“At high school graduation it seemed like a good idea,” my friend told me while staring at the ground. A lot of the college dropout advice I hear seems to miss a few important points. I think this would be a good time to go over a few of these points.
Of course college seemed like a good idea at the time. Virtually every adult surrounding you made it sound like the only responsible option. I don’t think I heard a single person giving graduation advice that didn’t include going to college when I decided to forgo it. My friend was going to high school at the same time I was and despite delaying college, I still thought I was making a mistake because everyone around me in my senior class and every advisor insisted on it. It seemed like every comment they had was related to this.
They told me college graduates make x million more in their lifetime. They told me if I didn’t go to college right away that I’d never go. They told me how hard it would be to catch up if I did go to college later. They told me all these things that, too be frank, turned out to be bullshit.
(I went to college later. I dominated more than I ever could have the year after high school. I saved a fortune on the costs of college. I graduated and went on to make more than the vast majority of students in my high school graduating class were making. Surprisingly enough, the degree got me the job but the skills I learned out of college were what got me the big paychecks. And no I was never particularly gifted either.)
On this blog I regularly discuss ways to make studying easier but there is a fundamental point that all of this studying advice rests on: you need to want it.
The Real Reason To Drop Out
Anyone that reads this blog regularly know how quick I am to tell high school graduates to delay college. College is a huge decision that costs a ton of money. Worse than that, it costs a ton of money in the form of debt that you don’t have to pay off for years. That makes the decision a lot easier to make before you’re ready. If students had to save up tens of thousands of dollars to pay for college, dropout rates would be miniscule.
With that said, I still can’t recommend dropping out of college very often. Once you sink a certain amount of money into an investment, you need to change the way you’re looking at the situation. If you are considering dropping out or have already dropped out and are considering going back, think about it in this way. A college dropout isn’t starting from zero, they’re usually starting in the hole a few thousand dollars.
If you’re in the last year (or sometimes two) of college and are going for a degree that has definite and obvious high paying job potential then you’re almost always better off just suffering through college. By graduating you can pay off your debt faster than if you just worked a job not requiring a degree.
To make the decision of dropping out of college intelligently you should be confident that the investment you made in your degree was a bad investment. There is nothing wrong with taking money out of a losing investment. You can recognize if it’s a bad investment in a few ways.
One way is by judging your interest in the job you’ll be getting after graduation. If you absolutely know you will never want a job you could get with your degree then dropping out is alright. If you just think it might be a little unpleasant then you might be rushing to conclusions.
Another way to recognize a bad investment is to realize you made a mistake in picking majors. If you suddenly realize the job options for “Underwater Philosophy” degrees are sparse and low paying (and you still can’t quite locate Atlantis on your map) then it’s probably worth dropping out because, even if you graduate, you’re not going to be paying off that debt any faster.
Of course, there is a point of hating what you’re doing that makes college worth leaving even if it isn’t the smartest of financial decisions. In those cases, consider the possibility of finishing your degree in some other way that is less punishing.
At the very least, don’t exclude returning to college from your future plans. Just because it didn’t work for you yesterday it doesn’t mean it won’t work for you today. A few years of working 9 to 5 or just dead end jobs can change the way you act, think, and believe. (And no, that doesn’t mean I think you’ll suffer by dropping out. It’s a worst case scenario.) You didn’t drop out. You just left for a semester, or a year, or as long as you want because it’s up to you. No one can or should force you to show up when you’re not absolutely sure you want to be there. There is always a way to go back (even if you never choose to.)
You’re not a “college dropout.” You just left. You pursued other better opportunities. Tomorrow you could go back. It’s not a lifelong decision. (This will also get the people around you off your back.)
The more permanent you insist on this kind of a decision being, the less options you’re going to give yourself in the future. That will inevitably bite you if the situation changes. This is one of the best tips I could give you.
The Not So Dissimilar Alternative
Since graduating, the vast majority of the money I’ve made have come from two sources. If I were to understand the value of these two things then I would likely have never finished college myself. I could have probably made it just as far as a college dropout (but it may have taken a little bit more time.)
The first source was my relationships. The friends I’ve made in life have been insanely profitable for my career. I’m not a naturally social guy but with the reputation I’ve built with the people close to me, I’m guaranteed to always have people around me willing to give me a job. When you weave close friendships and develop a good working reputation there are always opportunities available to you. (Sometimes too many to pick from.)
Get jobs. Seriously. Finding gainful employment can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. No… you may not be able to take much off your debt but you can try to beat down on it early. Work the hours to cut your debt fast because once that college debt is out of the way you can really start to enjoy the money you’re making.
Travel the world if you want. This is significantly easier when you’ve paid off your debt but then again, I’ve travelled around the world working minimum wage jobs. If you learn to be responsible with your money then travelling is within reach. These kinds of experiences are hard to quantify as valuable but once you do them you feel the difference. (Some people travel just to realize they don’t mind their hometowns that much.)
Go to parties if that’s your thing. Keep in mind, the college parties are often filled with kids that don’t have jobs and are using college as an excuse to drink and party. They’re not as useful for connections as a non-college party or get together. That’s where you can meet some really motivated people.
These opportunities open more opportunities for you.
The second source was my skills. When I wasn’t going to college I was busy developing skills that I thought would be useful for my career. I was studying things that I cared about. I would invest full days in these skills but it would just feel like play to me. None of them directly had to do with what I was going to college for but one or two of those skills are career worthy. While a degree helped me get my first job, after getting my first job I had more connections recommending me than I could possibly keep up with.
Once you study a skill you only need one person to let you in the door to make a career out of it. The vast majority of careers don’t directly need a degree. In fact, consultants are being hired in virtually every career field requiring college degrees and becoming a consultant doesn’t require a degree. It just requires a single contract with someone willing to take a chance with you.
Studying is fundamental to success in or out of school. It doesn’t matter if you drop out if you keep on studying skills that are valuable. The major problem that most college dropouts have is that they give up on studying completely. That kills every effort they make of developing a great career. When you have a skill, all you need to find is an opportunity. When you don’t have a skill, no opportunity will save you.
Being a college dropout isn’t the end of the world. College is an option but it’s hard to say it’s the best option. It’s just the common option. There are plenty of opportunities for people that have the skills to seize them. College may be a good opportunity and investment when you use it right but it sure as hell isn’t for everyone.
Here is an article that explores what I consider to be The Most Powerful College Alternative. It’s a subscribers only article.
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