What students know: School is all about signaling (sad)

In summary, the author argues that college should be focused on training for a job, and that most students do not learn the skills they need to be successful in the workforce.
  • #1
kyphysics
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http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-caplan-education-credentials-20180211-story.html

From this weekend's LA Times:

Parents, teachers, politicians and researchers tirelessly warn today's youths about the unforgiving job market that awaits them. If they want to succeed in tomorrow's economy, they can't just coast through school. They have to soak up precious knowledge like a sponge. But even as adulthood approaches, students rarely heed this advice. Most treat high school and college like a game, not an opportunity to build lifelong skills.

Is it possible that students are on to something? There is a massive gap between school and work, between learning and earning. While the labor market rewards good grades and fancy degrees, most of the subjects schools require simply aren't relevant on the job. Literacy and numeracy are vital, but few of us use history, poetry, higher mathematics or foreign languages after graduation. The main reason firms reward education is because it certifies (or "signals") brains, work ethic and conformity.

continued in article...

I see this all the time with friends and even myself at times (I've used RateMyProfessor to weed out certain professors). What do people think about the need to think about the meta-game of life and school vs. learning for learning's sake and taking harder courses or challenges that could lower your GPA, maybe have you take longer to graduate, etc., but raise your skill level in various areas of academics and life?

I feel like you can "game" both the GPA system (literally just pad your course schedule with lots of super easy classes), in addition to many standardized tests too. I've known both pre-med and pre-law students who've waited years after graduation and retaken the graduate entrance exams to those fields over and over just to get a high score before applying and attending professional graduate school programs.
 
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Sorry if I'm missing the obvious, but what does the word "signaling" mean in your thread title?
 
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics)

and the answer is yes, signalling applies to all job markets, from janitor to theoretical physicist

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  • #4
Interesting take. STEM types seem to often agree that college education should primarily be training for a job...perhaps because STEM education tends to have a higher applicability to real jobs than humanities. I've conceded in previous discussions that being "well rounded" should still be a consideration at least in the first or second year of college, but this article seems to discard the idea.

Fine, whatever.

But I don't see how that "signals"(?) "going through the motions". Typically we preach on PF that the best path to learning is actually understanding (as opposed to rote memorization) and that should also lead to the best grades since you need to understand what you learn in order to use it as a building-block for the next-level course.

And the example of sneaking-in to a class at Princeton is just silly. The diploma is what proves you attended the classes! The cheating example fails for the same reason.

Overall, not a very well thought out article and very disappointing that a college professor wouldn't at least recognize the actual reason for things he's arguing against...but then again, he is an economics professor... :rolleyes:
 
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  • #5
More concise answer:

How can an economics professor not understand that it is more cost effective for both prospective employers and employees to check/prove a degree than to test everyone applying for every job?

[Edit]
Ugh. This irks me, so I can't stop:

I'm a mechanical engineer and I know several engineers/engineer equivalents without degrees (it is no longer legal to obtain a PE without a degree, but you can still play at being one). But what all of them have in common isn't that they dropped out of the sky fully-qualified but rather worked their way up for 15 years to obtain the knowledge level of an engineer.

This idea that someone can become a fully self-taught expert - rapidly - and then walk into a company with no credentials or prior experience and get a job isn't nonexistent because companies won't allow it, it is nonexistent because such people are a myth. It isn't impossible, but it is so rare most of us will never meet such a person. So why should employers bother trying to find/screen for such unicorns?
 
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  • #6
As a student, I hated history and did poorly in the required history courses in college. Now, I am a whole lot older, and I see history as one of the most important fields of knowledge to understand (a) how we got to where we are, and (b) where we are likely to go next. I still think my college history classes were poorly taught by teachers who did not care (one was a defrocked minister who smoked nasty little crooked cheroots in class), but the material itself is vitally important, so much so that I had to learn it later on my own.
 
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  • #7
berkeman said:
Sorry if I'm missing the obvious, but what does the word "signaling" mean in your thread title?

It's means giving the appearance of competence in something, in which actual competence may or may not be truly tested and measured. Grades and standardized tests scores do that for employers and graduate school admissions committees.

It can be used in a value neutral theoretical sense, but also in a pejorative way as well to critique systems of evaluation that allow a "gaming" of the system and/or use meaningless metrics to evaluate talent.

