Some of the most interesting questions I get come from people questioning the validity of something I’ve said. Yes… I make a lot of bold claims but I don’t want anyone to take my word for it. Here’s one of those kind of questions:
I’m going to college for a degree that I’m betting you would consider a mistake. I’ve read your arguments but I think you’re wildly underestimating the value of doing something you care about. I could go and get some engineering degree or something but I would hate the experience and I would hate my future jobs. (I hate math.) How can you disparage someone’s college choices when it’s so much based on personal preferences?
-Name Omitted (Let me know if you want credit.)
I love a message like this one because it opens so many potential discussions. I’ll glaze over the first few because I don’t actually think they’re what you’re curious about but they’re important to understand.
Fun note: engineers don’t use as much math as you’d think. It’s often a very people focused job. But that’s almost completely irrelevant.
I would never call a degree that anyone is going for a mistake. I feel like that brings too much personal preference into it. If I have a problem with the particular degree, it’s only because that degree is a bad investment. Sure, there is some subjectivity in investing but 75% of college degrees only get student loans because they’re government backed. Try getting an personal loan for that degree program and you’d never succeed. It’s just a bad investment. If you’re into luxuries then have fun with it.
Personal preferences are subjective. No one would argue with that. If a successful person wants to spend 100 grand on a Philosophy degree instead of an engineering degree then I really couldn’t care less about it. If I cared then it would be like I was arguing with a customer at a ice cream shop about what flavor they’d prefer. “You don’t want vanilla! You want chocolate!” It would be an absolutely stupid case to try and make.
Investments have very little personal preferences involved. It doesn’t matter how much I prefer video cassette tapes to streaming video (I don’t but imagine,) I would never in a million years invest in video cassette tapes. Why not? Because they’re a dead industry. Some wise investors may invest in something tangentially related but a negative profit investment might as well not even be considered a possibility.
Different people may interpret different investments differently but that investment is either profitable or it’s not profitable. If you have a profitable investment, then you can add a little more personal preference into the mix. If you are stuck between engineering and teaching (degrees I’d consider profitable off the top of my head) then you can consider preferences. You might make more doing one but if you enjoy the other more then you might want to do it.
Should you treat your college degree like an investment?
That depends. Do you have tens of thousands of dollars you’re looking to spend on a 4 year thrill ride? Then sure. If you’re planning on borrowing those tens of thousands of dollars then college not being an investment is a super high risk proposition. Sure, some people that go to the casino win big. That doesn’t mean you should invest by gambling at a blackjack table.
Choose whatever college degree you want. The only reason I bring this up is so people can make an informed decision about the difference between a good investment and a bad one. I’ve watched too many friends borrow tens of thousands of dollars for college just to pay those loans back with $10 an hour jobs.
It makes me sick to my stomach. If I end up sounding a little harsh about this then that’s the reason why. I hate to watch good people get thrown down the river by people that claim they’re looking out for their best interest. School counselors say “do what you love” to help pump up their schools college numbers. It has nothing to do with you. They benefit from your poor investing.
I say, do what you love, but don’t lie to yourself about it being an investment. Ideally, don’t create huge loans to pay for what you love when it won’t pay you back.
That being said, I’m just giving my thoughts. You’re the one that has the choice and if you’re making the right decision for you then don’t worry about what I think.
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7 thoughts on “Q/A – Personal Preferences Versus Investments In College Decisions”
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I appreciate you writing this wonderful post. It has really helped me.
Someone is upset they went for a pointless degree.
Investment are pretty much completely subjective as well though.
What looks like a good investment to one person isn’t necesarily a good investment for another person.
There is an objective way to judge an investment though. Is it profitable? How profitable?
Objective returns are different for people in different positions. The risks involved in each investment are different too.
Some students (plenty of family money, certain social circles, etc.) would see a typically poor ROI degree as much more profitable because they’d have more ways to exploit it. They can take advantage of those resources. If they’re wrong, they have very little to lose.
This is the same reason a real estate investor would prefer to invest in real estate. They know the area better than stocks or bonds or turnip trading. Of course they should stick with what they know.
Most students aren’t in a position to be taking a risk like this in the same way most investors shouldn’t be throwing their money into real estate or stocks or bonds. People should understand what they’re getting into or they should pick a relatively risk free approach.
Engineers don’t leave college without job prospects. Sure… not all get jobs but dramatically more of them do get jobs. People know what engineers do. People are willing to pay generic, boring, average engineers to do work. You don’t need to start out with connections or money. It’s less risky and, on average, dramatically more profitable.
And people can look at things as differently as they like but in the end we can see profits and losses. In this case we’re seeing it on average.
People think they’re going to be the exception to the statistics. Everyone does. Statistically… most of them are wrong. I just write this stuff because I hate watching people send themselves down the river without a paddle.
Of course there is some subjectivity to judging investments. Not everyone is looking for dollars. Some people are looking for good feelings. I just don’t like students getting good feelings through college just to be miserable working for nothing years later.
Thanks for the comment.
Do what you love but pay for it.
Exactly. There is nothing wrong with getting a degree that’s a poor investment but at least be ready for the consequences of that decision.