Why Not Everybody Should Go To College (And How to Do It)Posted: October 15, 2012
I know it’s the popular thing these days to wax poetic about the value of a college degree, and at the same time complain about the cost of a college education. I’d like to step back a moment and question both of those, if for no other reason than the logical fallacy of holding both of those positions. I mean, if we value something, isn’t it supposed to cost more? Maybe I got that wrong, but then, I’m still working on my expensive college education. Which is why I’d like to offer some helpful tips to those young enough to still use them (or the parents of those young enough to still use them).
I made most of my mistakes regarding college twenty years ago. The world was a much different place then; it was much more forgiving, at least from what I can tell. Tuition was lower, admission requirements were less stringent, the Mafia couldn’t trace you by your cell phone if you didn’t make your loan payments – well, you get the idea. What was even more glorious was that we still believed the idea that a college degree was worth an extra million dollars or so in lifetime earnings, and that was in 1990 dollars (which actually meant something).
At least, that’s the line we were sold. According to this article by James Harrigan and Antony Davies, that $1,000,000 bonus only comes from the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. So I guess switching from Theater to English didn’t get me the big pay raise I was expecting. But that doesn’t mean there’s no point in getting a college degree at all, because I’ll be the first to admit, when I hire people I still look at the education line (especially when your work experience basically consists of “Babysitter – Burgerflipper – Senior Burgerflipper” – in that order). It’s just that there’s good reasons to do it, bad reasons to do it, and good and bad ways to go about it.
Before you even decide to go to college, think about what you want to do. Is it something you actually need a degree for? If you plan to be in a rock band, just go start one. I know, lots of people will pan me for this, but hear me out. Chances are you will fail, but a degree isn’t going to change that. Either you can play/sing/whatever you intend to do or you can’t. Define what success will look like in five years, give it five years, and if you aren’t succeeding, re-evaluate your options. “Success” doesn’t have to equate to “superstar”, it can equate to “living off the money we make playing as a band”. But at least you tried.
The same can be said for a lot of other fields. Even if you need some sort of technical knowledge, maybe a trade school is a better (and far less expensive) option than college. If you want to start a business, determine what knowledge you really think you need and see if you can’t get that knowledge through community college classes. Yes, I know everyone makes fun of community college; I did too, but guess what? The people who spend the last six to eight years getting an MBA don’t have a business, they have a mountain of debt.
Speaking of community college, even if you decide you do need a full Bachelor’s degree, why not start at community college and then transfer? Most schools have an arrangement with their local community college network so you can even find out exactly which classes to take to transfer directly over, and you won’t miss a step. Plan it out right and you can even pick up an Associate’s degree along the way just in case anything happens before you finish the Bachelor’s.
Here’s another tip: speaking as an employer, I really don’t care what school you went to unless it’s Harvard or Yale. Now while that’s not 100% true, it’s pretty damn close. There are a handful of schools that are just so good that they are simply known. There’s a few others that have been at the top of their field for long enough that they are known for it. If you are going to one of those schools, they are worth paying a premium price for (in the latter case, you better be getting a degree in that field or you’re throwing your money away). Anywhere else is not worth more than a public university, because no employer will give a damn, but you will have paid more anyway.
Here’s something else to think about: are you ready for school? I mean seriously ready? Because I’ve known plenty of people, myself included, who screwed around their first year or two in college and just wasted lots of money. If I had gotten a job instead I could have screwed around ’til they fired me and had a little money in my pocket. If I had just screwed around in my parents’ house doing nothing I’d at least have broken even. Going to school a year or two later is better than graduating a year or two later anyway but having two extra years of debt.
One final thought: there are jobs out there that will pay for your school. If you think you can handle not having a life for a while, there’s nothing wrong with going to school part-time and working full-time while you let someone else pick up the tab. Even if you just get a part-time job that helps cover the bills, anything to stay out from under those big bills is a help, and there’s nothing wrong with applying for every scholarship under the sun. The best money is free money.
I hope you take my advice, and I hope it does some good. If you can learn from my mistakes, at least they have some value. If you can’t learn from my mistakes, you won’t learn a thing in college.