Things I wish I already knew when I was in high school (Chapter 3)

A few years ago I was given the chance to be the godfather of a little baby girl. This role is mainly symbolic, but I wanted to have a positive influence on her in some way. I started to wonder, in practice, what it meant to have a positive influence.

I started to think about my own education, about the good things, about the aspects that could be improved, or in general for someone that grew up nowadays.

This little girl became a teenager. She started to think about what to do after high school, and what kind of higher education she should go for. What kind of advice could I give her now? And in particular, what do I know now and that I wish I knew when I was her age?

In this series of posts, I will discuss these “Things I wish I already knew when I was in high school”. It is meant to be applicable to high school student, students that will start a career soon, or anyone, in general, that would like to take some perspective on education.

Please comment or argue with some of the points I made, and feel free to add some additional details or new points that I may be missing.

Note: some of the points will be mainly applicable to French education, but they may apply to other countries as well.

List of the chapters:

  • Chapter 1: How the educative system failed you when you wanted to choose your higher education and how to fix it
  • Chapter 2: Things that you should consider when exploring different directions for your education
  • Chapter 3: Education is a competition, a game, and a filter
  • Chapter 4: Things some people will tell you but you should never listen when it comes to choosing your higher education
  • Chapter 5: Habits you should take right now in order to tackle your education and your life in general in the best way possible

Chapter 3: Education is a competition, a game, and a filter

During your education years, you will spend days and nights learning the material you don’t even know whether it will ever be of use during your professional career.

Somehow, you have to trust the system, hoping that you are not spending time learning useless subjects.

Sometimes, teachers will tell you their opinion about it, based on their limited knowledge of the profession you want to exercise: “This course is absolutely capital”.

Some other time, your peers may tell affirmations which you can’t refute but you cannot defend. They may say “you don’t need this or that subject”, “you will not need what you’re learning now”, “going to lectures is a loss of time”, “obtaining good grades is not important”.

After years of professional career, I take this opportunity to reflect on these old mixed opinions and bring a perspective from the angle of a professional.

Don’t only think about a diploma name or school prestige, focus on the skills you will learn from it

When you have to decide which college, university or business school, you should not stop at the name of the diploma. Of course, the prestige, coming with the brand and network of a school is important. But first, you need to focus on the content.

The goal of studying is to acquire the best skills to perform certain jobs, or that give you the skills to learn the skills required for certain jobs. When you start working, you want to be as knowledgeable as possible. You want to have more skills than your peers.

Also, you need to be able to learn skills in the job even faster by having a good foundation. Being from good school matters, but being able to perform the job is a pre-requisite.

Hence, you need to take seriously every subject. Of course, you have to trust that the people who designed the curriculum know why they put the different subjects together.

Some subjects do not seem interesting, or useful in light of what your ideal job will require.
However, in a few years, you may regret not to focus more on some of the courses. You may need them in your job.

The grading system is not the best system, but getting good grades is important

Some people may tell you that grades are not important: “They do not reflect your knowledge”. Or, “they are not good for the development of the kids”. They may be right. The education system is not perfect, and no grading system is perfect.
However, there are a few reasons why you may want to have the best grades during your high school and higher education years.

Access to additional education

If you want to be selected to access another school or get an additional diploma, you will be selected based on your grades throughout your education. It is a competition which you have to win. Regardless of the quality of the grading, you are rated against your peers, which are an accurate base of reference.

Access to a job

In some countries, If you want to get a job, you will have to present your grades during your entire education. Depending on your grades, you may immediately be excluded from the first round of selection.

Getting an understanding of how well you master a given subject

Grading is one way (maybe not the best), to tell you how much you master a certain subject.

The earlier you get low-grade in your development (primary school and then later), the quicker you will lack some core skills which will prevent you from understanding later learned skills.

Hence, you should get the highest possible grades at every stage of your studies.

Get a taste of what excellence is

Aiming for excellence when you study will give you good habits, and a taste for work well done throughout your life.

You’ll acquire a capacity to fight to achieve your goals, for anything you will do.

The diploma is key to win a competition in a certain job market

When you decide which school or university you should apply to, the name of the school may be as important than its content to your future employer.

To some extent, the reputation of the school gives confidence about the quality of the students graduating from it.

You are facing competition with students or professionals that studied in reputable schools, got a good professional experience, and studied the exact subject. How will you compete?

Access to a network

Graduating from engineering or business schools (especially in France) comes with a network (alumni, people who graduated before from the school).

This is a key to success in certain careers (e.g. sales). It can help you find a job, or simply get you access to certain people. This is very interesting, even when you’re still studying. These people may even help you know more about job descriptions, and or directly hire you.

Level of education and intrinsic quality of the diploma

The quality of your diploma or the level of your education (Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, Ph.D..) gives you access to a certain job market.

Imagine that you want to apply for a position that has 1000 applicants. In the process, recruiters will compare your CV to 999 people. Every aspect of your education will under scrutiny. If 500 out of 1000 applicants have a master’s degree and you don’t, you will be immediately discarded from the competition.

Now imagine that you have a degree that is high enough in comparison to your competition. Your grades may be evaluated, as well as any other aspect of your education.

Getting a Master’s degree does not mean you are smarter than someone else. However, if everyone has one, the value of the Master’s degree will be lower. Any other lower education won’t be considered. It will simply eliminate people not having it.

This point is valid for the level of degree but can apply to any other aspect of your CV.

30 years ago, having a Master’s degree in business or engineering was not so frequent. You would get a fantastic job, with Google’s salary and other bonuses.
Getting a master today is not an exception, it is the norm. Hence, what are you going to do to outsmart the competition?

In perspective

In this century, the population will increase dramatically to surpass the 10 billion people mark. With the exponential progress of technology, a large portion of jobs will be replaced by algorithms, and new roles will be created in our global economy. Technology enabling extreme mobility, the job market become borderless and global.

This shift affects the job market in a dramatic way, and the old education systems do not work anymore. You need to develop a new kind of toolkit: adaptability and fast learning. Learning faster than other people. Companies need to learn faster than their – now global – competitors.

As a result, you will need to know more than your competitors about the job market. You’ll have to demonstrate to your future employer that you have more assets:

  • A strong learning ability,
  • Advanced specialized skills,
  • A strong network, that can come from your school alumni network.

Are you currently in high school or getting a degree? Please share your experience. Do you identify yourself with some of the points of the article?

You graduated a long time ago, do you agree to any of these points, or do you have a different view? Please leave a comment in the section below.

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