The proverbial case of signalling intellectual capabilities is that have having an Ivy League degree. No matter how you got in (maybe as a legacy student or your parents donated heavily to the school and you were a special admit) or what your grades and major were, it's supposed to be the golden ticket to doing anything. People often just assume: Ivy grad = smart and competent (never mind the countless numbers who get in from "connections").

The big Investment banks seems to care a lot about the Ivy League degree and a handful of the top public schools for their recruiting.

I dunno. It feels like a lazy way of recruiting and evaluating talent/potential talent, but I understand why some people do it.
 
  • #8
Now you can understand why some employer representatives will test a job-candidate for some technical knowledge and skills as part of the interviewing process.
 
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  • #9
russ_watters said:
Interesting take. STEM types seem to often agree that college education should primarily be training for a job...perhaps because STEM education tends to have a higher applicability to real jobs than humanities. I've conceded in previous discussions that being "well rounded" should still be a consideration at least in the first or second year of college, but this article seems to discard the idea.

Fine, whatever.

But I don't see how that "signals"(?) "going through the motions". Typically we preach on PF that the best path to learning is actually understanding (as opposed to rote memorization) and that should also lead to the best grades since you need to understand what you learn in order to use it as a building-block for the next-level course.

And the example of sneaking-in to a class at Princeton is just silly. The diploma is what proves you attended the classes! The cheating example fails for the same reason.

Overall, not a very well thought out article and very disappointing that a college professor wouldn't at least recognize the actual reason for things he's arguing against...but then again, he is an economics professor... :rolleyes:

speaking of STEM and hiring...Elon Musk doesn't care about degrees:



STEM is probably different, Russ, due to the prerequisites of skills (built cumulatively on top of other prior knowledge and skills over years) needed to advance at each level and also because of the more direct testing of realistic on-job skills through university coursework as you said (i.e., there's a stronger correlation between college work and real world work in those fields).

Social sciences are somewhere in between STEM and the humanities in this regard. You do need to master some technical skills in the social sciences to be able to do undergrad research. The scientific method is taught (usually in a "theory" and/or "methods" type of core course) and courses in statistics, calculus, qualitative analysis, and modeling (e.g. econometrics) are taught and often needed for upper-division courses and/or UG research. But there's a lot of stuff that's not very technical as well that you'll read. And I don't think (this is debatable) there's as much cumulative knowledge and skills mastery needed at each "stage" of those majors.

The humanities are the least technical and have the least direct measuring of skills related to actual jobs requiring or hiring of humanities degrees and grads.

I think I was mostly thinking of signalling when it came to pre-med and pre-law and maybe hiring for social science and humanities majors. For medical and law school, you really don't need any particular major. I know of music and sociology majors who got into top medical schools. Likewise, I know of engineering, philosophy, psychology, etc. majors who got into top law schools. A lot of talk on admissions forums relates to avoiding classes that would potentially sink your GPA, since it's a huge numbers and signalling game when it comes to admissions. Due to the methodology used by the US News and World Rankings report on grad programs, admissions directors are incentivized to use a heavy numbers approach (e.g., taking a 3.9 GPA student from Cal-State Long Beach, who majored in Women's Studies over a 3.6 GPA physics and computer science student from MIT or CalTech with all other things being equal).

You can argue over my assumptions about the rigor of the two students' programs above if you want, but I'm making what I feel is a reasonable assumption about the higher level of difficulty required of the MIT student.

The part of the article that I think is right on is how signalling considerations can have students doing things that may not be in their best developmental interests (e.g., taking easy A classes).
 
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  • #10
symbolipoint said:
Now you can understand why some employer representatives will test a job-candidate for some technical knowledge and skills as part of the interviewing process.

Yeah. I think it was the book Culture of the Puzzle (or something similar to that, which was a best-seller that talked about Silicon Valley and tech giants using these sorts of tests during job interviews to find the right people.

Haven't heard anything about that being done in non-STEM...really not tech giant companies, though. ...Maybe at best to join the Navy Seals or FBI?

Otherwise, it's a mix of your academic profile + soft skills (including interviewing).
 
