Like many college graduates, I feigned my first proud steps as a “real adult” while carrying the dread of knowing I was horribly unprepared for the professional world. This first dawned on me during an internship I had throughout my senior year where I worked for an author and did a fair amount of copywriting. After a month or so, my Creative Director approached me and said, “Joseph, are you good with WordPress?”
“What’s WordPress?” I responded nervously. She produced a shocked expression as if she had just watched me devolve into a monkey.
“It’s a content management system,” she continued. “It’s okay though. Maybe I can have you do some newsletters on MailChimp instead.”
“Um…what’s MailChimp?” I said, that feeling of dread starting to well up in my stomach.
At first, I felt like a complete moron and blamed myself entirely for my lack of knowledge and professional skills. Then I realized that I had never once heard about either of these tools during my time at NYU. I was supposed to be getting education to become a better writer but my knowledge of writing platforms had never ascended beyond Microsoft Word. Once I graduated and started trying to get a job as a writer, I learned that most of the available jobs were copywriting jobs and that many of them stressed these tools I was only beginning to tackle. I knew that online education was an option. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of assuming something so easily accessible could not possibly have the kind of value I wanted much less a value comparable to NYU’s in-person classes.
My attitude about online education started changing once I obtained a freelance gig working for an online course curation start-up, so I quickly delved deep into the world of online education and courses. Since I had to write about them for my job, I began doing lots of research on online courses, which at times involved taking them. The rate at which I began to improve my skills surprised me. In only a few weeks, things that seemed so impossibly complicated before such as HTML and WordPress began to make sense to me. I still can’t get over the irony that I am making my living and learning from the very thing I had scoffed at before.
I was happy to finally be properly learning these things but also upset that I hadn’t been able to do so sooner. It occurred to me that, to an extent, the time and money my family and I had invested in a prestigious university (kids pay around $60,000 a year for tuition at NYU these days) often amounted to nothing more than a stamp on my resume; something for employers to glance over as they perused my skills and writing samples. Don’t get me wrong. NYU has been valuable to my career as a sexy brand and it has definitely provided me with priceless connections. The courses I took there also did wonders in improving my writing in general (never copywriting though). However, the painful truth was that I had not taken a single class that had directly built or even improved the skills that I was now using to pay my rent. After all, NYU does not have a Copywriting major as far as I know.
I’m not saying that traditional college education is worthless, especially since my career is only one of thousands of options. However, I do strongly believe that traditional colleges should start changing by increasing emphasis on bestowing valuable and marketable professional skills. But online education is a great resource — not only for those who can’t shell out the money for a tony college experience, but also for supplementing a traditional education and getting better prepared for the professional world. Don’t underestimate it the way I did.