Should I go to college? Is it a worthwhile investment? These are the big questions that you’ll be faced with when you are about to graduate high school.
It is one of the biggest decisions of life as it sets the path of your life personally, financially, and professionally. It is no exception that this decision is usually influenced by parents, peers, and the rest of society.
With the rise of technology in the last 40 years we have witnessed numerous radical changes in the way we communicate, learn, and deliver. We have seen a disruption in the job market with many jobs going obsolete and new professions emerging.
Despite all these changes our education system has not kept pace with the shift.
And invariably this lack of reform has made university education dispensable.
While higher education is the right choice for some people, it isn’t necessarily for everyone.
Being a finance graduate myself I have seen my fair share of the university world. I have written to help you make an informed decision about whether or not you should go to university.
Let’s dive into it.
Where Higher Education Came From? Why Was It Necessary In The First Place?
While researching to write this article, a few questions kept popping up in my mind.
Who invented universities?
What was the reason?
Where did this system of higher education come from?
A Google search told me the history of universities dates back to as old as 1000 AD when Cambridge, Oxford, and Paris University came into being.
The primary objective of the university was to create a workforce that used their intellect to think bigger and brighter and broaden their vision to new things and new ideas.
Those ideas could, therefore, lead to new discoveries and inventions which could further be used for the betterment of mankind.
The trend to receive higher education picked up speed after the second world war when the economy exploded with the setting up of new industries and corporations. There was an acute demand for engineers, business managers, healthcare workers, and other skilled labor, etc.
A standardized system of education to train people was needed and universities came forward to fill this role.
New professions came into being with the advancement of technology which required specific skill sets for which going to university was necessary, as it equips the scholar with the knowledge and skills which would help him/her land a good job with a handsome salary.
In the 1970s this all changed.
The college system went on a massive PR campaign to propagandize an entire generation into believing that college would provide high-level job opportunities, and it did.
Universities first started by infiltrating high schools and paying off school districts to post their posters of two people side-by-side. One of which was a blue-collar worker next to a slim and trim guy in a business suit. The posters have taglines like “Which guy do you want to be?”
This created a social and economic boom. People started enrolling in college in the masses.
The system initially worked as people were getting the jobs they were promised.
However, universities pushed the PR campaign too far and now the next generations have raced to obtain their college degrees at a rate much higher than previous ones.
Since there was a proven track record of success, parents instilled the value of college in their children thinking they would achieve the same success story they did, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
The increasing trend of going to university after high school made the authorities raise the cost of tuition to record highs. This was easy to do because not only did they have posters all over high schools showing kids what a loser they would be if they didn’t go to college.
They also had graduate parents at home telling them the same thing. What was the result? This brings me to my next point. Student loans!
State Of The Student Debt In The USA in 2020
The current student loan figures are startling. The 2020 statistics show how serious this crisis has become among all demographics and age groups across America.
According to Forbes, as of 2020, 44.7 million Americans are in repayment for 1.56 trillion in outstanding student loans with debt size tripling since 2005.
On average every student graduates with over $30,000 debt which they think they can pay in the next 10 years.
The student loan category has become the 2nd largest consumer debt category standing next to mortgage debts – higher than both credit cards and car loans.
For many borrowers, the payments are becoming unmanageable.
According to CNBC, 1 million people default on their student loans each year and nearly 40% of borrowers are expected to default on their student loans by 2023.
Student loans are one of the debts where it is almost impossible to file for bankruptcy. The bar is high and the process is more burdensome than other debts.
With these essential numbers at our hands, let’s have a look at our education system.
Is There Anything Wrong With Our Current Education System?
Information is a commodity and our education system is built on memorization of information.
A hundred years ago, things were different. Google didn’t exist and you were required to remember information to produce as needed.
Fast forward a hundred years. Today the internet has put a question mark on our education system because it is predicated on the memorization of information in the world where we have information at our fingertips in a second for zero cost.
Why do I need to remember math when Siri and Alexa can give me answers in 2 seconds? Why do I need to memorize the names of all Presidents of the US when Google can give me the list with a single click?
It’s not just the United States. This system is outdated globally because it adorns you with lots of knowledge but not enough practical skills.
Every human being is different and learns differently. Our formal education style may suit some students but it is not for everyone. Some children are best suited to learn through visual stimulation while some may learn best through hands-on style.
The reality is that the current educational system doesn’t accommodate every learning style, nor does it aim for anything other than high test scores.
This is the reason our graduates are not ready when launched into the real world and brings us to our next point: Increasing unemployment rates among graduates.
Why Are College Grads Underemployed?
Why can’t college grads find jobs?
There are two reasons.