  • #11
kyphysics said:
speaking of STEM and hiring...Elon Musk doesn't care about degrees:

To be frank, I consider Elon Musk to be an impressive jackass. There is so much wrong with everything he said in that quote, but the most basic problem is that the opening line is barely short of a lie. Picking a semi-random job application at Telsa takes about 15 seconds and the very first requirement is a college degree or equivalent experience.
https://www.tesla.com/careers/job/aerodynamics-engineer-multiplelevelsavailable-58819

As I said in my previous post: how do you prove expertise if not with a degree or decade+ of experience working yourself up to it?
STEM is probably different, Russ, due to the prerequisites of skills (built cumulatively on top of other prior knowledge and skills over years) needed to advance at each level and also because of the more direct testing of realistic on-job skills through university coursework as you said (i.e., there's a stronger correlation between college work and real world work in those fields).

Social sciences are somewhere in between STEM and the humanities in this regard...

The humanities are the least technical and have the least direct measuring of skills...
I'm pretty sure you just said that social scientists don't need to be very bright and humanities type people don't need to know much of anything. I'm not sure I disagree, but I feel like you don't really want to say that.

Let me try a different tack: there are a great many jobs that people get with college degrees that don't really require college degrees in terms of what the job skills themselves require. Examples would be the generic office-type jobs that a lot of people do. Agreed?
[Note: I was a temp while in college and got offered such a job.]

So then why get a college degree? Or more to the point, why do employers look for people with such degrees?

The answer is that it is a simple matter of setting the bar. Divide the applicant pool into a spectrum according to general capabilities; intelligence, maturity, ambition, etc. At the bottom, you have people who can't hold down any job. Just above that, you have people who can barely hang on to a job at McDonalds. Just above that, successful supermarket cashiers. Etc. Etc. Etc. In today's world, more than 2/3 of kids go to at least some college whereas in my grandfathers', less than 1/3 did. That means that a middle of the road job like a bank teller 50 years ago didn't require going to college, but today it does. Why? Is the job any harder? No. But in order to get a top 50% candidate, you need the bar of the minimum requirement to be set at "some college".
I think I was mostly thinking of signalling when it came to pre-med and pre-law and maybe hiring for social science and humanities majors. For medical and law school, you really don't need any particular major. I know of music and sociology majors who got into top medical schools. Likewise, I know of engineering, philosophy, psychology, etc. majors who got into top law schools.
I'm aware of this and do not think it is a good thing either, particularly when it comes to law degrees. It implies that a law degree is more significant than it really is, when in reality the bulk of the schooling is just 4 years of [partying] storage until you start the law program. I don't have a very high opinion of lawyers, so this isn't much of an argument to have...

Med school though I thought required at least a science/technical BS.
Due to the methodology used by the US News and World Rankings report on grad programs, admissions directors are incentivized to use a heavy numbers approach (e.g., taking a 3.9 GPA student from Cal-State Long Beach, who majored in Women's Studies over a 3.6 GPA physics and computer science student from MIT or CalTech with all other things being equal).
If applying for a law school, maybe that matters, but if applying for a STEM grad program, I don't think the "womens studies" major would fare well.
The part of the article that I think is right on is how signalling considerations can have students doing things that may not be in their best developmental interests (e.g., taking easy A classes).
Frankly, my experience on PF has led me to believe students rarely think that far ahead. However, I never bought into that, even when I was at the Naval Academy and ignored the "poly sci and fly" advice...to my detriment.
 
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  • #12
russ_watters said:
More concise answer:

I'm a mechanical engineer and I know several engineers/engineer equivalents without degrees (it is no longer legal to obtain a PE without a degree, but you can still play at being one). But what all of them have in common isn't that they dropped out of the sky fully-qualified but rather worked their way up for 15 years to obtain the knowledge level of an engineer.

This idea that someone can become a fully self-taught expert - rapidly - and then walk into a company with no credentials or prior experience and get a job isn't nonexistent because companies won't allow it, it is nonexistent because such people are a myth. It isn't impossible, but it is so rare most of us will never meet such a person. So why should employers bother trying to find/screen for such unicorns?

Btw, what did you mean by "still play at being one" above? Did you mean a person could do all the work of a engineer and get paid at the same level too without a college degree?

As for self-taught talents...I dunno. I'm guessing it's rare. Haven't worked yet in a "real job," but since I literally just watched the Snowden movie from last year a few days ago, I know that Edward Snowden never graduated from college and was essentially self-taught in many things. His IQ test scores were at the genius level too IIRC. He ended up working for the government and NSA with his computer programming skills, which is quite impressive.

