Why Go to College?

why go to college?With all the hype over the Occupy Wall Street movement, specifically their beef with student loans, I think we must confront one of the main questions they raise: why go to college?

Ten years ago this question would not be spoken in student circles. College is an inevitable necessity, most will say, even despite the recent job market and mounting student loan debt.

I think those asking why go to college raise a good point: If it is going to take approximately half of your working career to simply pay for your degree, what is the point?

Sure, a college degree can give you access to a higher-paying job, but at the expense of massive debt. So when you are using that higher-paying job to buy more expensive clothes, homes and cars, you are further tying yourself to a cycle where you must always make more money next year, or at least not lose any ground.

Even in our house, we recently paid off one student loan and are poised to pay off the last. Even with aggressive debt payoff efforts, it still took us TEN years.   

Is College a Scam?

Many people who recently graduated and feel that they have no hope of finding a job may be asking themselves if college is a scam. If you look at the rising cost of providing an education, including the exorbitant salaries and benefits paid at public universities, it may appear that college is mostly benefiting the teachers and administrators.

Anyone who hates government waste can easily look through a public university’s course offerings and find many classes that would enrage them. If you think that makes you mad, take a look through the annual reports of your state’s public schools and look at their top ten highest paid employees (not counting the athletic directors or coaches who are often paid out of private funds).

You will see many professors and administrators making hundreds of thousands of dollars. You will also find emeritus professors or honorary professors who make a lot of money for doing nothing more than saying they are affiliated with a certain school.

Why go to college if it’s just becoming another commodity? But is it a scam: probably not, because you know what you are getting.

Should I Go to College?

Like I said before, ten years ago if a kid asked me if they should go to college I would say yes without hesitation. Today, I would not be so quick to rush them there.

Kids are growing up at a slower pace these days, though it seems like pop culture is doing its best to sexualize them at the earliest age possible. The median age that people are marrying is going up, and more young people are choosing to live with their families and treat their twenties more like their teens.

So if I was asked why go to college, I would first ask that young person what their goals are. If they are skeptical about college, what are your alternatives to college? If the student laid out a solid plan to start or expand their own business, and they appeared to be serious, I may tell them to put college on hold.

In less than four years, most competent people could build their own online business with no debt and be earning a good income.

Please note I would only steer someone away from college if they had something viable in the works. For those who are just uncertain, I would urge they do some more soul searching.

Life IS NOT short and there is plenty of time to ponder the right decision.

Do You Want to Play the Game?

So it’s no secret that one of our economy’s biggest downfalls is a lack of jobs for people who don’t want to go to college. I think we are doing our citizens a great disservice by assuming on their behalf that no one wants a blue collar job.

The fact is, we need jobs for people who like to work with their hands, and maybe don’t have an interest in studying string theory and other things that have no impact on their life.

By overburdening businesses with regulations and making it generally cheaper and easier to outsource jobs to other countries, we are becoming even more enslaved to the vicious cycle of work.

In the place of blue collar jobs we must churn out more jobs where people are simply moving one pile of money to another account and generating income from fees. These jobs where we invent new financial derivatives offer no value to the world and we need to stop pretending like they do.

We are also banking on service jobs, where we hope that the college-educated people make enough money to afford haircuts and shoeshines from those who didn’t want to go to college. This is a dangerous hope.

As I said before, life IS NOT short. If you want to take your time and start your own business, or try a sales career, go for it.

College will always be there as an option, and pay no mind to anyone who would look down on you if it wasn’t your first choice.

What do you think? Should college be the only option? 

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49 Comments
  1. I personally think college is almost always a good thing. Unless you’re going for an arts or english degree, I don’t see where it could harm anything. I wouldn’t be able to even come close to even working in my internship if I didn’t have some education behind me, and the more the better. I think it depends on the job you’re going for, though.
    Daisy recently posted..Change: Why You Should Embrace ItMy Profile

    • I agree about the job you are going for. Read something recently that parents should be encouraging their kids to go into math and science fields if they want to make good money.
      John recently posted..Why Go to College?My Profile

  2. I think your article covers all the bases about the college vs. no college debate. I believe that if you choose not to go to college, you have to have a skill or trade that you pursue in order make a living. On the flip side, I know many people with college degrees, of all kinds, that can’t find jobs. A degree doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it does help get your foot in the door. Keep in mind the future job market for the degree you plan on getting, and get experience in that field while attending college. Lastly, don’t limit your skills to one, the more things you can do, the better your chances are of finding a good career.
    Monica recently posted..Barclay’s Ring Card: The Tail Wagging the Dog …My Profile

    • Very good advice. The key is to live intentionally. Thanks for reading!

