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what is the purpose of an education?

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New post 17 Dec 2008, 19:37
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just to follow up on an earlier thread. I am just curious to know - i won't give you the answer because people love to listen to themselves. so go ahead. what is the purpose of an education?

getting a highly paid job.
learning from textbooks and getting A's.
networking.
classy women/hot guys (as appropriate).
changing careers.
stepping stone.

repetition alert - share everything you know and be nice. you will learn a lot more in return.

thanks in advance for your participation.

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New post 17 Dec 2008, 19:47
I think that that really depends on what level/type of education you are getting. In my opinion, an MBA is essentially utilitarian. Its to gain skills/networking necessary to advance/change career.

I, however, view an undergraduate education completely differently. To me, an undergraduate education is meant to form oneself as a person. To that end, one of my majors was in history with a focus on Roman history. I feel like majors such as that help to enlighten oneself to the human condition and better understand aspects of our experience. To me, an undergrad education shouldn't necessarily be just about a stepping stone to something more. It should be an end in and of itself.

Other degrees (law, medicine, etc) have their own particular raison d'etre. So, I really think that it depends on what kind of an education you are speaking of.
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Re: what is the purpose of an education? [#permalink]

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New post 17 Dec 2008, 19:54
I guess I'll take a crack at this:

My personal feeling is that the purpose of an education is to give oneself with the ability to find and execute their purpose in life. I majored in engineering in college and I can't even begin to describe the number of times that I got into debates with my engineering friends about the value of our non-engineering coursework. They felt it was unnecessary and took the easiest classes possible. I found it an opportunity to learn about something new and I took a bunch of off-the-beaten-path courses. As it turned out, I ended up in a career I love that utilized alot of the engineering and non-engineering coursework that I completed in college.

I'm not completely unrealistic, however. Having the right educational background gives you an incredible financial advantage in planning other aspects of your life. I have a number of friends who graduated as journalism majors. It's a profession for which I have tremendous respect, but I also realize that as a journalist, if you make $25K on your 25th birthday, you are doing really well. As an engineer, $50K jobs were the standard absolute minumum, even in the post 9/11 mini-recession in which I graduated. I realize that money doesn't buy happiness, but it does buy freedom, and that can pave the way to being a happier person.

So I guess I have a two-pronged answer to this. I think there are a number of career choices that any person with find satisfying. But its that person's job to balance their education to meet their own goals of happiness and financial freedom.
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New post 17 Dec 2008, 19:59
To simulate a cause worth living your life for...
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Here's my thoughts:

Undergraduate: A large purpose of this experience is just growing up, becoming an adult, and learning to be responsible. I understand that there are financial constraints for many, but I feel that if you don't get out of your parents house at this stage in your life - you really miss out on a lot of this development. Besides that, I think it's about studying a wide variety of subjects and finding out what you are and are not interested in pursuing for a career. The Liberal Arts colleges tend to expose you to a lot of different things and help you figure this out. Secondarily, it's definitely about the party scene and having fun, meeting a lot of people that will be friends for life, etc.

Medicine / Law: Pretty vocational programs. You decide you want to enter this profession - you go to the appropriate medical school or law school, learn what you need to learn, and become a professional.

MBA: If you're smart, this degree is all about the ROI and the money. I personally can not imagine spending so much money on a generalist degree that will not yield the intended results as far as post-graduate job, industry, and career track. You really need to know what you want to get out of this degree, and whether it will pay off for you before enrolling. Networking, partying, and even education are really secondary concerns for this degree. Unlike medicine and law where you need a degree to get licensed and practice your chosen profession, this is not the case for business, and therefore the education should be a truly secondary concern for anyone pursuing this degree.
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New post 17 Dec 2008, 20:07
To expand your realm of thought and allow you to more easily learn and think your way through situations in the future

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agold wrote:
Here's my thoughts:

MBA: If you're smart, this degree is all about the ROI and the money. I personally can not imagine spending so much money on a generalist degree that will not yield the intended results as far as post-graduate job, industry, and career track. You really need to know what you want to get out of this degree, and whether it will pay off for you before enrolling. Networking, partying, and even education are really secondary concerns for this degree. Unlike medicine and law where you need a degree to get licensed and practice your chosen profession, this is not the case for business, and therefore the education should be a truly secondary concern for anyone pursuing this degree.


Why am I not surprised you would post this type of stuff. Alright, yes a positive ROI is nice...however plenty of "smart" people go back not for the money but for a chance to do something they feel will provide them with a greater impact and self satisfaction. I have friends who were in post-MBA IB positions that came back to switch to corporate finance and friends who left MC to go into non-profit. Are those going to be as lucrative careers? Obviously not, but will it bring greater happiness to them, definitely. Agold, not everyone is as motivated by money as others. Judging by my experiences with people purely motivated by greenbacks, is they never will be satisfied with what they are making...they always want more and no matter what someone is going to be making more than them.

