What Does A Degree Mean?

Fairly often I see people list their degrees or their highest degree received next to their names. I think it is supposed to impress people. A way of saying “look at me I’m smart.” Now in some cases the degree indication makes some sense. Basically that is limited to the academic environment or some professional/licensing situations though. In academia degrees received is pretty much directly tied to rank. Outside academia is all too often seems pretentious. It doesn’t add credibility to what one says or writes in the business world. And unless you have a terminal degree (generally a doctorial level degree) you’re only going to impress people with lower level degrees than you have. So why bother advertising that?

Now some degrees do carry professional weight. MSW (Masters in Social Work) have special meaning and are required for some jobs or professional licenses. But in other fields other things make more sense. CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is more important than a specific degree for accounting. Or PE (Professional Engineer) over a specific engineering degree. A lot depends on the field and more importantly the audience. Advertising a degree outside of those contexts, well, to me it doesn’t mean much.

A friend of mine once asked senior management if they would get a raise if they earned an additional degree. The answer was “not automatically.” The assumption was that if you really learned things that helped you do your job better the normal reward and promotion system would take care of you. You are valued for the work you do and not for the degrees you earn. This is not true in academia but that’s something of a world a part.

So what does a degree mean? Basically all it really automatically means is that one has completed a course of study. What really counts is not the degree earned but  the knowledge gained.

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