  3. College is needed for my field. However, I don’t think it’s for everyone, but in most cases it’s the better option I believe.
    Michelle recently posted..Money Life LessonsMy Profile

    • I do think for most people it’s a better option, simply because our leaders refuse to address the lack of manufacturing and blue collar jobs.

  4. College of any kind help us to get perspective and get hold of the subject. It teaches us to do things we otherwise can’t do. But that’s it. once you know how to do things, its up to you to improvise.

    Ones that improvise better become successful at work. World is not fool to put weight on college degrees. So, I think a college education is better option.
    SB @ One Cent at a Time recently posted..The Better Investment – Gold or Silver?My Profile

    • I agree. College taught me how to learn, but I rarely use anything I learned in college in my daily life.

  5. John,
    I’m not sure I’ll be sending my son to college unless he wants to go. I’m still saving just in case, but I hope he uses the money for his first business.

    • That’s a great way to approach it. I think good parents are capable of raising good entrepreneurs.

  6. I definitely don’t think that college should be the only option. If you want to go into a trade, there’s no point in going to college – a 2-year school or a trade school will suffice. I actually think that college at 18 is a HORRIBLE idea. I had no idea what I wanted to do at 18 (didn’t at 25, or 28, and now – a few weeks shy of 30 – I’m still not sure). Going to college has given me the opportunity to explore my options, so I’m glad I went. I’ll urge my children to take a few years off between high school and college to really learn about who they are and what they want out of life before pursuing higher academics.
    Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals recently posted..Can You Learn to Delay Gratification?My Profile

    • Elizabeth – I do not believe university should be a choice at 18. I feel that everyone should take a year or two between high school and university.
      I have just figured out what I want to do, but I am not going to take the route of a school. I am just going to figure it out by myself. I may not be an expert or have a doctorate, but I will get to learn what I want to learn.
      MyCanadianFinances recently posted..My Take On Having An Emergency FundMy Profile

    • Very cool that you are open and encouraging of kids taking opportunities to learn about themselves and the world. We put them in school for 12 years. Give ‘em a year or two to travel.

    • I like your honesty and openness to other paths!

  7. College is essential. college time is a great time to learn a lot. many students do not realize the opportunity of college time when they can learn a lot more than they can learn after joining a job.

    to do this you got to expose college students to real world. I have seen that life is college is very different from life in a job. This distinction can be blurred with more internships etc.

    • Internships are definitely a great way to add real-world relevancy to college. Thanks for stopping by Karunesh!

  8. I would definitely like to see more options than just college for students coming out of high school. College was definitely for me, but I know lots of people who have gotten up to Masters degrees and have not used them. They would have been better served with a technical school or another alternative. I think I will encourage my daughter to pursue college in the sciences, but if she shows no interest, then I will encourage her to explore other options. I don’t want her to be tied down with exorbitant student loans like I am. At least I’ve had good paying jobs where I have been able to pay over half of my student loan in about three or so years. I still have a long road ahead of me, though.
    Analytical Planner|PlanningMakes Cents recently posted..Air Conditioner Goes Out: Complete Panic or Major Annoyance?My Profile

    • I’m with you. People should be more open minded and realize that some kids don’t know what to do at 18, but some really have it figured out.

      Thanks for stopping by, AP!

  9. God no. I don’t believe there’s any point going unless you have an idea of what you want to do.

    I knew exactly what I wanted to do, at which university. But let’s face it, not everybody knows that at 18.

    I think for those who don’t know what to do, taking some time to travel or just work different jobs is a great thing.

    And of course, going into the trades is an equally valid option.
    eemusings recently posted..The art of the one car householdMy Profile

    • I agree. I think it teaches a good lesson to say “slow down.” Once you graduate you MUST find a job in order to survive. I’d be willing to help my kids explore their options.

