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Human Resources



Is College Worth It?
Interview Highlights

In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, only half of Americans believe that colleges and universities positively impact the country. This signals a growing uncertainty about the value of higher education.

With rising tuition costs and increasing student loan debt, many are questioning whether the traditional four-year college experience is worth it.

Enter Matt Wilkerson, an MIT graduate, Y Combinator founder, and CEO at Extern. In a recent interview, he shared valuable insights into the evolving landscape of education and employment.


The Current Job Market:

Employers today are seeking candidates with prior work experience, with nearly two-thirds of entry-level jobs requiring at least three years of experience. This poses a significant challenge for recent college graduates who may lack the necessary experience to secure employment.


The Importance of Work Experience:

According to Wilkerson, the best credential for getting hired is real work experience. While academic pursuits are important, employers prioritize practical skills and experience. This presents a dilemma for students, especially those from first-generation backgrounds who may not have access to guidance on navigating the job market.


Navigating the College Experience:

Many students enter college with the expectation that a degree will guarantee them economic mobility. However, simply obtaining a degree may not be enough to secure a job in today's competitive market. Wilkerson emphasizes the importance of seeking out internships and gaining practical experience throughout the college years.


Challenges for Students:

Despite the importance of work experience, securing internships can be challenging for students. Employers are often hesitant to take on interns, particularly those without prior experience or connections. This creates a barrier for students looking to gain valuable work experience during their college years.


Addressing Employer Concerns:

To overcome these challenges, Wilkerson suggests that students focus on building their resumes early on in their college careers. By seeking out internships and gaining practical experience, students can demonstrate their value to potential employers. Additionally, Wilkerson highlights the importance of networking and leveraging connections to secure opportunities in the workforce.


The Role of College Degrees:

Matt acknowledges the importance of college degrees, emphasizing that they offer valuable learning experiences beyond academic knowledge. College provides a platform for social interaction, EQ development, and exposure to diverse perspectives. However, the academic focus varies across departments, with some emphasizing practical skills while others adopt a philosophical approach.


The Rise of Externships:

Recognizing the gap between academic learning and real-world skills, Matt introduces the concept of externships as a transformative learning experience. Unlike traditional internships, externships offer students immersive, hands-on opportunities to work on real projects alongside industry professionals. Externships focus on integrated learning, combining practical work experience with expert-designed curriculum and mentorship.


Challenges in Skills-Based Hiring:

Despite the potential advantages of skills-based hiring, Matt acknowledges the challenges in its implementation. The lack of standardized assessments and the proliferation of alternative credentials create complexities for recruiters. While skills-based assessments exist, they may not accurately reflect an individual's ability to perform in real work environments.



In today's rapidly changing job market, the value of a college education is being called into question. With employers prioritizing practical skills and experience, students must adapt to meet the demands of the workforce. By gaining real work experience and building their resumes early on, students can increase their chances of success in the job market.

With insights from experts like Matt Wilkerson, navigating the college conundrum becomes a more manageable task for students seeking to transition from college to a career.

Official Transcript

A Pew Research Center survey found that only 50% of Americans believe colleges and universities are positively impacting the country, signaling a decline in confidence in higher education's value.

The question of whether college is worth it has emerged as a pressing concern for both students and parents, reflecting heightened skepticism regarding the value of a traditional four-year education.

Rising tuition costs, escalating student loan debt, and uncertainties about post-graduation job prospects have fueled doubts about the return on investment in higher education.

With student loan debt surpassing $1.7 trillion, universities face challenges as potential declines in enrollment threaten their financial stability. They may also confront pressure to adapt curricula to meet evolving workforce demands as employers prioritize skills and experience over degrees.

Our guest today that is shaping the future of Gen Z in the workforce is MIT graduate, Y Combinator founder, and CEO at Extern, Matt Wilkerson. Matt, welcome to the show.

Matt Wilkerson: Thank you for having me.

Felicia Shakiba: Before we get into our discussion today, I want to provide full transparency to our listeners because I am grateful and very honored to serve on your advisory board, Matt. And with that in mind, I am committed to asking the tough questions that will help our audience navigate the complexities of whether or not college is worth it. So let's dive in. Matt, you're an expert at connecting universities to employers with students who are hungry to learn and gain experience.

What are you seeing from employers today? What are the trends you can share about what employers are looking for?

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