I’m going to give you a gift for your college years.
It’s a gift I wish someone gave me earlier.
No… it’s not anything extravagant like a car or immediately beneficial like a keg for this weekends party. It’s something a little more practical than that.
It’s a simple lesson.
It’s a lesson I was originally taught by a successful entrepreneur that I worked with during my college years. He had made a small fortune in business before I’d even been born. He was the kind of guy with an IQ high enough to make the average person’s bank account balance look small but he spoke so simply you wouldn’t have noticed.
College In Pop Culture
College looks like it’s supposed to be the most fun time in your life.
You will never see a fair portrayal of college in a movie.
You’ll see crazy 20 year olds throwing parties and doing insane stunts every weekend. You might see a good student once in awhile. Usually that good student ends up going nuts and “having the time of his/her life” by the end of the movie. But, as you know, these are movies.
The movie of my college life would suck.
Hey… how about you watch me sitting and reading for 2 hours? What about watch me in the lab? How about you watch me sitting and learning a new software? Fun? Not really. (I would argue my career in the dishroom during college could make an entertaining story but that’s mostly because I was surrounded by folks that were skipping college and could barely keep a job.)
Sure… there is a party once in awhile. Most of them will be disappointing.
The truth is that college sucks for some obvious reasons:
- You’re Probably Broke
It’s hard to have a ton of fun when you’re spending ten times your yearly salary on college (paying only through debt.) Given the choice between going without meals or going to an awesome concert, most folks decide to eat.
Given the choice between studying for class or going to a party, the choice is more of an illusion. If you go to the party, you will probably just have study again for the class (harder) later or fail out.
- Everyone Is Still Insecure
High school can be a rough environment for many students. College is rarely better these days.
Being in college is not being in classes with the cream of the crop anymore. Maybe in some top universities you’ll be surrounded by slightly more intelligent than average people but it’s not a given.
Sure… there was a time when the bad students never went to college. Times have changed. The only students that don’t go to college now are (typically) the ones that skipped through high school anyway.
Bullies? Yep… they’re still there. Idiots? You’ll find them everywhere. Pricks? It’s like a rose bush that smells like BO. (You’ll hold your breath as you walk by their dorm.)
- Freedom is mostly illusory
Most of the freedom high school teachers tout about college is an illusion.
Plenty of colleges still take attendance. If you don’t show up, you’ll still fail but now you’ll have to pay out of your pocket for it. Saying the wrong thing will still get you in trouble. You’ll rarely have the opportunity to pick classes after you decide on your major because most are required and the good times will often be taken.
But… this is kind of like life in general. Your expectations for freedom may be high but don’t get your hopes up. (Though it is nice to sleep in late once in awhile.)
- Parties are really overrated.
Maybe it’s just the places I’ve gone.
In most college parties you’ll be bored. In the rest you’ll probably lose in a competition to see who can be the least intelligent.
Why The College Years Shouldn’t Be Your Best Years
College is best thought of as a short term pain for a long term benefit.
By going to college you can set yourself up for a career making a healthy income. With that healthy income you can live a better life in the long run. It’s a classic marshmallow test. The longer you’re willing to defer your gratification, the better you’re going to do.
Do you want to have four good years or would you prefer 40 good years?
That is the choice that college gives you.
You can party through college. You can get a low ROI degree you enjoy. You can skip internship opportunities. You can get a job solely for fun spending income while sacrificing points off the top of your grade. You can risk prison for entertaining transgressions. All these are reasonable choices but you’re just sacrificing your long term potential.
When your frat brothers start asking you to give up studying for some prank that will give you a nice story for the rest of your life, you have to ask if that story is worth the studying you’re giving up. Sometimes it will be. That’s okay. Often, it won’t be.
College sucks because it is supposed to suck.
Improving yourself isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s fitting yourself into a mold that can make you a more capable human being in the long run. (No… you don’t have to stay in that mold your whole life. In fact, I’d suggest you get skilled at changing your mold based on your environment.) It’s unpleasant but it can make you a better person.
The Cautionary Tale
Do not end up like the classical broke and jobless millennial.
If you make the more difficult decisions through college then this will almost never happen.
Because you’ll be one of the people employers are DYING to hire.
There isn’t a lack of college educated people in the world. There is a huge lack of motivated people in the world. Most of your competition in college will be expecting the world to hand them a cushy job with a good salary.
You can be the kind of person that says, “I’d love to be able to afford something other than noodles… but… if I could get my foot in the door…”
My first job out of college paid me less than half of my career’s median salary.
My second job out of college paid me my median salary. Within 6 months (using some creative strategies,) I was able to turn that job into a career paying in the top tiers of my career in a region that really can’t support the number*. I got that extra money because I was willing to take on what my competition ran from.
*This wasn’t even a tough negotiation for me. They gave me a number. I gave them a number with tens of thousands more on it. They accepted. Then I was stuck wondering if I sold myself short with my 20%+ requested raise. This is called a quality problem.
I’m not saying this because I’m some kind of a special case.
I’m just a regular guy and I’m making it because I’ve been willing to put off the marshmallow.
If you’re interested in learning more about these ideas then you might want to read The Most Powerful College Alternative. This is a members exclusive article (but you can join free right on the page.)
My college years were tough. If they weren’t tough then I doubt I’d be where I am today.
How do you push your college marshmallow off to your future? Do you have a summer job? Are taking extra related courses? Are you studying like crazy?