Skipping college doesn’t mean you can’t be a smart student of life. This blog looks like a college study blog but it’s actually a life study blog. We are all students of life.
College has been the go-to choice for graduating high school students for decades now. It’s been the thought free decision that virtually every student and high school counselor. Students are being herded into college in greater numbers than at any point in history (and yes that word choice is intended to remind you of cattle being lined up for the slaughter but it’s not quite that simple.)
Decades ago, graduating college meant something. It was a distinguishing characteristic that could nearly guarantee you a competitive edge in the job market. A college education meant something because it was something rare and competitive. Now that virtually every student has one (or can get one if they want one,) it means a whole lot less.
There is something that is actually meaningful though.
It’s the thing that will have employers offering you more money and choices than you could ever dream of today. It’s the thing that will motivate you through life.
The really interesting thing is that this thing is actually pretty simple…
Take a look at the grade inflation taking place in American colleges to understand why employers don’t value a college education like they used to. Yes… in many ways, a college education is a standard prerequisite for the traditional “good job,” but that’s significantly due to legal regulation and not employer decisions. The reality is that most of those legal regulations requiring college degrees can be and are skirted by employers looking to get the most competitive of employees every single day.
If you can do a job better than the other guy and the employer is capable of appreciating that benefit then you will get a job. (This tends to be smaller employers. Big companies often end up hiring based on checklists.) Being able to do the job better than the other guy rarely has to do with going to college. Here’s why:
Liberal Arts Education
If you look at anyone that’s extraordinarily skilled in one area of their life, they’re almost always deficient in another area (or at the very least, not extraordinary.) World class writers are rarely world class mathematicians. In the rare case that they are, they’re almost never world class jugglers too. People only have so much time to invest in their skills. Everything that someone decides to become world class in is a decision to not become world class in something else.
Sadly, most people never even give themselves the chance to become world class at anything. They spread themselves so thin that they’re lucky if they’re good at a handful of different skills. This is something that a typical liberal arts education encourages.
BUT I’M NOT THINKING ABOUT A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE?!
Almost all college educations are liberal arts degrees to some extent. You cannot get an engineering degree in most schools without taking classes in writing, public speaking, and all kinds of mildly related subjects. You can’t get English degrees without taking math classes. All these silly tangents are splitting your time until you’re inevitably not going to become great at anything.
Most employers are looking for specialists. Division of labor is one of the most powerful ways they can optimize their operations. Employers don’t care if their engineers or doctors appreciate the beauty of Shakespeare or how to give a good speech. Employers don’t care if their English teacher sucks at Algebra. They care about their job getting done right.
But colleges do worse than that.
Virtually no college degree programs directly prepare you for a job. An engineering degree will give you a broad education that will teach you abstract math (99% of which you won’t use on a daily basis. It’s valuable but not on a daily basis.) An engineering degree will teach you limited introductions to different branches of engineering but they don’t have a general introduction to an engineering job. All engineering jobs are dramatically different. If you invested your energy directly into preparing for your job you’d be a better employee than most engineering graduates in less than a year.
Similar situations arrive with almost every college degree you can get. (Most of the college degrees that this isn’t a problem with are college degrees that don’t offer a good return on investment anyway.)
BUT I CAN’T GET THE JOB WITHOUT THE DEGREE!?
Statistically, you’re going to struggle to get your first job without the degree but you don’t need statistical likelihood. You need creativity and one person to give you a chance. Once you get that chance (even if it’s not your ultimate target chance) if you’re properly qualified, you’re going to blow that employer away in no time. At that point, the world is yours.
There are people without college degrees working in virtually every field making dramatically more than college graduates. They are not statistically likely but quite frankly, I don’t think you’re statistically likely either.
99% of people that don’t go to college aren’t all that bright. The fact they aren’t going to college isn’t their bad decision, it’s everything else that’s their bad decision. It’s the way they don’t plan. It’s the way they take silly risks. It’s the way they settle for less. If you’re skipping college with every intention of working in a $10 an hour job whiling you party at night then you aren’t going to succeed.
Here you are, looking up alternatives to college because you know avoiding college is a radical decision worth making an intelligent well-thought out decision about. You are not average. You are capable of amazing things.
Here is the one ultimate alternative to college that you need to understand. If you learn to focus on this one aspect of your life, you will succeed. It’s the same thing that made college so powerful for changing lives decades ago.
You need to learn something valuable that most people don’t understand and you need to learn it well.
There are three key points in that sentence.
1. Something Valuable
You need to learn a skill that’s worth a lot of money. That skill can be any of a million different things. It can be trading stocks. It can be programming. It can be website development. It can be sales. It can be writing books. If you see something that people regularly make good money off of then it’s a good place to start. If it’s something you do for pleasure then even better.
I’ll go over some of the challenges with some of these later but for now I suggest you start to brainstorm ideas.
After you come up with those ideas you can see how well they fit with the next two important points.
2. Something Most People* Don’t Understand
The smaller the percentage of people that understand what you understand, the better off you’re going to be. Choosing to become a good writer is an example of a tough industry. A lot of people can write really well. (And… writing well doesn’t matter. It’s writing in a way that engages people that matters. “Great” writers often lack an audience.) That makes it tough to compete. Fewer people know how to program. That makes programming a slightly more valuable skill.
Programming happens to be where I got my first “big” opportunity in life. It’s treated me well but you can’t count on it staying valuable much longer. The newer something is, the tougher it is to find experts.
*Most people can just mean most people in an industry. What industry under utilizes the skill you have. If you can figure that out, you can make quite a bit of money. Quick tip: most small engineering firms don’t have programmers on staff despite managing hundreds or thousands of drawings.
3. Learn It Well
People with a college degree have proof that they’re minimally skilled in a subject. They can hold up a degree and say “SEE! SOMEONE THINKS I’M COMPETENT!” If you choose to give up on college then you can’t just say you’re competent. You need to make it damn obvious you know what you’re talking about. Positive references can carry you years from now but to get your first chance you need to prove it.
If you can’t crush the average college graduate with the information you know on a subject then you shouldn’t be wasting your time applying for a job. While a college graduate has the luxury of being an idiot, skipping college requires you be intelligent to do well.
Study. Learn. Study more. If you can sleep, eat, and breath the subject you’re learning then absolutely no one will be able to keep you from making a huge impact on the industry (as long as you’re creative and flexible enough in the process.) With that huge impact, you will make money. It’s inevitable. (People often end up throwing work in your direction that you have to pass on because you’re already overbooked.)
Here is the great thing about the money though.
It will come fast once you get your chance. Since you have to develop your skill so well, when someone finally does give you that chance, odds are, they’re going to absolutely fall in love with your skills. You’re going to have the opportunity to negotiate for dramatically more than the average person coming out of college. More importantly, you’re not going to have any student loans to pay off for it.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you choose to go to college. If you make intelligent decisions then you’ll be fine. If you make stupid (or poorly thought out) decisions then you won’t do well.
The Most Powerful College Alternative Is An Education
Can you get an education in college? Sure… but showing up to your classes isn’t going to be where that education comes from.
That is the key to living good with or without going to college.
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