I think as long as you can verify a person's skills somehow, it's a rational and reasonable decision to hire someone without a college degree or "traditional credentials" so long as the law and industry allow it. How common is it? I don't know. :smile:

Do you have any opinions on highly reputable MOOCs and certifications offered by places like MIT Open Courseware and Coursera (which has totally free courses and certifications from the very best of the best universities and professors)? I've read that employers are becoming more and more open to accepting credentials from places like Coursera, due to the very high reputation of the people teaching the courses (from places like Stanford, UPenn, University of California system, Brandeis, etc.). I don't know of anyone that's gotten a job with only Coursera credentials, but I think I've read that people have gotten promotions or greater work responsibilities and access within their existing jobs/companies from showing their bosses their Coursera certifications. But that's a different topic from the OP or thread issue, which is more about signalling by avoiding such skills development (at least, partially)!

For engineers, that's probably impossible. But for other non-technical fields, people do game the system and inflate their grades using a variety of methods and maybe (arguably) in some ways cheat themselves and their employers.

[edit: politics removed]
 
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  • #13
russ_watters said:
As I said in my previous post: how do you prove expertise if not with a degree or decade+ of experience working yourself up to it?

I'll re: this longer post later, but just wanted to emphasize again that it's more applicable to non-STEM fields.

Take just the two examples I gave earlier: pre-med and pre-law.

You can literally major in anything and apply and get into both professional graduate schools. Since undergraduate GPA is a huge factor in admissions, that leaves a lot of room for signalling games.

I think pre-MBA students may have similar experiences as well, but maybe not to the same degree since business school factors in working experience more and isn't just a flat numbers game, involving GPA and the MCAT/LSAT.
 
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  • #14
kyphysics said:
Btw, what did you mean by "still play at being one" above? Did you mean a person could do all the work of a engineer and get paid at the same level too without a college degree?
Yes. One in particular in my company who's business card says "mechanical lead" whereas mine says "Sr. Project engineer, mechanical". Most of his clients don't notice the difference. His career has a lower ceiling than mine due to the fact that he will never get a PE license (and its accompanying 5% pay raise), but otherwise we are on a pretty equal footing.
As for self-taught talents...I dunno. I'm guessing it's rare. Haven't worked yet in a "real job," but since I literally just watched the Snowden movie from last year a few days ago, I know that Edward Snowden never graduated from college and was essentially self-taught in many things. His IQ test scores were at the genius level too IIRC. He ended up working for the government and NSA with his computer programming skills, which is quite impressive.
I saw it too, but I don't remember clearly his early path to a job. The CS field may be a rare exception where people often are self-taught to a significant degree. But I'm not sure if that actually produces the result of getting a job with no credentials/proof of expertise.

A buddy of mine had a CS internship before his junior year of college and never returned to school. But the school is what got him his foot in the door.
I think as long as you can verify a person's skills somehow, it's a rational and reasonable decision to hire someone without a college degree or "traditional credentials" so long as the law and industry allow it.
Certainly, but the "somehow" is the hard part. It's not a side issue, it is the entire problem/reason it is rare. So I encourage you to put some thought into how it could actually/realistically/reliably be done.
Do you have any opinions on highly reputable MOOCs and certifications offered by places like MIT Open Courseware and Coursera (which has totally free courses and certifications from the very best of the best universities and professors)? I've read that employers are becoming more and more open to accepting credentials from places like Coursera, due to the very high reputation of the people teaching the courses (from places like Stanford, UPenn, University of California system, Brandeis, etc.).
I don't have any experience with them, so I'd have to learn, but I would think if a person could prove successful completion of such coursework I would consider it a positive. But that may be the issue: if it's free, it is probably also credential-free. So I suspect there is no way to prove successful completion.
[edit: politics removed]
 
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russ_watters said:
More concise answer:

How can an economics professor not understand that it is more cost effective for both prospective employers and employees to check/prove a degree than to test everyone applying for every job?

[Edit]
Ugh. This irks me, so I can't stop:

I'm a mechanical engineer and I know several engineers/engineer equivalents without degrees (it is no longer legal to obtain a PE without a degree, but you can still play at being one). But what all of them have in common isn't that they dropped out of the sky fully-qualified but rather worked their way up for 15 years to obtain the knowledge level of an engineer.

