If you want to work on the Internet or to be an entrepreneur, I really don’t think you need to.
I always tell my friends that if I had the mind that I have today (in terms of knowing what I want to do, and what knowledge and tools I need to do that) five years ago, I would not have enrolled myself in the university.
At the time I had no clue where I was going, however, so getting a degree seemed like the smartest choice. Everyone else was doing it, after all!
I studied International Economics because it was a pretty eclectic degree, and it would allow me to work on virtually any business segment. Then 18 months ago I started working on the Internet with my own websites and with other entrepreneurial projects, and I guess I have being using 5% of what I learned in the university, if that.
Now the main argument of the university proponents is that apart from the knowledge itself, which you might or might not use later on, passing all those years studying will teach you how to gather, analyze and present information. It will give you a framework, upon which you will build on.
That is true, the university will give you that, but I don’t think that a person that starts working straight out of high school would lose that. He would also learn how to gather, analyze and present information, and he would also gain a framework, but those would come from real working experience rather than from theoretical classes and lectures.
I honestly think that if I had spent the same years that I did in the university working with my own projects and trying to make a living online, I would have learned much more (and that knowledge would have been practical rather than theoretical).
Again, this is valid only for certain classes of professionals. If you want to be a doctor or a civil engineer there is no alternative to going to the university and learning what you need to there.
Another downside of universities is that they focus on giving you knowledge, rather than making you develop competencies and attitudes. The latter two are immensely more important for your professional success.
I wrote about this sometime ago, on an article titled Knowledge, Competencies and Attitudes). Summing it up: Knowledge is practical information gained through learning, experience or association (e.g., second degree equations). Competencies, on the other hand, refer to the ability to perform specific tasks (e.g., the ability to communicate effectively). Attitudes involve how people react to certain situations and how they behave in general (e.g., whether you are proactive, arrogant, if you get along with people and so on).
Here is an example that I used to illustrate why competencies and attitudes are more important than knowledge:
Consider two different men, John and Mark, working for a financial services company. Both of them are eager to succeed so that they spend lots of time trying to grow professionally.
John uses his time gaining as much knowledge as possible: he studies balance sheets, financial reports, accounting practices and the like. He even takes related courses on the local university.
Mark, on the other hand, gets only the knowledge that is necessary to carry out his job. Other than that, he uses his time to improve his writing skills, his ability to solve problems, his ability to understand and empathize with other people and so on.
Should the financial services sector enter a downturn some day forcing both men to find another job, who do you think will have a harder time? Yeah, I am sure you have guessed it.
As you can see I am not arguing that you don’t need to go to the university because you will learn everything working. You will still need to study and go through the pain of learning and improving yourself. The only difference is that if you do this on your own you will be able to focus on the competencies and attitudes that you know you need to develop.
The knowledge that a university will give you is available for everyone, anywhere in the world. Sure, there is a difference between knowledge and information. but with the right motivation and some help from other people even a kid in Sri Lanka can absorb the information available online and transform it into knowledge.
So what should your strategy be? Focus on developing the right attitudes and competencies, and grab the necessary knowledge as you go.