  10. Great post, John. College is a cost benefit analysis like anything else. The upside of NOT going to college immediately is inherent when you examine success rates among students. Older students get higher grades and graduate more quickly (which, I would imagine means less debt…but I haven’t seen any facts on that portion…..). In short, older students do a better job at college because THEY KNOW WHY THEY’RE THERE (sorry about the caps, but don’t know how to italicize in comments….).
    AverageJoe recently posted..I Miss CheckbooksMy Profile

    • Well said, Joe.

      Imagine working a few years to find a field you really love, saving up money for college, graduating debt free with better grades. Sounds like wins all around.

      I know too many people who don’t even use their degrees.
      John recently posted..Why Go to College?My Profile

  11. College is a opportunity to learn a lot and try a lot of new things that one can do after working on a job

  12. ANother thing to consider: The bar for ‘going to college’ has been lowered significantly by online and for profit colleges and degrees..many of which are not accreditted and in so many words, actual scams that leave you in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
    Azra ReadyForZero recently posted..Can the Special Direct Consolidation Loan Program Help You?My Profile

    • Great point – this is something I did not include but should have mentioned.

      There are entire schools that are scams and the graduation rates from these places are atrocious. Plus the government in America allows them to accept federal student aid, which is a lose-lose for taxpayers.

  13. This article is very near and dear to my situation John. An article similar to this is on my to do list. I do think college is a huge scam! It is rooted so deep in our culture and people just accept it. I relate college and the coveted degree to being in an elusive members only club. Not a member, can’t come in. Don’t have a degree, don’t even apply.

    I am currently learning so much more by reading blogs, books and magazines, and also listening to talk radio and podcasts than I ever learned in college. And I am learning about things I care about. Forced college prerequisite courses were such a huge waste of time and money.

    Thanks for the great post. If I ever get to mine on this subject, I will be linking to this one.
    Matt @ RamblingFever Money recently posted..Mutual Funds Explained for DummiesMy Profile

    • Awesome, Matt! Where there is smoke, there is fire, and people are starting to wake up to the many problems in higher education. Many public universities spend money like water, and the private ones are hoarding endowments that would make them Fortune 500 companies if they sold shares. Don’t even get me started on the for-profit schools.

      I don’t think that everyone should go to college, just like everyone shouldn’t own a house. There is nobility in a hard day’s work. My father didn’t go to college and I don’t consider him any less intelligent than anyone else.

  14. I see a lot of students going to college, slacking off, and graduating with mountains of student loans. These students graduate with less than a 3.0 GPA, don’t join any organizations that could benefit them, and concentrate on other things for fun. A lot of people think college is to have fun, not to study. Unfortunately, often times these are the students that do not find college useful.

    But it’s all about a higher education. If you want to go to college, and know you will have to spend money, then spend money wisely. Professors have connections and relationships. Get to know your professor, after all your are paying them to teach you. I have friends, including myself, who have been recommended to companies by professors, just because they think of us when they talk to those companies. That comes from building relationships, going to their office hours, participating in class, keeping up with them after the semester is over, etc.

    Schools also offer organizations affiliated with professional organizations. Take advantage of the opportunities. A lot of students are scared away because it might be a little more work, but life takes work, do it.

    If you know you want to do this and are willing to work hard, then college is a good option. If your ant to have fun and party, and don’t have enough money, start at a community college.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..Higher Oil Prices Here They ComeMy Profile

    • Very well said. If you don’t know what you want to do, you should take a step back. People are quick to judge those who don’t follow the expected path, but I think we can end some of this thinking.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. As a blue collar guy, it sucks that I didn’t go to college and that I have nothing else open to me. I’m stuck. I want my girls to go to college so they can have chances and opportunities that I didn’t. College opens doors that aren’t open to me. Just having a degree, in whatever subject, is enough to get your foot in the door somewhere. I think they’re really important, but I also agree that people need to pay attention to money and not just buy into the system. Is there anything wrong with a community college for 2 years first?

    • I don’t think there is anything wrong with community college. I think it’s a shame that we have closed so many doors for people who want to work hard in blue collar industries, like my father.

      I like your point about paying attention to money. This is one thing we can do to carve out small victories in a broken system.

      Thanks for reading!
      John recently posted..Best Personal Finance Writing – Week 11My Profile

      • Just because you didn’t go straight after school doesn’t mean you can’t go back to university!

        My fiance went back and got uni-entrance qualified after a couple of years. So if he decides to do a degree in the future that door is open to him.
        eemusings recently posted..On blogging, identity and niches (plus a surprise bonus!)My Profile

      • Certainly nothing is wrong with Community College! Depending on the type of job you’re hoping to get, 2 years at a Community College might be all that’s necessary for a rewarding career.

