Students in class

Signaling Excellence

Written by Cecilia Bellet

The field of economics often explains the concept of “signaling theory” using the example of higher education. The theory goes that students do not pursue an undergraduate degree because the major they earn will give them all the information that qualifies them for a job. In fact, the information students acquire at an undergraduate level ends up being a very small portion of what they end up using in their careers.

So why do students spend time and money on college? Why do employers find an undergraduate degree so important? It’s all in the signaling theory. Employers see that college graduates, dependant on the rigor of the university, have demonstrated an ability for handling rigorous work and exercising strict discipline.

I knew nothing about signaling theory or even economics when I came to Hillsdale College. For as long as I could remember, I had been dead set on studying pre-med as an undergraduate. Not only did I think I’d be great in the medical field, but I loved telling people that I was pre-med. It meant that I knew what I was doing and where I was going. Unfortunately, the academic rigor at Hillsdale forces you to be honest with yourself no matter how pretty the lie.

The core classes I took freshman year made two things quite clear: history and philosophy made my heart sing, but biology and chemistry made my head spin. I tried to fight it, and I did for three whole semesters, until I finally called my parents and told them I’d no longer be studying science. Terrified of what lie ahead, I began my fourth semester at Hillsdale walking into a core economics class.

I seated myself in the back of the classroom and settled into what I expected to be a boring class. Leaving that same classroom fifty minutes later, I’m not sure I could have told you what economics was, but I loved it. By the end of that same semester, I worked up the courage to visit my professor and ask him about studying economics. He welcomed me in, discussed my anticipations and fears, and sent me away with a book in hand and confidence in my walk. I was going to study economics.

In my final year of Hillsdale, that same professor wrote my recommendation letter and helped me submit applications to graduate schools. Unlike my outdated medical school dreams, I found my real future when I decided to study what I love. Hillsdale’s core curriculum pushed me to work harder than I thought possible yet allowed me to bravely and honestly discern my calling. I have developed beyond the basic “signaling theory” virtues and am now free to pursue what is Beautiful and True.

Cecilia BelletCecilia Bellet, class of 2018, hails from Nashville and studies economics and French.

Published in February 2019