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Tour Guiding

Yglesias doesn't like the rules for tour guides in DC. Admittedly, I find them pretty annoying too, especially because I think it would be a lot of fun to give tours of DC by bike. But without the license, I don't qualify. At the same time, I can't help but wonder how different a tour guide license is from a college degree?

(from Flickr user -Andrew-)

Think about it. College degrees aren't required by law for most jobs, but they often serve at the de-facto license. Even jobs that once required a high school education and clerical skills, like Administrative Assistants, often have minimum degree requirements these days.

Matt describes the process for being licensed as a tour guide:
To be a tour guide in DC, in addition to getting a basic business license and paying taxes, you need to apply for a special tour guide license (PDF) a process that involves $200 worth application fees, license fees, and an exam fees. You need to fill out a long application.
Long applications? I did that before college. $200 worth of fees? I definitely paid more than $200 per year in "fees" during college, and that doesn't include tuition at all. Exams? I certainly had to take and pass those to get my degree.

Perhaps the bigger gripe is with the fact that the license covers many topics that a tour guide will never find useful:
You mean if I want to try to give a walking tour of the U Street era, talk about its heritage as the “Black Broadway,” it’s decline in the 70s and 80s, and it’s rebirth over the past 20 years I need to pass a test about presidents? About Aquariums? If I want to do an embassy tour I need to be quizzed on universities?
I could ask the same questions about college. If I want to be an accountant, why do I need to take philosophy courses? or history courses? or language courses? Why can't I just take my finance and accounting and be done with it? The typical answer is that core-curriculum classes make you well-rounded, give you better critical thinking skills, stuff like that.

Maybe the better question is whether tour guiding class has any value aside from the piece of paper you get at the end of the process? People often argue that college is about so much more than the degree, which makes it worth the thousands and thousands of dollars we spend on it. At the end of the day, the $200 for the tour guiding license is either a rip-off or an amazing deal, depending on how you look at it.


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