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‘I’ve been in college for 8 years due to repeated failures. Should I quit and change my path?’

By BṺM TENORIO JR., The Philippine STAR Published Mar 20, 2022 3:01 pm

Each week, PhilSTAR L!fe addresses a reader's concern about relationships, career, and anything they want to talk about through its advice column: Asking for a Friend.

Dear L!fe friend,

Hi! I'm 29 years old and currently studying Chemical Engineering. I'm in a bit of a bind right now because I've been studying for eight years now. When I was younger, I've always wanted to be an engineer so even though we didn't have enough funds to support my studies, I persevered. I've worked full-time jobs as a service crew and later as a call center agent in order to have an allowance and pay for my tuition fees. Because I was always tired, this hindered me from studying and I failed my subjects again and again. 

Now, I am on my last three subjects but I could not seem to pass my thesis defense. There were a lot of revisions and I just can't seem to finish it no matter how hard I've worked for it. I'm considering just quitting my course and studying a shorter course so that I can go abroad and provide for my parents and siblings. 

It's just that I'm stressing so hard over this and I feel like I'm growing old without anything to show for it. I'm so frustrated and I wonder if switching careers would make it easier for me. Thank you for reading this.  

Frustrated Student 

Dear Frustrated Student, 

Please don’t remain frustrated for a long time. Believe in your dreams. That’s no BS advice. 

I came from a very poor farming family. My dream to earn a college degree came to me in a whiff of hotdogs being fried. My parents were tenant farmers; we only had rice. When I was in Grade 1, I was eating labay-tubig (piping hot rice doused with water and sprinkled with salt). I ate it with gusto every day because I imagine I was eating it with the fried tender-juicy hotdogs, which I smelled being fried in the neighbor’s house.

Your life and mine are cut out for an MMK episode. Life is like that. But we need real talk here. 

My student at Saint Vincent College of Cabuyao, Lizbeth Cedalla, 19, labors a night shift in a convenience store for her tuition and makes sure she’s on cam sprightly and bright in my Philippine Pop Culture class at 7:30 a.m. every Thursday. She has a classmate much older than her who works in a factory on a night shift, too, who takes my online class in the tricycle going home. A young lady in my Purposive Communication class every Tuesday works as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant and from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., when she’s called to recite, the only time she can unmute her mic, I hear cash registers ringing. And when there’s a quiz, she sends me a private message on my Messenger: “Sir, may I kindly take the quiz during my break, which is after our class?” “Of course. Of course,” I replied. How can I put a cap on her dreams? 

I see them in my online classes and I observe two things: the ring on their eyebags and the sheen of their dreams. 

Dream. Please endeavor hard enough to finish Chemical Engineering. You are on your last three subjects. Listen to other people’s wisdom, your adviser, for example, and the panelists, so you can make do of your thesis defense. You’ve reached that far—why cut short your journey with a detour?

A college degree is important. Though there are some people who succeed enormously in life without a diploma, you and I and my students can only wish we had their genius and luck. For example, in its business and stock market section, reported in 2017 10 ultra-successful millionaire and billionaire college dropouts. They include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. Oh, what geniuses they are.

But you, too, are a genius in your own way. Get your diploma.

So it’s not only my voice that you will hear, I reached out to businessmen and experts in the field to illustrate how important a diploma is for an applicant to be hired in their companies. 

Do you want to listen to them? Here goes… 

“For tech jobs like accounting, engineering, a degree is an absolute must-have. Unless the applicants’ experience is so great and that’s okay if they don’t have a degree,” says Ton Concepcion, president of Smeg Philippines and vice chairman of the board at Concepcion Industrial Corp. The operative word is “great,” which, in my opinion, is in the level of being a genius. Think of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.

He adds that for sales and marketing, a diploma is “not so important.” “For that, experience is better and of course drive, grit, smarts, etc. That’s the typical story of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. All dropouts.”

“But in overall, a college degree is good for a well-rounded personality for top jobs. But if you want immediate impact, then just short and very specific courses are okay. Again, not for engineering and accounting,” Ton says. 

“Having said all of this, Nas Daily, a popular Arab-Israeli vlogger, says radically that Tiktok will make Harvard obsolete. Because in the future or now, education will be based on demand--what you need. You can just watch it online. That’s a bit true but of course, too radical naman,” he says. 

Malu Gamboa, a restaurateur who owns Circulo, Azuthai, and Milky Way, says, “For office staff, a college diploma is required. For service staff, we require a high school diploma.” 

My best friend Christine Dayrit, whose family owns the popular fine jewelry store Miladay, says, “For me, a diploma can help one get in a company but it’s one’s performance that will make one stay. A diploma doesn’t guarantee how accomplished an employee is. It’s his performance that determines this.”

Tammy Mendoza, vice president for operations of The Philippine STAR, says, “We used to be very particular about this (college diploma) thus the requirement for a transcript as one of the requisites for application. It's still important. The diploma-armed candidate will usually be more preferred over an undergraduate. But nowadays, aptitude for a range of soft skills can be demonstrated through hands-on experience so that the diploma sometimes becomes just an added edge but not a requirement.”

Tammy adds. “Personally, I regard a college degree as a badge of expertise and discipline on the part of the applicant.” 

For Maria Cristina “Ginbee” Go, BPI Family Savings Bank president, she says, “For banks, a college degree is important given our role as stewards of our clients’ finances. This is also contained in the regulations that govern financial institutions.” 

Ginbee adds, “Our mission of being a trusted financial partner requires us to provide sound advice to help our clients achieve their dreams and progress in life. For this same reason, we continue to invest in training and education of our employees given the dynamic market and economic conditions.” 

So there you go, my dear Frustrated Student. (I still cringe mentioning “frustrated.”) I hope my insights and the insights of the experts in different fields will help you. 

Laban lang, girl! By the time you turn 30, you have already finished your course. And God willing, that year or after that, you’re already a licensed chemical engineer. Sending you prayers and enlightenment.

I believe in you. I believe in your dreams. 

Your L!fe friend,


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