This idea that someone can become a fully self-taught expert - rapidly - and then walk into a company with no credentials or prior experience and get a job isn't nonexistent because companies won't allow it, it is nonexistent because such people are a myth. It isn't impossible, but it is so rare most of us will never meet such a person. So why should employers bother trying to find/screen for such unicorns?
Sadly, that idea is perpetuated by the successes and stories of people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. They see someone who dropped out of college become rich and famous and so they assume that anyone can do it. It's unfortunate.
 
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  • #16
Amrator said:
Sadly, that idea is perpetuated by the successes and stories of people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. They see someone who dropped out of college become rich and famous and so they assume that anyone can do it. It's unfortunate.
Yes, agreed; and even then, those guys are not examples of exceptions. They all went to college, even if they didn't finish and none of them obtained jobs in other companies based on expertise but rather built the companies around them. The "invent something and start a company" road is rare, but much, much less rare than the "watch some youtube videos and then land an engineering job" road.
 
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  • #17
kyphysics said:
I'll re: this longer post later, but just wanted to emphasize again that it's more applicable to non-STEM fields.

Take just the two examples I gave earlier: pre-med and pre-law.
I suppose there are two angles:
1. A higher degree with no specific lower degree requirement.
2. Getting a job with expertise not proven with a degree.

We've been discussing #2, but #1 is perhaps more applicable to the article you linked. I do agree this is a "thing" for law and at least somewhat pre-med. And it is confusing to me, particularly for law. It seems like the bachelors degree is a waste of time and as you say, picking something easy to get good grades is a benefit for gaining acceptance (if not necessarily for passing the entrance exams).
I think pre-MBA students may have similar experiences as well, but maybe not to the same degree since business school factors in working experience more and isn't just a flat numbers game, involving GPA and the MCAT/LSAT.
Yeah, I'm not so sure I agree regarding the MBA. A significant fraction of MBAs are people already in the workforce who are getting the degree so they can become a manager in the field they are already in. A quick google tells me the average age for starting an MBA is around 27. And even many who go right after undergrad do so to give themselves a faster track to management in the field they studied as an undergrad. My dad did that: engineering + immediate MBA = rapid path to engineering manager.

I suspect there aren't many people who major in nothing in particular and then decide to get an MBA. I could be wrong though.
 
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This article is about pre-MBA, but uses pre-med as a counter-example, that specific course prerequisites exist:
“Compare entry to business school with that of medical school,” he explains. “Your admittance entails not only passing the MCAT, but undertaking a year of biology, a year of physics, two years of chemistry, and a range of additional prerequisite coursework. But you can enroll in business school without any prior knowledge of accounting, finance, marketing, or operations (and the analytic skills that go with them). The result is a first-year MBA core curriculum experience in which accounting courses are populated both by students who are CPAs and students who have never encountered income statements, balance sheets, or statements of cash flow.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattsy...ategy-to-hit-the-ground-running/#2f8e0a9d5d3a

But as I said before, many see an MBA as a capstone on top of another field's education, not a stand-alone credential (unlike law). So the lack of prerequisites makes more sense.
 
  • #19
russ_watters said:
Yes, agreed; and even then, those guys are not examples of exceptions. They all went to college, even if they didn't finish and none of them obtained jobs in other companies based on expertise but rather built the companies around them. The "invent something and start a company" road is rare, but much, much less rare than the "watch some youtube videos and then land an engineering job" road.
Out of curiosity then, why are the majority of physics Ph.D.s able to land jobs in finance, data analysis, programming, etc.? They never really trained for those fields during undergrad or graduate school. Why would someone with a Ph.D. in physics have a better chance than someone without a college degree at all when it comes to applying for a job in quantitative finance for instance? I'm a third year physics major who plans on going to grad school for condensed matter physics, so I'm curious. I want to prepare for when all my applications for academic positions get rejected. :wink:
 
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  • #20
Amrator said:
Out of curiosity then, why are the majority of physics Ph.D.s able to land jobs in finance, data analysis, programming, etc.? They never really trained for those fields during undergrad or graduate school. Why would someone with a Ph.D. in physics have a better chance than someone without a college degree at all when it comes to applying for a job in quantitative finance for instance? I'm a third year physics major who plans on going to grad school for condensed matter physics, so I'm curious. I want to prepare for when all my applications for academic positions get rejected. :wink:

They are able to do so because the skills that physics PhD students would acquire as part of their education and research (e.g. analysis of experimental data, mathematical modelling, scientific computing, overall analytical skills) are precisely those skills that employers in finance, data analysis, software would seek. These are the types of skills that could, in theory, be acquired by someone without a college/university degree, but the probability of meeting such an individual would be very rare.
 