As for education, if you dont pay attention during your classes and barely scrape by do you think you are going to succeed in your career. You are going to get an assignment and be expected to do it. However, if you decided to flake out on those classes and are clueless are you going to be successful at it...I think not. Not placing an emphasis on your education is setting yourself up to look like a fool when you show up to work and are clueless compared to other MBAs.
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New post 17 Dec 2008, 20:16
Ask people 10 years post-MBA whether they actually use their education. You'll get some interesting responses. Anything you need to learn for your job in a business setting, you'll learn on the job. An education is only about teaching you "how to learn". Most of this is accomplished just fine by your undergraduate degree.

Of course river, you and I are going to have some very different thoughts about this. You have already paid your tuition and enrolled in an MBA and will therefore want to justify it. It is a sunk cost for you, whereas I have no commitments and won't feel the need to have any unless I deem it to be worthwhile.
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agold wrote:
Ask people 10 years post-MBA whether they actually use their education. You'll get some interesting responses. Anything you need to learn for your job in a business setting, you'll learn on the job. An education is only about teaching you "how to learn". Most of this is accomplished just fine by your undergraduate degree.

Of course river, you and I are going to have some very different thoughts about this. You have already paid your tuition and enrolled in an MBA and will therefore want to justify it. I have no commitments and won't feel the need to have any unless I deem it to be worthwhile.


Agold the problem is you speak with authority about everything and act like your opinions are going to be true for everyone. Ask people 10 years post-mba what they use from their eductation? Hmm I do this everytime I talk to alums and every single one mentions specific classes they took and half the time mention professors they had. They put their educations to use all the time. Yes they learn a lot during their careers but the base knowledge for their career was formed during their undergrad and MBA. And to advance early on you will rely heavily on your education early on. Companies want you to hit the ground running and thats why you should take classes not for the sake of taking them but to provide you with skills in areas you will need. Personally I am not a big fan of accounting but will end up taking several accounting classes because every GM person I talked to found their accounting classes to be very important in their careers.

I am not justifying my education since its a sunk cost at this point...read my posts from last year and you will see its about far more than money. I made a comfortable living, own a house, had two nice cars, money in the bank, could afford vacations and stuff like that...I was more than satisfied with my financial well being. I would not have come back if it was only about money. Plus its not hard to justify going to a top 5 school...I am pretty happy with my decision and with what my career prospects will be coming out of this place.

Remember, agold...whats worthwhile to you doesnt mean its true for everyone else. We know your opinions of what schools are worthwhile...you have made that abundantly clear. If money was everyone's driving reason for getting an MBA why do people go into non-profit, marketing, GM...wouldnt they all be going into banking (at least a few years ago) but more than 50% of people go into other careers.
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New post 17 Dec 2008, 20:42
Praetorian wrote:
What is the purpose of an education?

To develop and improve one's ability to learn.

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so i can give a good excuse to my mom for not getting married yet..

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New post 17 Dec 2008, 20:45
Sorry guys. Maybe my tone was wrong (it often is). I just wanted to share my opinion. Everyone else is going to have a different one (and they should). Money is definitely a big driving factor for me and it may not be for others.

Please note that I prefaced my first response with:

Here's my thoughts:

I don't want to cram my opinions down anyones throat. I just wanted to share them.
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New post 17 Dec 2008, 21:09
Thats a really interesting question. I do, however, feel that you need to make a distinction in regards to organizing the various levels of education. The purpose of a secondary education compared to an undergraduate education is completely different. However, given the context of the question I'll answer it in the context of an undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.

I feel that your college years is meant to be a time where you define yourself. Its so much more than learning how to write long compositions or learning about Medieval France or solving theorems. I really feel that the social aspects - going to parties, having 6 hour conversations till 4 in the morning, meeting and debating with people you would've never talked to before - these are just as important as what you actually learn in the classroom. Thats why, I think, its appropriate that you rarely spend more than a few hours a day in actual class, as thats just one part of the undergraduate experience. While it'd be nice to have a 4.0, I wouldn't want to have those grades if it meant I was only in the library and didn't have a social experience. While I'm not saying everyone has to go to keggers on the weekends, they do really have to have a diverse array of social interactions that will help them grow as individuals and prepare themselves for the "real" world.

In regards to post-graduate education, I feel like medical and law school is meant for honing one's craft to perform the respective function. In regards to an MBA, I think the purpose of that education is to learn how to be an effective leader, manager and thinker and obtain the tools you feel that you need to pave the road to your definition of success.

In regards to money? Well for me thats a given. I had always wanted to go to a top undergrad and now hope to go to a top graduate school so I could make a lot of money, but thats only one factor in the equation.

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New post 17 Dec 2008, 23:04
I miss the intellectual challenge of difficult work that isn't present in my job.

