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Degree envy is pushing some to desperation

By Fred Yang (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-28 15:40
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Seven months ago, I bid farewell to one of my best friends.

As much as I hated his sudden departure, deep down, I was happy for him. He told me that his new job in the IT industry meant he would move to Shanghai, which would also serve as a valuable learning experience for him.

Yet, for a very long time, he just vanished off the face of our social networking world. I never caught him online and his cell phone was either unreachable or powered off whenever I tried to call him.

Then, last weekend, he surprisingly dropped by my place.

As we were catching up, he broke to me his unbelievable news.

There was no Shanghai project. The truth was he never even left Beijing but simply quit his job and shacked up with another guy in a dingy room on campus to prepare for the entry test for postgraduate candidates. He kept all of us - his friends and family - in the dark so we would not shake or undermine his resolution.

It really came like a bolt out of the blue despite the fact that he had earlier bounced the idea off me.

He always has this irrational sense that not having a higher diploma takes the wind out of his sails. But I thought I had talked him out of becoming a full-time student again. I explained to him that he had a well-paid job, he knew what he was doing, he still had a lot to learn in his job, and what's more, he could have built it into a fine career.

Besides, there are so many other effective alternative ways that he could get a degree while hanging on to his job, like those nationally accredited on-the-job training projects.

With four years of working experience under his belt, he is quite in his element in the job market. But when it comes to education, the cruel fact is he is somewhat disadvantaged in comparison to the competition.

My friend graduated from one of the very common technical colleges. These students usually spend three years in a small-scale academy as opposed to taking a four-year university course.

As a result, many master degree programs raise the admission criteria for them. Apart from the tests the other senior undergraduates have to take, students with similar educational backgrounds to my friend are required to go through another two or three professional tests, a huge extra load on their shoulders.

For a man who left full-time education several years ago, it was a long haul to get back in the swing of things.

It turned out that he bombed the tests.

"I never felt so stressed out," he explained. "The pressure just stiffened my mind as I tried to search for the right answers."

I was wondering why he felt so desperately in need of a degree.

What was the obsession with going back to school, especially when he had done well in life? It is easier to understand the reflex to go back to school among fledging students who are reluctant to face independence or among those having trouble finding a decent job. But for my friend, it was much more complex.

Obviously, he wanted to fill a hole, but would the cost be worth it?

Besides, it's not unheard of for master's degree holders to struggle to find good jobs.

I think you can explain human behavior in a simple way. When people chase a degree not because they want to accumulate knowledge or because they want to find a better job, it is simply worship.

In that case, perhaps a career planner's office or confidence reinforcement program is the way to go.

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