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  • #21
Amrator said:
Out of curiosity then, why are the majority of physics Ph.D.s able to land jobs in finance, data analysis, programming, etc.? They never really trained for those fields during undergrad or graduate school. Why would someone with a Ph.D. in physics have a better chance than someone without a college degree at all when it comes to applying for a job in quantitative finance for instance? I'm a third year physics major who plans on going to grad school for condensed matter physics, so I'm curious. I want to prepare for when all my applications for academic positions get rejected. :wink:
It's because math and programming are tools/skills that have cross-discipline applicability. And frankly, learning the math/programming is harder than learning the economics, so it is often the case that physicists/mathematicians make better financial analysis than finance/accounting majors.

I know I'm being a STEM cheerleader now, but I've seen this in action in my field (mechanical engineering) as well.
 
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  • #22
russ_watters said:
...uses pre-med as a counter-example, that specific course prerequisites exist:
I was going to mention this earlier. When I was in school ( mid 1970s) the Pre-meds all took 2 years calculus, biology, chem, organic chem... Even the music majors. I had the idea that their grade in orgo was very important and that was a killer class. These guys were much more grinds than party animals.
 
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  • #23
Taking 2 years of calculus is a waste of time for most people looking at disciplines outside of physics and engineering. statistics and linear algebra are much more useful.
 
  • #24
BWV said:
Taking 2 years of calculus is a waste of time for most people looking at disciplines outside of physics and engineering. statistics and linear algebra are much more useful.

I think I might disagree on this point, BWV.

Calculus is used all the time in economics (along with statistics too). I need to know both. Although, in the intro. classes, some professors teach macro-economics qualitatively and don't require students to know/use calculus. For serious economics students, you'll need it.

Add to that business majors (granted, it's "Applied" or "Business" calculus that's taught and not analytic/geometric calculus like with STEM), who make up something like 20% of all undergraduate majors earned, and you do get a pretty sizable chunk of undergrads who need calculus in some shape or form.

I'd agree that maybe that second semester isn't always needed and also perhaps that it's applied vs. analytic calculus that's often more needed, but I kind of like just learning the analytic side personally (I feel you sort of know more and can pick up applied calculus more easily later and not necessarily the other way around).

I do agree that statistics is probably used way more in everyday life vs. calculus, though, for non STEM majors. Where is linear algebra used? Never taken it and not familiar with it. Does it have common everyday uses?
 
  • #25
gmax137 said:
I was going to mention this earlier. When I was in school ( mid 1970s) the Pre-meds all took 2 years calculus, biology, chem, organic chem... Even the music majors. I had the idea that their grade in orgo was very important and that was a killer class. These guys were much more grinds than party animals.

I'm not sure where the "party animals" idea may have crept in and worry that people may have possibly been reading into my earlier posts on this thread topic earlier and overall. I'm sorry if I gave off any ideas of thinking that pre-med was slack/easy/allowed for party animal types, etc. Definitely not the intent.

I've been completely aware of the pre-med requirements, having looked at them a few years ago and having a sister and countless friends in pre-med. There are core STEM course that are required for the MCAT and that also have some relevance to medical school courses (though not a perfect overlap with with many "pure," non-professional school graduate programs). I agree that pre-med is typically a very rigorous track. My point earlier about gaming the system wasn't to say that people in pre-med have it easy or anything like that. It's simply that they can game the system, given how admissions works.

With non-"pure" academic fields, where there isn't an existing undergraduate degree for them and continuation of those studies at a higher level (e.g., English Ph.D.s study literature at a higher level, physics Ph.D.s study physics at a higher level, economics, sociology, philosopy...etc.), admissions committees draw from a much wider and diverse pool of applicants in regards to their academic backgrounds. As I said earlier, you can major in anything and attend law and medical school. Presumably you can do the same in some pure academic fields too (didn't Ed Witten major in linguistics and history, before going for his physics Ph.D?), but you do need to have some extended experience in those fields and demonstrate some ability in them.

