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You don't need another degree. You need this instead.

There’s a trend I’m noticing. A very strange trend. On the one hand there’s an increasingly vocal part of our society that is against higher education. They see college degrees as useless, universities as costing to much, and extoll the value of trade jobs and coding certificates.

On the other hand, there’s also a lot of people who believe they can’t move forward in their field without a masters degree.

Now of course there’s a lot of nuance here. Some of us work in fields where we do need a credential from higher education [1], however I want to focus on an untalked about aspect:

The value of an original contribution.

I would bet that the idea that you need a degree to move up is a myth. What’s more important is an original contribution to your field.

A Thought Experiment

Let’s pretend you and your friend just graduated high school. Your friend goes off to State University for a four year degree but takes six. You, instead, decide to create a new type of solar panel that can charge a cell phone via lamp light. At the end of six years you have a working prototype while your friend has a degree.

You both then apply to work at the same engineering job. Which one of you looks more attractive to an employer?

The answer is obvious.

I see this all the time in the therapy world. People say well, “I’ll go and get my Ph.D so I can make more money or run my own program.” Are you sure that’s the way to go? Are you absolutely positive? Let’s run the thought experiment again.

You and a friend both want to move up in your agency. Your friend enters a Ph.D program for five years while you take those same five years and present at conferences on some niche subject in the field, turn your presentations into articles, and then turn all your articles into a book.

At the end of five years you both go to the boss and say, “hey, I’d love to move up and I want to run this program.” Who is she going to choose?

Even Schools Know This

The crazy thing is original contributions trump degrees all the time, even in academia!

Someone writes a book that’s a contribution to the field, and a university gives them an honorary doctorate. Harry Aponte is an excellent example of this. The man has a masters and two honorary doctorates. If you were to back through your old therapy textbooks and see how many of them only have masters degrees you'd be astounded.

You’ll also see this when you go to conferences. You’ll go to a sex therapy panel at a conference and one person will be a certified sex therapist and the other person is just a professional counselor, but they wrote the book on how to treat Erectile Dysfunction in men using CBT. One has a credential and one has an original contribution. And who do you think knows their subject better? The one who studied the book in class, or the one who wrote the book?

The greatest irony of all is you have to create something anyway. If you have ever had a capstone project, a masters thesis, or a doctorial defense your professors have basically said, “we can’t give you a credential until you make a original contribution to the field.”

So short circuit the credential and make the contribution.


End notes

[1] Often times these masters degrees are only valuable as credentials for some standards the organization accommodate. For example I’ve got a friend who’s getting a masters in teaching so that he can get a pay raise at his school. He openly admits he learned nothing in the online masters program he attended, but he gets paid 10k more just for having it.


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1 Comment

My children attend a classical Christian school and I’ve heard a lot of conversation downplaying higher education over the past couple of years. Little of which I have found helpful. This, on the other hand, is relevant and challenging. As both of my children are entering high school, and we are talking more about college and careers, I want to pass this ‘original contribution‘ thought on to them.

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