What if I told you college might be the wrong choice for you?
College is the default options for students graduating from high school. Well over half of students that graduate from high school end up going to college. Parents and counselors hound their students about college being the right choice.
There are countless statistics you’ve probably seen that say things like:
- College Graduates Make More!
- College Graduates Are Happier!
- College Graduates Don’t Live At Home Until They’re Thirty!
Do college graduates really make more money?
To say college graduates of 30 years ago made more than high school graduates 30 years ago is possible. To say college graduates of today make more than high school graduates is a whole lot harder to claim.
Prices have gone up. The available majors have increased. The allure of having a degree is less of a big thing to employers (everyone has one.) The competition has increased. College graduates of 30 years ago had a bigger challenge to overcome. They had to be smart enough to get accepted, pay it off without FAFSA, and convince everyone around them they’re not wasting their time.
Heck… look into grade inflation. The only thing statistics from 30 years ago can do is suggest smart people make more money on average.
Of course, it doesn’t suggest the opposite is the truth either. College could be a good choice but most statistics trying to prove it are flawed. There are good reasons to question the classic story you’re told.
Does skipping college mean you’re going to live at home until you’re thirty?
Well… I know plenty of college graduates working minimum wage to pay off tens of thousands of dollars of debt living at home too. Anecdotes aren’t evidence either.
So… Why Should You Go To College
1. As An Investment
An investment is someplace you put your resources to get more resources later.
For college, that means you’re paying 4 years of your life and thousands of dollars. In exchange, you’re expecting to make more money in the future.
College needs money & time.
It provides better job prospects which should mean more money.
College can be a great investment. It can provide massive returns on your investment. 4 years of college can dramatically increase your earning potential. It can give you many more job opportunities.
But… it’s not magical. It’s also not a given. There are good cases against my opinion on this.
As an example:
Imagine I told you to invest your money in the stock market because the stock market goes up 9% a year (not a fair statement but ignore that part.) If you know a little about the stock market then you’d realize…
Wait a second… what stock should I invest in?
That’s the magic question. Some stocks are going up 20% a year. Others are dropping 10% a year. Everything in the market may average to 9% a year but not every stock will provide you 9% a year.
That’s kind of like investing in college. (But you can’t get an index degree…)
To invest in college you need to pick your major carefully.
You need to pick your major based on your best prospects of getting a good ROI. That means:
- Pick a major that pays
- Pick a major that has tons of jobs
- Pick a major you can be comfortable working for years in. (If you can’t stand the job then you won’t get the ROI.)
I know you’ve heard the old “STEM” is the safe choice spiel. I mostly agree with it. I tend to prefer “TEM” for a consistent career, though. (Technology, Engineering, Math.) That’s part of the story.
The other part is personal.
Any major can provide a good ROI if you already have certain required connections. So… if you went for a degree in underwater basket weaving, you’d usually be screwed. But… if you happen to already be friends with a professional underwater basket weaver that has offered to take you under their wing, it may be worth going to college for it. Personal connections can change your ROI.
2. To Learn
I know… the love of learning is a bit cliche but it’s true. College can be an awesome place to learn stuff. It exposes you to experts, new ideas, and deadlines for learning.
If you love a subject then you can go to college to learn more about it.
A cautionary note:
If you don’t have the money to spare then you probably shouldn’t go for this reason. It’s very risky to take out student loans to pay for a degree you won’t make more money off of.
If you can find a way to combine learning what you love with learning what will offer you a good career then you’re on track to having a successful school career.
Why You Shouldn’t Go
1. To Get Away
You’ve probably seen this before (maybe with someone intimate? Yourself, perhaps?)
High school graduates decide to go to college with the sole purpose of getting away from their home. They’ll look at colleges across the country and say, “I want to spend four years there!” The idea of staying near home drives them nuts. They just want to move away.
This is a bad reason to decide to go to college.
Getting away from home is way cheaper and easier than going to college.
If you want to get away from home then go. Move someplace. Get a job. Have all the fun you’re looking to have.
Don’t get thousands of dollars in loans to do it! You will need to work to pay them off someday.
2. To Party!
College parties have a major reputation for being awesome but that’s mostly a myth.
Sure… take dozens of 20-year-olds and throw them into a home together and you’ll probably have an alright party. The demographics are just right. You don’t need to go to college for parties.
You can find awesome parties without paying student loans. Heck… you can usually go to college parties without even being a student. If you’re really up for a good time try some backpacker parties around the world. Yikes…
3. To Do What You’re “Supposed” To Do
Going to college will probably make your parents happy…
But for how long…
They’re always going to want more out of you. Once you go to college they’ll want you to score certain grades. Once you score certain grades they’ll want you to “have some fun once in awhile.” Once you have some fun once in awhile they’ll tell you “you should settle down.” Once you start settling down they’ll think you should “push yourself harder!”
It doesn’t end.
They care about you.
They’ll always be pushing you.
The game of life doesn’t have any winners. We all lose eventually. Sure… it makes sense to put yourself in the best position for your future but it’s all a balance. A job or degree you don’t want doesn’t have any value on the marketplace because you won’t make money off it anyway. It’s a waste of your energy.
There are plenty of smart alternatives to college.
(A big part of the money I’ve made after graduating had almost nothing to do with the degree a got or even the training I got.)
College may be a good option but it’s not even close to the only option.
Take your time. Don’t slam doors shut behind you. You’ll make the right decision for yourself. (You can’t count on anyone else making it.)
Are you thinking about going someplace other than college to advance your future? What are your plans? Have you actually done it successfully?
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