        For others that want to complete a 4 year degree… starting at a CC is a great way to save some money and still get the schooling you want or need. With an uncertain economy (and especially with so much talk of a higher education bubble) saving money where you can is a smart move!

    • TB there is nothing wrong with a community college. Most employers don’t even realize you were at a community college once you transition into a four year school. I actually encourage students to take community college classes. I took a lot of my basic during the summer, in order to graduate faster. Plus, with the education tax credit, you get some of the money back. I recommend that if you do go to a community college first, to start talking to your school about what classes transfer to your chosen degree plan. It will save you even more money and time. Community college try to sell you a lot of classes that are not necessarily going to transfer to your degree plan.
      SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..Roller Coasters and Sudden MortalityMy Profile

  16. I have to say that college is STILL the cover charge for being seriously considered by corporations. Aside from the financial implications..the reality is that the capability of the next generation is increasing at an astounding rate. New hires are coming into the workplace with the right degrees and practical experience.
    BusyExecutiveMoneyBlog recently posted..What are your “R” Numbers?My Profile

    • I agree – nothing will change the fact that college is a cover charge to a special club.

      Each generation becomes more productive than the last, which means we are able to squeeze more work out of fewer jobs. Eventually this math equation is going to become completely unbalanced and something will have to be done. What, I don’t know at this time.

  17. You make some good points either way. In my opinion, I still think college is better than nothing. And I only say this because everyone I have observed who does not have a college degree is still earning significantly less than their graduate peers. Sometimes even if they are doing practically the same job. It seems unfair, but that is the way that corporate America has structured things.

    This does not change the fact, however, the costs are rising out of control to questionable rates. Mark my words – this is a bubble in the making.
    MyMoneyDesign recently posted..Another Expense Reduced – Refinancing Your Auto LoanMy Profile

    • I agree about the bubble. College is definitely better than nothing, though may not always be better than something else. I just hope young people make these decisions responsibly and be true to themselves.

      thanks for reading!

    • It probably has a lot to do with the kinds of circles we run in, but most of the tradespeople I know are killing it – either running their own businesses or as contractors.

      If you’re talking solely in the white collar world though, in comparing degree vs non-degree, then I definitely agree.
      eemusings recently posted..On blogging, identity and niches (plus a surprise bonus!)My Profile

  18. A good economy fixes EVERYTHING. We’re just in a rut, but as we gradually get out of the funk, more and more people will be loving their return on investment.

    Private school though……. ouch. Unless it’s a top 10-20 school, I recommend the great public universities!
    Financial Samurai recently posted..Should I Take Profits And Sell Stocks? You Can Never Lose If You Lock In A GainMy Profile

    • Hey FS – good to see you. A strong economy will fix most things, except that nagging worry about next time :)

  19. I am a big fan of college. It did me a world of good, opened me up to the world, and I was able to pay off my $36,000 in loans within 4 years of graduating. I consider it a great return on my investment, but this may not be the experience of everyone.

    Oh yeah, I should mention that I have not made that big of a salary either; I am just very frugal and motivated to pay off debt.
    Amanda L Grossman recently posted..Frugal Confessions Friday – Frugal LivingMy Profile

    • That’s great that you were so focused right out of the gate. I wish I knew what you knew then.

  20. I found your post very helpful. I have linked your post at my website weekly roundup

    • Thanks so much Karunesh. I’m glad to have you as a reader. Congratulations on joining the Yakezie Challenge

  21. Maybe a double major as an option… liberal arts/english/history/whatever *plus* vo-tech training in machining/welding/whatever. Just a thought.
    101 Centavos recently posted..Random Links and Notes – May 18, 2012 – Plumber Butt, Qihoo 360 and Passive Income LiesMy Profile

    • I like it! Sort of a Thomas Jefferson training. Become a man of knowledge and action

  22. College definitely opens up your eyes and gives you an opportunity to figure out what you want to do with your life. I think when students stay “undecided” throughout the bulk of their college career, with no notion of doing anything for themselves outside of hoping for just “a good job”, that’s the real issue. If anything, the college experience should make you say “I can achieve MORE than just a job”. Once your brain starts churning, then it could lead to even bigger goals and successes.

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