By Jonas Yeung

We have all encountered the dreaded question, “what can you do with your degree?” Undergraduate students who have spoken with worried parents of prospective students know this situation all too well.

A gruelling amount of time and money are invested in obtaining that piece of paper. Unsurprisingly, students like myself have pondered the value of their degree. It quickly becomes evident that degrees are worth little in isolation — it is what you have gained throughout your undergraduate career that is of true value: your skills, experiences and connections.

A bachelors of health sciences is not a golden ticket to medical school without the hours of extracurricular activities and decent reference letters.

Even the iron ring of engineering does not guarantee a job without adequate experience and a marketable personality.

Chief executive officer of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner further substantiates, “Increasingly I hear this mantra: Skills, not degrees. It’s not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It’s just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees.”

There should be greater emphasis placed on skills rather than the degree. After all, a degree supposedly marks the years of education responsible for honing said valuable skills.

The acquisition of skills arises organically for those who are academically-inclined. For instance, McMaster University is internationally renowned for pioneering problem-based learning, which gives students opportunities to develop skills through solving open-ended problems.

For many students, however, the final destination seems unclear due to a broad spectrum of interests, or the lack thereof. One ought to take advantage of their undergraduate because it is where there is the most opportunity to explore new interests.

The wiser strategy thus is to be “path-oriented” rather than “goal-oriented”, as there is a greater likelihood to achieve the goal or to find a goal that is meaningful to pursue. A student will ideally acquire skills and experiences along their journey that would supplement their degree towards a particular destination.

This journey-destination concept embedded in our undergraduate careers is a reflection of a deeper narrative in life. A journey usually implies an adventure towards a destination that is vexed with uncertainty.

These are questions that prey on our insecurities and make us anxious  — and we have every reason to be anxious; there is no guarantee that things will work out in our favour. Most people are dissatisfied with their jobs. And what’s to say you won’t be someone arbitrary afflicted by tragedy?

There are many cases where an aspiration will never be fully realized despite one’s best effort. That is the tragedy of life. Therefore, a “goal-oriented” strategy may yield life-long bitterness since happiness is often contingent on accomplishing that goal.

The alternative approach is someone who is “path-oriented”; where the individual may find lasting satisfaction throughout the journey, regardless of circumstance.

We are encouraged to foster a healthy attitude and to pursue what is meaningful in the midst of chaos. For some, this may be friendships, love or acts of service. It is seldom isolated accomplishments that produce lasting meaning. Obtaining a degree holds little meaning without representing the skills and wisdom gained throughout years of study.

A “path-oriented” strategy that focuses on the meaningful aspects of life is the key to long-lasting satisfaction. Then, just maybe, one may find happiness along the way.

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