It getting to the time of year when high school seniors around the country are starting to ask the question, “should I go to college?”
This can feel like a really big hairy question to try and get to the bottom of.
It doesn’t have to be that difficult though.
High school students are subjected to quite a bit of indoctrination about the importance of college. Once you learn how awesome your options in life really are, it starts to make the question a lot easier to answer.
With a few simple rephrases, you might be able to answer it in an instant.
By the end of this guide, you’re going to know exactly what you should be thinking about for your future and you’re going to know how to find the answer.
It’s The Wrong Damn Question!
It’s common for students to wonder if they “should go to college or not?” but don’t lose sight of this…
Take note of the phrasing of that question:
It puts your options into two categories.
1. Go To College
2. Absolutely Anything Else In The World
Should you go to college? Well… have you considered the million other options you have available to you. You could:
- Get a job
- Travel the world
- Run away into the woods
- Become an inventor
- Build a business
- Learn to juggle
- Become a professional fighter
- Climb mountains
Get the point?
There are a million different things you could be doing and you shouldn’t narrow yourself to two categories until you’re sure that’s all you need.
It’s going to feel like a really difficult question when you try to narrow it down to two categories.
Instead of asking, “should I go to college?”
Try asking, “should I go to college or work at a grocery store?”
Or try asking, “should I go to college or start a business?”
These are much easier questions to find an answer to.
Finding the right question is key.
What Would You Do If You Could Do Anything?
This is a classic question.
If you could do anything at all with your life, what would you do?
For some people, this introduces an obvious opportunity.
If you’re pretty sure you want to work in child care because you love children then you can narrow it down to two options pretty quick:
Should I go to college and get a degree before getting a job or should I just get a job in childcare now?
The broad question is nearly impossible to answer. This narrowed down version is much easier. You could probably just break it down to a question of which is smarter financially because either way you’re doing what you want.
Write a list of anything that you’d like to do in life.
Try comparing all those options.
Which is your favorite option in this moment?
Which is the most likely to succeed? (Because rock stardom is awfully competitive.)
Which is the easiest to start today?
You may still struggle to find a good answer to your questions but you’ll be much closer to finding an answer because you’ll be ruling out everything else in the world.
That’s exactly why so many students are tempted to think of going to college or not going to college. College is considered the default option. I think that’s a mistake.
I’d Invest In Enron Before College… (But Not Really)
An investment is like a vending machine for money.
You put money into it and then it drops money out of the little slot in the bottom of the machine.
If it’s a good investment then it will drop more money than you put in the machine.
If it’s a bad investment then it will drop less. At a certain point of bad investment, it’s not reasonable to call it an investment anymore.
College is not a good financial investment by itself.
On average, it tends to be a pretty mediocre investment.
If you’re in a low-opportunity major then it’s a terrible investment.
If you’re in a high-opportunity major then it can be an amazing investment.
Payscale has a great list to get a general idea of how a good college investment looks.
The important part about this investment isn’t the college. It’s the job training aspect.
The job training is the investment. Anything else is just a luxury.
There is nothing wrong with buying a luxury you can afford.
College is going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. As an investment, that isn’t a bad thing. As a luxury, that’s pretty darn expensive.
This Is How You Make The Decision Easy
The truth is…
You never have to decide whether or not you’re going to college.
There isn’t an age limit on college. In fact, delaying college could save you money and give you some advantages if you plan for it right.
People will tell you, “if you don’t go now then you’ll never go.”
I know the reason people think that because there are disappointment stories out there.
Many people that delay college end up overcommitting to life outside of college. They end up having children or buying expensive things they can’t afford. And that means they never end up being able to go back to college.
They committed to life outside of college so they’re (kind of) stuck.
But, first of all, if you make the right decisions, you can always be six-months away from going to college. Plan to be flexible in your life and college is always an option.
Second of all, even when people think they’re stuck not going to college, they’re usually wrong.
There are tons of options to help just about anyone get into college. There are free resources. There are loans. There are people that get paid to help with these things. If you want to go to college, it may be tough from certain spots but it’s rarely impossible.
You don’t need to decide right now.
Maybe it will help if you work six months (that convinced me I needed an education.)
Or if you have the resources then maybe you could travel. (That’s an education you can’t get in school.)
If you’re motivated then you can go in a dozen different directions with technical training at something.
And at any point, you’ll still be free to decide to go to college.
How To Make The Decision
If you’ve officially decided college is one of your best options then the question should come down to a few important points.
1. Do You Have A Plan?
What’s your plan if you go to college?
What’s your plan if you don’t go to college?
You should have an answer to both these questions if you have any question in your mind whether you want to go.
Answering these two questions gives you a reasonable way to compare your scenarios. The answers move the abstract concepts into concrete scenarios.
Which plan do you prefer?
If you can’t make a solid plan in either direction, you’re not ready to go to college.
Live a little. Then the decision will be much easier.
2. What’s Your Major?
I know a lot of people preach the “do what you love” approach to college but that always reminds me of close friends still working in fast food with their 4 year degrees.
I have nothing against doing what you love but make sure you can afford it or it could trap you in poverty your whole life.
I don’t recommend becoming a professional gambler. I’m not going to recommend spending tens of thousands of money you don’t have on a degree that probably won’t help you pay it off.
If you have plenty of money in the bank to pay for college then you can ignore this advice. If you’re like most of us:
Pick a major that will pay itself off. (Engineering is the obvious example but tons of options exist.)
Make a list of majors with good job prospects that still interest you.
Then I’m all for picking your favorite of them.
Is your major an investment or a luxury?
I think college could be a fun luxury purchase but taking a hundred grand in debt for a luxury is going to trap you in debt the rest of your life. (You can’t even claim bankruptcy for student loan debt.) Save luxuries for those that can afford them. You want an investment.
3. Can You Get The Money?
This isn’t a question you should try to answer alone.
It depends on a ton of different factors.
Are you still a dependent? (Probably if you’re just graduating.)
If yes, then your parents salary matters (even if they don’t plan on helping you.)
And if you can’t get them to co-sign loans then you might have a hard time paying for an expensive college.
Talk to someone at the college about this. They’d love to help you.
Most of the time, you’re going to be able to afford college with loans. If you’re going to school for a good major then this can be a very good investment.
Can you afford all 4 (or more) years of college?
If you doubt you’ll be able to afford all 4 years then don’t go all in for college. If you get 3 years in but run out of money then you’re temporarily screwed.
It would be better to make the money in advance.
4. Do You Want To Go?
This is the most important question.
It’s the question that many students dread thinking about. (I know I did.)
This question can almost make you feel embarrassed to answer. Your whole life people have been telling you the importance of college. But after years in school, it can look like another 4 years of misery.
Not everyone thinks college looks like it’s going to suck.
If you don’t want to go to college then you shouldn’t be going.
You don’t need to go.
Even assuming college is a good investment, life isn’t all about the money. In fact, even if college is a good investment, job training in a technical field can be a better investment.
People will push you towards college but only you know what’s best for you.
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