, college is a means to an end where the end is an adequate paying job. If they can skip college to collect a paycheck then why stick around another 4 years?

I understand there are exceptions, but I believe these young people are sacrificing long term benefits for short term financial gain. That $20/hr. job may sound sufficient today, but will they be happy when they’re passed over for promotion down the road when they go up against the coworker with a degree? I’ve seen this happen dozens of times at the companies I’ve worked for. What’s sad is that the employee who was skipped over often has no idea why.

I’m thankful my father worked his way through college with two young children and a part-time job washing cars. He set a good example that helped me stay in school during several times I considered leaving. Having gone through it himself, his encouragement carried more weight than had he dropped out or not gone at all.

2 thoughts on “The Most Valuable Skill I Gained In College

  1. I agree with you on the #1 thing you learned in college. I feel the same way.


    I don’t know that I buy into the idea that college grads are “happier” than non-grads. There are many students who end up with a degree and a load of debt, which takes years to pay off. 36% of employers this year are reported to be hiring new college grads at salaries of $30,000 or less. Does this bode well for the future of “high paying jobs?”


  2. What a thought. My blog is public but I still think of it as private. I am not out looking for a job but it would be a fantastic conversation if in an interview someone from across a desk starting asking me questions on how many “Sub – Bourbons” I drink on a given night. I hope it would help more than turn someone off.


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