I think an MBA degree is broad enough to enhance my job prospects, and balance out the technical skills I picked up in engineering school. I think the ROI is probably about even. Part-time makes more sense from an ROI perspective. It allows me to pursue career options that wouldn't be possible with only an engineering degree.

It also seems like a good way to spend 2 years of my life. Friends, beer, interesting classes, and discussions. A mix of intellectual challenge and social events. You only get to be completely surrounded by people your own age a few times in life, business school is one of them :).

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New post 18 Dec 2008, 00:54
Purposes of an MBA (not education in general, I am not smart enough to answer such a broad question):

1. To break out of the routine daily work that is making me dumber day by day. The MBA is a year or two in an intellectually stimulating environment among smart people with various backgrounds - workout for the brain. Please note that any type of work, if done for a long enough time, will make you dumber. Even a top management position can get old if you are not careful.

2. To earn more money. Shouldn't this be #1?

3. To have broader career opportunities, unlock doors that are currently closed. To find a job that is more interesting, challenging, better suited to my personality. This is not the same as point 2. I may want to change my industry or function not necessarily becase I expect to be making more money.
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New post 18 Dec 2008, 03:04
I think for me it is really simple.

Education is to provide a framework to allow those with passions to succeed in their lives/interests. Whatever the field.

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New post 18 Dec 2008, 03:30
I like what jb32 said. The motivation behind pursuing an education, in the classical sense, need not be the same as the motivation behind pursuing, specifically an MBA.

In Sleepy's words, business school is a lot like a finishing school (but don't tell adcoms that's how you think of them), but in my mind the primary purpose of an education really is to broaden your horizons and develop an empathetic awareness of the world around you.

An education does not necessarily equal an MBA, which at least to me seems to be a lot more functional and utilitarian in concept.

jb32 wrote:
To expand your realm of thought and allow you to more easily learn and think your way through situations in the future

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New post 18 Dec 2008, 05:14
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I miss the intellectual challenge of difficult work that isn't present in my job.


Me too :)

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New post 18 Dec 2008, 06:17
I wish I had stumbled onto this thread earlier. I understand why I am getting an MBA by using this analogy, and maybe it applies to others here.

I just bought a wooden cabinet (do-it-yourself), and I started assembling. Initially, it was all about putting 1/4" bolts into nuts using a 1/4" wrench. After a couple of times of doing that, I became great with 1/4" bolts, and I could put those in all day without problems. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Then, I stumbled upon a 5/16" bolt. Shit. The 1/4" wrench is useless here. But I need to finish my cabinet. So I looked around at all the different wrenches available and found a 5/16" wrench. Now, between the 5/16" and the 1/4", my cabinet is ready to be complete, and I am feeling good.


The point is, I need to add more tools to my toolbox in order to solve the kind of problems that I want to solve, and to get to a place in my career where I can feel good about what I have accomplished. To me, that's the reason for leaving a perfectly fine job in this tough economy and volunteering to go $160K into debt.

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New post 18 Dec 2008, 06:40
riverripper wrote:
Why am I not surprised you would post this type of stuff. Alright, yes a positive ROI is nice...however plenty of "smart" people go back not for the money but for a chance to do something they feel will provide them with a greater impact and self satisfaction. I have friends who were in post-MBA IB positions that came back to switch to corporate finance and friends who left MC to go into non-profit. Are those going to be as lucrative careers? Obviously not, but will it bring greater happiness to them, definitely. Agold, not everyone is as motivated by money as others. Judging by my experiences with people purely motivated by greenbacks, is they never will be satisfied with what they are making...they always want more and no matter what someone is going to be making more than them.

As for education, if you dont pay attention during your classes and barely scrape by do you think you are going to succeed in your career. You are going to get an assignment and be expected to do it. However, if you decided to flake out on those classes and are clueless are you going to be successful at it...I think not. Not placing an emphasis on your education is setting yourself up to look like a fool when you show up to work and are clueless compared to other MBAs.


river, while I don't think agold is explaining it very well I think there is some validity to his argument. An MBA is definitely about ROI but just not in the traditional sense of money only. There are clearly non tangible items that need to be factored in, such as obtaining a career that's fulfilling. If that makes a person happing then that is clearly worth some particual value. For example, I have friends who are bankers but they want to work in real estate development. Currently they don't have the skills or connections to make the transition to the position they want (that pays less money than if they stay a banker). They could A) take a lesser position at a firm and work their way up to a development associate or they could B) get an MBA and transition to a development associate after graduation. The fact that they are going to get a lower salary does not mean they are not concerned with ROI. The MBA allowed them a better return than simply making the transition on their own. The same could be said for your non-profit example. Once someone determines that they want another career the ROI needs to be compared to making the transition without an MBA, not to staying in the current position. I doubt very seriously that a banker that wants to work in nonprofit would turn down a great nonprofit position to go do an MBA first. The MBA povides access and that in and of itself creates value. To me this is very different than most other master's programs.

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