One is because they have zero skills. All they have is bookish knowledge that cannot be applied to anything practical in the real world.
The world moves too fast for our education system to keep up. As soon as the ink dries in a textbook, the information is likely to become obsolete or incorrect before it’s even-handed to the student.
This is the reason employees have to train new grads about work which costs them both time and money. On the same grounds, the greatest companies in the world are not requiring degrees anyway.
The second reason why college grads can’t find meaningful work is because there’s too high a supply of the same people with the same credentials and not enough jobs (demand) to fill them all with meaningful work.
Why Are Large Companies Hiring Without Degrees?
According to The Huffington Post, in 2015, Ernst & Young, one of the UK’s biggest graduate recruiters, has announced it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, saying there is “no evidence” success at university correlates with achievement in later life.
“Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door,”
— Maggie Stilwell, Ernst and Young’s managing partner for talent.
Very recently, Job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of top employers who are expanding their talent options by no longer requiring applicants to have a college degree. Companies like Google, Apple, and IBM are all in this group.
In 2017, IBM’s vice president of talent Joanna Daley told CNBC Make It that about 15 percent of her company’s U.S. hires don’t have a four-year degree.
She said that instead of looking exclusively at candidates who went to college, IBM now looks at candidates who have hands-on experience via a coding boot camp or an industry-related vocational class.
This brings us to the conclusion that as industries transform, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training, and recruiting.”
In comparison to a degree, hands-on experience, by far, is the biggest thing now.
Should I Go To College?
Ask these three questions to yourself first.
1. Do I Know 100% What Career I Want?
There are certain career paths that require you to go to college. They in fact need you to go. For example, if you want to become an engineer, or a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer.
If you are 100% sure what you should pursue as a career and you are willing to spend a minimum of four years in university, this should be a sure path for you.
Switching majors after entering the university is not a good option as it wastes both time and money. But if you have the money to experiment and take a variety of classes until you figure out your major, then sure, do that.
2. Can I Afford College?
Do you have funds to pay for college tuition?
Are your parents supporting you financially?
Have you received a scholarship or a grant?
Would you be taking private loans to pay for your college? Sites like Credible will help you pay less on student loans.
If you have to take debt what justification do you have?
Have you done your math already?
What will be the scope of your chosen career after four years?
What job opportunities will you have once you graduate?
As a fresh graduate, how much would you be making annually? The last question becomes important if you have a debt to pay off.
3. Do I Enjoy Formal Classroom-Style Education?
You can easily answer it for yourself as you have completed high school and know what way you learn the best.
You Should Go To College:
If the answer to all of the above questions is yes, you should enroll yourself in college.
In addition to preparing for a career, college does provide you with a way to meet new people, expand your social circle, and create a network of friends that may help you in later life.
You Should Not Go To College:
If the answer to any of the questions is No, college is not a good choice for you.
If you don’t have the funds, think a hundred times before taking loans for college. There are several cheaper and more time-efficient ways to get good jobs without degrees. You can make connections and network without going to college as well. Starting your own business does not require a degree in any way.
Don’t let parents, society, or peer pressure persuade you to attend college if it is not the right decision for you.
What Are Some Alternatives To College:
If college is not a good choice for you, let’s take a look at what alternatives we have.
1. Take A Gap Year
“For many students, a gap year is about crystallizing their decision-making; developing self-directed and self-regulation skills, broadening their competencies and self-organization and perhaps their confidence.”
Andrew J. Martin, published in the Journal of Higher Education.
It never hurts to wait a little. You can do a lot of exciting things this gap year and find out if college is the best route for you.
- Find an internship in your area of interest
- Volunteer at a charity
- Go travel and explore
- Do side projects
- Do job-shadowing
2. Work A Job
There are certainly some professions which do not require a degree at all. For example
- Become a physical trainer
- Commercial Pilot
- Insurance sales representative
- Medical assistant or secretary
- Criminal detective
- Physical trainer
- Loan officer
- Massage therapist
- Graphic designer (or use Canva and become a Freelancer)
- Web developer
- Computer coder
- Create an online business
- Power Plant Operator
- Transportation Inspector
- Personal Care Aide
- Subway and Streetcar Operator
- Farmer or rancher
Read my article on ways to make 200 dollars in one day for additional money making ideas.
3. Pursue A Creative Talent
If you are a creative person, formal education is not for you. As talent comes naturally to you, you can use your creativity and turn it into a full flash blooming career with some hard work. What creative talents can you pursue as a career?
- Stand up comedy
- Painting / Sketching
4. Take Free Online Courses
All big universities have gone online for lectures. Go to their websites and you will know what free online courses they are offering.
