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Graduate Degrees and Ivy League Pedigrees Are Highly Over-Rated

Is it a crime to be self-taught? Apparently, in North Carolina, where David N. Cox and friends thought they needed new traffic signals so they undertook a sophisticated analysis of their own, and then found themselves under investigation for being too smart.
I would have ignored this case if it were just a North Carolina political thing, but the reality is, the same thing happens in the business world all the time. Credentials--especially Ivy League kinds--are way over-rated, often at the expense of true knowledge.

I've benefited from having credentials, so this isn't just sour grapes on my part. In fact, in my first exempt level Human Resources job, my salary was higher than my more experienced coworkers largely due to the fact that I had a master's degree (in political science) and they all had bachelor's degrees. That worked well for me, but was unfair to them. They had to teach me how to be an HR person. I could do statistics (which was a needed skill), but hardly (in my opinion) outweighed the 3-5 years of experience they had. This hardly seems fair. (Although, I admit I did not object to my salary, and no it wasn't a case of me being a better negotiator.)

That's not the only place where having the right degree means more money, and in many cases, your only chance at the job. Do you want a raise as a teacher? Many school districts base raises on years of service and education level. Master's degree holders get more money than others, regardless of actual teaching ability.

Marketplace recently did an investigation into teacher pay practices.

Billions go towards teachers' raises, raises because the teacher earned a master's degrees. Many are questioning the practice, especially because there's not a lot of evidence that a master's degree makes a better teacher.
And it's not just having a degree. Some jobs not only require a degree, but a degree from the right university. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that second tier schools won't cut it.
If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here's what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you're a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don't show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

2. Don't work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by "really awesome" I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn't cut it.

Since when is a degree from MIT not looked upon fondly?

Looking at job postings, requirements are for MBAs, bachelor's degrees in specific subjects, and certain certifications. No, you don't want someone without actual medical knowledge performing your emergency appendectomy, but will it kill you (ha!) to buy a casket from a monk rather than a licensed funeral home?

What areas should require specific credentials, degrees and licenses? And what areas should actual knowledge and skill count for more than the piece of paper you obtained at 22? Have you been held back because, even though you had the knowledge, you lacked the paper?

For further reading:

(Hat tips Paul Caron, Amy Alkon, and Walter Olsen.)

Photo by Sister72, Flickr cc 2.0

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