By: Alexia Hibertidou

With February here and my 2017 post-high school gap year clearly over, “”sh#t just got real!” (credit to: Ricky Baker, in Hunt for the Wilderpeople).

D-day has arrived, and I must decide whether or not to go to university.

The university path seems an exciting one. One friend has been accepted to Oxford, another will be attending in New York and for many others their pathways are clear as they choose between Commerce, Law, Science and Arts at Universities in Brisbane, Auckland, Otago, Wellington and beyond.

My social media stream is filling with screenshots of acceptance letters for competitive courses, and within weeks these posts will evolve into toga party shots in resident halls across the globe. Whilst seemingly opposed, this mix of new friendship and academic legitimacy sum up perfectly the benefits of a university education.

There are no shortage of fervent believers desperately trying to persuade me to attend university.

One uncle was in tears on Christmas Day (admittedly his passion may have been enhanced by too many wines at lunch) as he painted a picture of a wasted life, without networks or friendships and excluded from the highest positions in society.

As a successful advertising executive, his words have weight with me. Is he right? Am I destined to a life of ignorance and thinking small by bypassing university?

Contrary to all this are the voices of other leaders from the world of business. Entrepreneurs like Frances Valentine in New Zealand and Gary Vaynerchuk in the US, advocate for alternative pathways for young people.

Rather than being anti-education, these futurists call for a wider view of learning which includes internships, apprenticeships, new micro-credentials, on the job training, online courses and badging.

Corporates too have weighed in on the matter. Late last year, 100 NZ companies were signatories to an open letter stating that tertiary qualifications would not be needed for a number of skilled roles at their organisations.

The letter, signed by businesses like Xero, Fonterra, Spark and even Unitec(!?), stated that “Prior work experience (full or part-time), community work, portfolios, online learning and entrepreneurial endeavours” will count in making employment decisions.

With such brilliant voices on either side of the argument, the only conclusion I can clearly draw is that in many cases people are campaigning for the choice that they made, and which worked out well for them.

Personally, I have no doubt that in fields such as Law, Engineering and Medicine there are no shortcuts to success and years of guided university study are imperative. I absolutely love learning and my business is largely based on encouraging young women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) careers which, in most cases, require significant years of study to achieve. Even money ceases to be an obstacle with free fees in 2018.

However, as an entrepreneur, I question whether the time and opportunity cost of gaining a tertiary qualification is my most efficient move. I want access to knowledge and skills as and when I need it, and I want to apply it to the real world immediately.

And I’m not the only school leaver wondering if a degree agrees with me. The fact is, entrepreneurship is in fashion. The inclusion of Business Studies in schools to Level 3, the incredible work of the Young Enterprise Trust, and online access to business mentoring and information means that increasing numbers of young people are creating real businesses whilst still in their teens – and some of them are taking off.

Smart, confident, action oriented youth are finding their niche and the challenge will be in supporting them to keep learning whilst still pursuing their businesses.

With a life filled with purpose, an enviable lifestyle of being my own boss, and the constant challenge of creating my own business, I feel like I’m living the dream. But maybe I’m wrong.

Rather than being a trailblazer spurning convention to forge my own path, am I in fact woefully naive and downright delusional? If I wanted to join a prestigious board or become an MP, or work for a top four company, would my degree-free status exclude me?

You tell me.

Would you hire me?

Alexia Hilbertidou is the founder and CEO of GirlBoss NZ

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