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’…