Should You Go to College? Maybe Not

I remember a dinner I had twelve years ago. I was 16 sitting at the dining room table with my family. The subject of college came up and both my parents declared that all of their children would go to college. If they sensed any disagreement on the matter it would result in sudden eviction from their home, plus not being able to finish your meal before being thrown out like junk mail.

If you’re anything like me you’ve been taught your whole life that college is important. The winning formula seems to be:

Graduate High School + Graduate College + Get Great Job = Success

Doesn’t it seem strange to assume that one formula would work for everyone? It’s so weird!

If you are going through this struggle right now, or you have children going through this, I highly urge you to challenge the importance of going to college immediately after high school. There are several reasons why it could benefit you to wait (or not go at all).

Save $$$

What gets your attention more than money? The average cost of tuition in 2017-18 to go to a private college is, on average, $34,000 for one year. Adding three more years of schooling brings you to a grand total of $136,000! Is your eye twitching yet or just mine?

If you’re not sure about what you want to go to school for, why are you getting ready to spend that kind of cash? It would be far cheaper to go to a state or junior college instead, Rather, why not …

Get a Job

Work for a couple years before deciding to go to college. Many companies want their new hires to have several years of work experience under their belt anyway. Here’s why:

First, you need experience working with others. Just like you’re made to play with others in grade school you need to learn to work with others in a job. Nobody wants to hire Pissed-off Pete or Side-Eye Sarah who don’t know how to work well with others. Work experience will improve your social skills and your emotional intelligence.

Second, and arguably most important, you need to learn how to balance your life. You’re going to have a job for the majority of your life. Learning how to balance your work and personal time is a must have skill that will benefit you greatly in your years to come.

Find time to learn how to work and build skills, but don’t become a workaholic.

Trade School

I’m going to type this next part in ALL CAPS so you read it nice and clear: IT’S PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE FOR YOU TO GO TO TRADE SCHOOL INSTEAD OF, OR BEFORE, COLLEGE.

Trade schools are high in demand. They boast cheaper costs to attend and typically pay a higher salary sooner than most college graduate jobs. Did I mention they are in high demand? *Psst* They’re in high demand.

Many Americans come off as spoiled because they tend to think of trade jobs as beneath a college education. Not true! Ironic how you could never see yourself as a plumber but as soon as your toilet breaks down you have to pay $60 minimum just to have one come LOOK at your toilet.

If neither of those options sounds enticing, maybe you could …

Live Abroad

Residing in another country seems like something that wouldn’t prep you for the work force, but that isn’t necessarily true. Living in another country broadens your perspective on different cultures relative to your own. Plus, learning another language can be your ticket into a company that needs bilingual people.

As long as you don’t spend ALL of your time partying, you could learn some valuable skills that will benefit you in the future.

Here’s the Take Away

Look at the predominant age group that attends college: 18-24 year-olds. When was the last time you looked at an 18 year old and thought they knew anything besides how not to vote ever? Society recognizes 18 year-olds as adults but treats them as if they know nothing.

70 years ago it was normal to get married when you were 20. Now, watch all the judgmental stares pierce your soul once you’ve announced you’re engaged at 20. If you don’t expect someone to be mature enough to choose a life partner at that age then why would you expect them to know what career path to choose?

I blame it on the Internet. Most millennials and all of Generation Z grew up with the Internet in their lives. The Internet is an infinite source of data and social connection. The average teenager has access to instant information, insights, and interests at one simple flex of their index finger.

How then are these young people supposed to choose a major and stick with it? Doesn’t it seem aggressively old school to think this? Why does society continue to think that what once worked for it in a time without the internet will continue to work in a time where the Internet is God?

I remember the progression of dream jobs that I wanted growing up. It looked like this: Rock Star, Dentist, President, Professional Basketball Player, Lawyer, Rock Star again (my hormones were raging at this point), etc. Basically, if I grew an interest in something, I could envision myself in the top-tier of that industry.

Have you ever heard of those cliche stories where a doctor recounts the moment they knew they wanted to become a doctor? I’ll bet you $20 they were a kid romping through a park when they came across an injured bird. They put the bird in a shoe box and fed it breadcrumbs until it was healthy enough to fly away. At that moment, they realized that healing things (and soon, people) would be their calling.

I never had that moment! I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school so I went to junior college. I performed well enough in Political Science that I decided to choose that as my major. Then, I transferred to UC Davis to study it.

If you were wondering, there aren’t many career paths with a degree in Political Science. You can:

  • Join the military (no thanks, but much respect to our Active/Reserve service people!)
  • Find a job in politics (I don’t have the complexion for sunbathing in Hell, so that wasn’t an option either)

If I had no plan for a career then what was I doing? I’ll tell you what. I was trying to fit in with society’s expectations of me, with my parents’ expectations of me, with my own expectations…

I should have had the courage to tell my parents that I really didn’t know what I was doing and forego moving up to Davis for college. Regretfully, I didn’t. I promptly dropped out after my first year and moved home.

Don’t be like me.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have something to declare: THINKING SOMETHING IS “INTERESTING” IS NOT A GOOD REASON TO GO TO COLLEGE AND SPEND TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. This isn’t 1980 anymore. The average cost per credit for a four-year institution is well over $300 (vastly more for a private college) . I assure you, there is simply no more room for guessing and uncertainty when deciding to go to university.

You need to feel within you an unwavering force that compels you to study something. It needs to have come to you in an epiphany. You need to be so certain that you would risk every thing in order to go to college and learn this subject. That’s when you’ll know whether you should go right after high school, or you should wait.

Heed My Words

If you’ve gotten this far into this blog post, I appreciate you having an open mind. It takes a lot of cojones to stray away from what society tells you to do. However, it is when you take risks and learn from your mistakes that you reap the greatest rewards life has to offer.

Remember this: Graduating high school and then going to college is just one way to live your life. It is not the only way to do it. Humans come in all different shapes, colors, sizes, and mental capacities. You need to find out what works for you, not what works for everyone else.

After all, as Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”