University of People is another free online institution that offers tuition-free education to anyone and everyone. Students can receive an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in business administration or computer sciences. The curriculum is designed by volunteers.
The school was recently accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council. It has applied for accreditation from the Department of Education, and it’s believed that they’ll meet the requirements.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is another free platform which millions of people around the world use to learn for a variety of reasons, including career development, college preparations and corporate learning etc.
5. Join The Military
You can become a part of forces be it Army, Air Force or Marines. It will help you learn discipline and leadership skills. You will make good money with zero to no living costs.
Free health care services will be provided for you and your family.
Military also allows you to retire after 20 years of service with lots of benefits.
To learn more about joining the military, you can visit these helpful websites:
6. Become A Realtor
If you want to help people buy the perfect home or make money by selling their houses, real estate could be an exciting field for you.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real estate agents make an average of $59,720 per year—and the top 10% tier of agents earned a whopping $178,720 in 2019. There is no cap on your income. The more you hustle – the more you make.
To become a realtor in the US, you have to take a pre-licensing course and then pass a real estate licensing exam. The cost of tuition, exam and activation of the license will cost under $1000. Rules of exam vary from state to state so make sure to check out your state real estate commission’s website.
7. Build A Personal Brand
The term ‘’brand’’ is often confused with business. The two are different. The brand is an affirmation of who you are and what you love to do. In this age of technology, it is easier than ever for everyone to build a personal brand by taking the help of various modes and building an engaged audience.
If you like to write? Start a blog
Enjoy talking? Start a podcast
Not afraid of the camera? Start your own YouTube channel
Provide value to your following and be authentic. The earlier you start the better.
This audience can later be leveraged to sell your products or services.
8. Apply For Fellowship Or Apprenticeship
Being an intern or an apprentice allows you to test a career before committing. While many internships and apprenticeships are unpaid, they provide valuable experience in the workforce and may help you decide whether to pick that career or not.
Co-founder of Paypal Peter Theil offers Theil fellowship of $100,000 every year to young kids under 22 years of age who have new ideas to pursue as startups.
The program is competitive and only 20 students are selected each year.
9. Start A Business
It is easier and cheaper than ever to start a business of your own. There is no need for brick and mortar stores. All you need is a laptop with an internet connection.
I have written a detailed guide on different business ideas which can generate $200 or more in a day and do not require any degree.
Also, there is an amazing website Fizzle.co, which helps you start and grow the online business of your dreams by providing you with the roadmaps, courses, coaching and very helpful community inside its platform.
10. Enroll In A Technical/ Trade School
There is a growing domestic demand for high-precision skills. Skilled trade workers like carpenters, plumbers and electricians are a disproportionately older population.
As they begin to retire, there will be a large number of jobs to fill. The technical college will prepare you to take on those roles.
Positions such as information technology experts, dental hygienists, radiology technicians, and medical transcriptionists often require a certification that takes much less time to earn than a bachelor’s degree. You can easily get these certifications through trade college.
11. Enroll In A Community College
Community colleges are institutes which offer two years of education in basic subjects like history, science, mathematics etc. These colleges offer associate degrees and you can transfer your credit hours earned at community college to university if you wish to pursue further higher education.
Community colleges are way cheaper than universities. According to the 2018 Trends in College Pricing report released by the College Board, the 2018-2019 school year was $35,676 at four-year private colleges, $9,716 for state residents at public colleges and $21,629 for out-of-state students at state schools. On the other hand, community colleges charge about $3,660 on average per year for in-state students. This saves significant money on tuition.
Community colleges have associate degree programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With some degrees, you can expect to earn more than $50,000,
There’s no denying the fact that college offers many financial, professional, and personal benefits. Numerous studies have shown that college graduates have far better financial and job prospects than those who don’t attend college. But If you are taking on debt to get there, ask yourself if it is worth it. And if you have read How to Become a Millionaire by Tyler Green, you can see that college can be a part of your plan, but it definitely doesn’t have to be.
The days of having no options without a college degree are over. College teaches you a lot of intangible skills which will benefit you over time but there are many other ways to acquire those same skills.
You have to figure out what you want in life and work backwards. Take your time, find out where you want to see yourself in the next 10 years, research what is the cheapest and the most time-efficient way to get there, have a look at the data, consider alternatives and make an informed decision whether you should go to college or not.
If you’d like to see more alternatives to college, check out the course that I created for only $10 to walk you through 30+ ideas.
Just remember, success in the future won’t be defined by a college degree, but by potential and the ability to learn, apply, and adapt. Those who are the most adaptable and flexible will survive.
And finally, if you’d like an additional video resource that adds an added voice to the article above see the video I’ve included below from YouTube.