I’d Choose the Degree from Harvard

A recent article on Forbes.com by Brandon Busteed had the eye-catching headline “Americans Rank A Google Internship Over A Harvard Degree“.

The results are based on a survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted in December by QuestResearch Group on behalf of Kaplan. When asked what they believe would be most helpful for a high school graduate to launch a career, Americans overwhelmingly recommend an internship at Google (60%) over a degree from Harvard (40%).

The reason for the focus on launching a career is that another survey indicated that “Work outcomes are the main reason most people choose higher education, more than double the percentage representing the next most prevalent motivation.”

So it seems that if people believe that the primary purpose of higher education is to get a job, then I can understand the reason why people may think a Google internship will do a better job kickstarting a career than a college degree from Harvard.

Of course, the ideal solution may be to do both. Go to Harvard, and complete a three-month internship at Google during one of your summers. You will likely be in a lot of demand for your services.

But if I had to choose just one, I’d go with the Harvard degree.

I can’t imagine a three-month internship coming even close to accomplishing all that one can do in four years of college.

If the survey is just asking a respondent to compare a Google internship, which typically lasts three months (and possibly up to six months) with a degree from Harvard, which typically takes four years, then I don’t see how you could possibly compare the two.

Plus, a four-year degree indicates that you’ve accomplished something; whereas completing an internship does not signify anything, per se.

Higher education has come under a lot of fire in recent years, but I can’t imagine that it’s so bad that spending three months at Google is better than four years at Harvard.

Four years of college offers young adults the chance to explore their interests, to hone their communications skills, to develop lifelong friendships, to do summer internships, work with faculty on research projects, and to build a network with your peers and alumni.

Yes, a three-month internship might get you ready for a specific entry-level job, but a four-year degree gets you ready for a wider range of job opportunities.

The answer also depends on what type of job you are looking at. Many jobs do not require a college degree; if you want to write program code, then an internship at Google might be all you need to start on such a career path.

But if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a CPA, for example, then I don’t think a three-month internship at Google is going to do much for you; the college degree is a necessity.

To me, a four-year college degree is also not just about getting a job, and I wouldn’t even list it as the highest priority. There are post-secondary schools where that is the purpose, and that is great; there is a need for those types of schools.

So if I was 18 years old today and had these two choices presented to me, I would not hesitate to choose to go to Harvard for four years. Of course, the odds of that happening are slim and none, I’m just sayin’…

14 thoughts on “I’d Choose the Degree from Harvard

  1. To a large degree, I think this is the question of the short-term vs. the long-term. The immediate gratification vs. the big accomplishments that take longer to achieve (and I believe are more satisfying). To some degree, it’s what universities are intended for, is it to acquire a trade (physician and lawyer being the exception) or wisdom?

    I go back to Churchill for guidance: “The first duty of the university is to teach wisdom, not a trade; character, not technicalities. We want a lot of engineers in the modern world, but we do not want a world of engineers.”


    1. great quote from Churchill, and I agree that it’s about the short-term vs the long -term. I also agree that earning a degree after four years would be more rewarding than a three-month internship.


  2. There is no internship that could outweigh the heft and recognition of a Harvard degree. That name alone on a resume will open doors closed to most others. As for trade vs wisdom above, I would argue that universities teach wisdom over a trade. A wisdom valuable and sought by every trade. The payoff and the options are just much greater. Good question, Jim!


  3. Totally agree. A college degree will take you anywhere & land better jobs. Plus , not all professions revolve on Tech. Healthcare for one don’t care if someone volunteered in google, the look at your years of actual years of experience as a licensed professional .


  4. It would be interesting to know how many young billionaires do not have college degrees, many of whom dropped out of college because they were so very impatient to wait for wealth.

    Of course for every success story their are many more untold stories of failed ventures. It’s probably best to be a little more patient.

    While a move is underway to destroy the American Dream of rags to riches (by taxing away the riches) the Chinese dream is on the rise.
    The Chinese Dream
    How a Chinese billionaire went from making $16 a month in a factory to being one of the world’s richest self-made women with an $8.3 billion real-estate empire —

    Top 50 Billionaires in China —

    Jensen Comment
    The question for students to debate is why a supposed communist country allows so many billionaires to rise up from poverty.
    That’s supposed to happen in the USA where a child growing up in deep poverty (think Oprah Winfrey or Howard Shultz) became a multi-billionaires.
    But is it also supposed to happen under communism? If so, why?


    1. Bob, some good questions about China. And as to the billionaire college drop-outs they make a great story, but they are extreme outliers; probably in the six-sigma range…


  5. I consider my college experience (I’m hardly Harvard material) the most valuable years of my life. I discovered what I wanted to do with my life while learning a lot about myself in the process. College is not for everyone, but those years changed me for the better.


      1. Likewise. My wife was also getting her teaching credential when I met her. She likes to tell the story of how she made the first move. Pete Springer, cast in the role of the bumbling male, never had a chance. 😎


  6. At least with an internship you’d get paid while these days a Harvard degree will probably run you around $300,000. Still I value four years of college more than an internship. It is up the individual how much they get out of either one.


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