You Don’t Need a College Degree to Succeed, But…

March 13, 2018

Debuting his first ever Tedx talk at TedxINTISubang, INTI International College Subang’s Academic Dean, Eric Lee Chan Yu, took on an interesting yet seemingly controversial topic about the need (or lack) of a college degree to succeed in life. Surrounded by a crowd of puzzled college goers, Eric set the stage for his topic which stemmed from a dinner conversation with a close friend, who bluntly stated that attending college was a waste of time unless it was for a technical or professional degree which required certification. Eric’s talk was recently featured on Tedx Talks, the main and official YouTube channel for Tedx which has over 11 million subscribers.


Citing the vast variety of resources available via the Internet and the volumes of books available today, Eric’s friend, Ryan, was adamant that there was no need for a degree. Having completed a degree in Hospitality, then moving into an entrepreneurial role with his family and eventually starting a Music school with his wife, Ryan shared how he learned the ropes of Human Resources (HR) and eventually developed a HR programme through online resources and books. Through this learning process, he realized that there was a market for small companies that required HR software but may not be able to afford current products. As a result, he became a HR software provider and built his career without a formal college degree in business or entrepreneurship.

While Eric felt his friend made a point, he took time to reflect and realized that his friend had missed a few key things which cannot be learned from a YouTube video or a text book. In his Tedx Talk, Eric shared how college is a space for students to develop soft skills beyond the usual communication, collaboration, critical and creative thinking skills we often hear about, citing instead “boss management” as one of the major skills to be gained while in college.

“Consider your lecturers like your practice bosses because when you go out to work, you will come across all sorts of them. You have the good, the bad, the boring, the task drivers, the slave masters and so on. The key is learning how to manage them and college is the place to practice. These lecturers can be your mentors and even your friends eventually. So take the good, the bad, the boring and so on and learn to manage their expectations. Always ask the right questions and don’t be afraid of your lecturers,” shared Eric, who further elaborated his point by talking about the need to collaborate with different departments and adapting to different requirements, expectations and policies which are reflective of most working environments.

Secondly, Eric shared that the role of college was to provide a safe space for students to try, fail and succeed. During his talk, he explained that college students are not expected to get things right the first time around and that college gives them the opportunity to make mistakes, fail and learn from them.

“You have between two to four years to make mistakes and fail at the various things you try in college either in class or in social activities. In college, these mistakes will only cost you time or at worst, money. However, making the same mistakes at work may cost you your job or even your career within that industry. So make the most of this time to try everything and anything that you would like to explore. As students, you have more time and freedom to make mistakes now compared to those who are already working, because the margin of failure when you go out to work is very small,” shared Eric.
Beyond that, college is deemed as a space for self-discovery. Drawing from his own experiences as an academician, Eric shared how students should use their time at college to discover their strengths, weaknesses and limitations. Through this discovery, students are able to reach out to their lecturers or “practice bosses” to seek advice and guidance.

Rounding up his talk, Eric shared that the ultimate reason to attend college and pursue a degree is because college provides a safe space for ideas. He describes them as places to share ideas with people from different backgrounds and different perspectives, helping students find good ideas that can change the world in small or revolutionary ways.


Eric goes on to emphasize that ideas need action, therefore putting them into practice makes it possible for changes to happen. He quotes the likes of Steve Jobs, who credited Mac’s multiple typefaces and fonts to having attended a calligraphy course at Reed College; Mark Zuckerberg, who created a cultural phenomenon through an idea which he developed in his dormitory at Harvard with a group of friends; and even Indonesian students who rallied together in 1998 and occupied the parliament which led to former President Suharto stepping down from him position. These are among the many examples of individuals and groups of students being empowered to make a difference even while at college, and Eric emphasized how colleges work as an incubator for ideas to grow and develop in a safe environment.

“Ideas spark, develop and receive exposure through college clubs and societies, talks, workshops, in classrooms, and among groups of friends and classmates. You learn new ways of seeing and doing things which you would have never discovered before. Exposure is key in experiencing different views and prepares you for the workplace where your environment is full of different people with different views and ideas,” said Eric who encouraged the young crowd of college students to make the most of their time in college, to get out of their comfort zones, experiment, and unleash something great within them.
Eric Lee has over 15 years of experience in education, having spent seven years studying and working in the US; where he graduated with a MA in Religion, and BA in Psychology and Religion (double degree) from the University of Iowa, USA. To view Eric’s talk, please click the following YouTube link –