That's now really the case in a field like law. There isn't a single pre-law class that's required to attend law school, nor any course track that necessarily helps. Everything you learn in law school is kind of "new" and a whole unique field of its own, which is why many people say law should be an undergraduate degree (as it was in the past and is in some countries), instead of a professional graduate degree. Law isn't the advanced study of undergrad law the way graduate physics is the advanced study of ug physics. Everyone is learning it for the first time in law school. Medicine has some of that phenomenon too (though there's more overlap, since you do have to take some core pre-med classes that are useful in medical school).

Sorry for the long post and possibly getting carried away. If people want to, you're welcome to just disregard my comments about pre-med and pre-law to this thread's topic. The original thread point was about signalling and how many student recognize the "game" that's played in how it applies to schooling and work.

Maybe it's because I've looked into pre-med, pre-law, and pre-MBA these past few years that I'm sensitive to this topic. You see forums where people warn others NOT to take hard classes that would sink your GPA in favor of just getting good looking admissions numbers, since that's how the game is played (admissions directors' job security and basis for promotion are heavily tied to a school programs' US News and World Report ranking, which relies heavily on numbers over "substance"). I'm not saying this is a good idea, btw. I'm just saying it happens. You do see people give this advice all the time.

And like the article said, there's a kind of lag time between when a person's perceived ability catches up with their real ability, during which that person can benefit from having been hired (or admitted to some program) and have set themselves up for life down the line (be it financially and/or in other ways). The author mentions some bosses being reluctant to get rid of an incompetent person for quite a while, due to a variety of reasons. ..but, I digress a tiny bit.
 
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  • #26
I don't think school (I am in high school) really prepares you for being an adult. In school I succeed based on memorization in classes I don't like but the memorization only lasts until I don't need to know it to pass. In school we relearn everything again the following year repeatedly and since no one tries to truly learn they completely forget everything every year. Luckily for me I remember most things (Not english). Unfortunately in the times I have worked, school did not prepare me at all. Although I still am in high school.

Since we relearn everything the following year students don't need to learn to pass they just need to remember it for a couple weeks at a time, thus even if we are taught something necessary for adulthood, no one bothers to try to truly learn it
 
  • #27
It's mostly NOT about signaling - even you are taking theoretical courses in physics that will have no applicability in your job, it will certainly help you train your mind do to scientific work and practice your quantitative skills; it certainly wouldn't be the same as just taking the 2-3 courses that you will directly apply in your job and go on with it. And if employers are aware that a degree wouldn't have much meaning for what they are looking for, they'll happily make an entry test to apply for a job.
 
  • #28
Tosh5457 said:
It's mostly NOT about signaling - even you are taking theoretical courses in physics that will have no applicability in your job, it will certainly help you train your mind do to scientific work and practice your quantitative skills; it certainly wouldn't be the same as just taking the 2-3 courses that you will directly apply in your job and go on with it. And if employers are aware that a degree wouldn't have much meaning for what they are looking for, they'll happily make an entry test to apply for a job.
And they DO make entry-tests for jobs to be filled. Not all educational degrees of the same title are equal. Exact sets of courses vary. Exact research or internships which students chose vary. Exact elective-course choices done vary.
 

Related to What students know: School is all about signaling (sad)

What is signaling in relation to school?

Signaling in relation to school refers to the idea that students are primarily focused on demonstrating their intelligence and abilities to future employers rather than actually gaining knowledge and skills.

Why is signaling seen as sad?

Signaling is seen as sad because it suggests that the education system is more focused on external validation and credentials rather than fostering a love for learning and personal growth.

What evidence supports the idea of signaling in schools?

Studies have shown that students often prioritize grades and resumes over actual learning and understanding of material. Additionally, the emphasis on standardized tests and college admissions further reinforces the idea of signaling in schools.

How does signaling affect students?

Signaling can create a competitive and stressful environment for students, as they feel pressure to constantly prove their worth through grades and extracurricular activities. It can also lead to a narrow focus on certain subjects and neglect of personal interests and passions.

What can be done to shift the focus away from signaling in schools?

Some suggestions include implementing more holistic and project-based assessments, promoting a growth mindset, and encouraging a diverse range of interests and skills. It is also important for educators and society as a whole to value and prioritize genuine learning and personal development over external validation.

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