University of Life (UoL) – Does It Mean Anything?

This is often talked about as either a defensive statement made by people who didn’t attend university, or as a slightly pejorative term by people who did attend. In our work we meet many successful people who did and didn’t go to university, we thought it would be interesting to see if we could identify any connecting traits or differences.

  1. If people use the University of Life phrase about themselves it’s usually a bad sign for the reason covered in the intro paragraph.
  2. What is interesting about education is how it connects (or not) to learning. From our experience there is no correlation between how much formal education somebody has received and how much learning they continue to absorb and apply.
  3. Next up is experience. Does the experience of going to university beat the experience of not going to university? Given how many students also hold a job down to help fund their degree this distinction is blurring. Also, a lot of people who are 18+ and not at university are unemployed which is not an experience rich environment.
  4. The UoL track is supposed to be more character building. Again that depends on what people do. If you travel the world striving for world peace I guess character is being built, but if the time is spent working (or not) whilst living at home the character is not being necessarily built.
  5. A circumstance where UoL wins hands down is where someone who has been to university thinks and acts in a superior manner simply because that is what they did. They believe they don’t have to learn anything else, or as one of these types put it recently on a workshop “I’ve done with learning, I now want to earn some serious money”. What is interesting is whether they would make such stupid statements anyway, university being a non-contributing factor.

In summary, we could find no general factors that supported the idea that the UoL route made someone a more successful person. In fact, all the data shows is someone who has a degree has much greater earnings potential over their career, but we could find no evidence it made them a better or more successful person in teams where both cohorts existed.

Our (perhaps not very profound) conclusion is University of Life is an empty phrase.