As I near my 30th year on Earth, I find myself reflecting more and more on a number of past and current events. While I have found I care less about that which I deem insignificant, I do have a more critical eye towards life in general. Perhaps this is a natural side effect of getting older. I’ll write about these various subjects in subsequent posts, but today I want to focus on college.
My 10Year High School Reunion passed last year (I missed it, because I’m not Facebook and no one thought to CALL ME). I graduated college at 22 years old. Four jobs and seven years later, I can confidently stand before you and say, “college is pointless.”
This isn’t to say I don’t think most people should go to college, because they should. College is the best worst option for most people. However, if you’re going to go to college or you are currently enrolled in college, you should have a little something that I lacked for the entirety of my college career – a plan. Since no one ever formerly sat me down and explained the point of college, I’d like to do so for those of you who are in, going, or will soon attend an institution of higher learning. I know this means I’m addressing a number of people under the age of 25, who if like me pre-25, do not care and will not read. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Unfortunately the children are our future.
As a side note, if you’re a college freshman and a young woman, you may want to venture over to BGAE to read NC-17’s bluntly worded, yet cautionary tale, Welcome to College. If you’re attending an HBCU, this is mandatory reading.
Is college a waste of money?
Yes, but that’s beside the point.
“If you can afford to go to college, you don’t need to go to college.” – David Letterman
To me the debate on whether college is a waste of money is trivial. College is a waste of money, because there is no guaranteed return on investment, yet it is still a very expensive “requirement.” I say requirement in quotes for a number of reasons. For one, in 2012, the US reached a record number of Bachelor degree holders over the age of 25. That amount, you ask? 30 percent. Only 1/3 of America has a Bachelor’s degree and yet, as of the publishing of this post, the world hasn’t ended.
Obviously, a college education is not the only means of survival in this country as an individual or as a whole. However, and perhaps ironically, 43 percent of job openings require a bachelor’s degree or higher. A number of job openings now require a bachelor’s degree simply because they can. This doesn’t mean you need a bachelor’s degree to do the job. It only means they require a bachelor’s degree because they know almost half of bachelor degree holders will work in a job that pays less than they desire or that doesn’t even require a degree.
Some will argue that a college education does not guarantee employment. This is true. In fact, colleges don’t even guarantee you a college education. For 2011, the federal government reports, “the overall four-year graduation rate is 31 percent for public colleges and 52 percent for private.” Keep in mind that even non-graduates still get the college benefit of accumulated debt minus the degree. Others will argue that college is more about the experience rather than the education. If true, this experience, which has increased annually at almost double the rate of inflation, will set you back $50,000+ if you attend a public school. That is one expensive experience for something that doesn’t even promise you the courtesy of a happy ending. Now that I’ve painted a sufficiently bleak picture of the college educated landscape, let’s discuss why you should still go to college, the right way.
The College Fantasy vs The College Reality
This chart should be in every college classroom. Additionally, colleges should have this chart plastered on their application homepage, changing each month only to provide the most current statistics. Ok, so we agree that despite the fact that over 40 percent of jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher, college itself doesn’t guarantee employment. That’s
Regardless of your views on the point of college, I think we can all agree that unless you have a full scholarship, have Mitt Romney’s parents, or are yourself very rich, you will have to find a way to pay off your college debt. In 2012, the average college student graduated with $25,000 in debt. Using our good friend arithmetic, let’s note that “average” could mean there are approximately 50% of people above and below this amount. I don’t know how all of those people plan to pay this debt off, but it is probably safe to assume many of them would like to acquire some means of gainful employment, even if not guaranteed, in order to help achieve that goal.
Let’s be clear, you can pick whatever major you want. It’s your life. However, I think as time passes more and more college students will have to take the chart above into account when choosing said major. It’s no secret that college graduates, on average, make more than high school graduates. But, what did we learn about averages just a few sentences ago?
Those comparison studies rarely consider the fact that while the high school graduate may make less, he/she also doesn’t have $25,000+ in college loan debts to pay off. Further, a number of six-figure-paying jobs don’t even require a college degree, while on the other hand, in 2010, some 360,000 people with a masters degree and above still required some form of government public assistance to make ends meet.
I don’t blame college institutions for not volunteering this information, because that isn’t there job – although I’m not positive what there job is. At best, it is ethically questionable, but at the same time, all this information is a few clicks away on a magic place knowin as “The Internet.” Maybe you’ve heard of it (see the hyperlinked sources in this article for readily available examples from a magic place known as Google).
The middle class, and people in general, have a habit of blaming everyone but themselves for not clearly explaining life to them, as if there is a rule book we all play by. Of course it sucks to invest in a 4-year education only to end up worse off or more in debt than when you started. This is why it’s up to you – and no one else – to accurately weigh and assess your options. Make a plan, and if you need help, find someone that is genuinely willing to help you, which, unfortunately, may not be located at the college you wish to attend. You must remember that the people you’re asking for advice will get paid the exact same amount of money whether you pass, fail, drop out or choose to major in anything ranging from the History of Music to Astrophysics. They, quite frankly, don’t have much vested in your success or your failure. In other words, I’m sorry but don’t end up like this guy.
So, how does one go about successfully choosing a major and actually graduating from college?
1How to Pick a Major and Not #Fail
Middle class wages have stagnated for over a decade and college graduate wages are falling, so you might as well ignore those “average” wage estimates schools provide you during freshmen orientation because those will change – and likely fall – before you graduate in 4 – 7 years. For example, I majored in Business. When I graduated in 2005, Business majors were expected to average around $50,000 at their first job. I made $18,000 at my first job after college. Sure, $18k is greater than $0 and “a job is a job,” but I couldn’t help but wonder why I invested over $50,000 in my college “education” to make less money than I made as a High School Junior working at IHOP. I don’t say that to scare you. I say that to point out that not everyone is going to meet or exceed the average. Someone has to fall below, in my case way below, the average and that someone might be you.
I ask that you keep this in mind when you’re balling out of control on school loan reimbursements at the club, car dealership, or at the mall with your college boo. You will have to pay that money back and you might not initially make the income you have in your imagination. Despite this reality, there is never a reason for your GPA to read like this in college.
Doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and maybe three to four other majors aside, college will be fairly pointless for the majority of us. When’s the last time you were at work and thought to yourself, “Thank God I mastered the Pythagorean Theorem or I would never be able to complete this work assignment!” I doubt it was recently.
Most people will learn how to do their jobs through trial, error, and on the job experience. Still, many wouldn’t have even been able to get a job interview if we didn’t obtain that little piece of paper from that expensive institution we attended for 4 – 7 years. Does that mean we would have been any less equipped to successfully complete our jobs without a college degree? It’s hard to tell – and I guess we’ll never know. However, I’m fairly positive that for $50,000+ or less, we could have figured out how to do our jobs given 4 – 7 years to do so.
If your major doesn’t matter in the long run, then how do you pick one and not fail out of college like the almost 60 percent of people who begin and never graduate? I’ll happily enlighten you today. There are two secrets to mastering any college system in the known universe (or at least in America).
1) Study; and 2) Show up to class.
College is not that complicated. I’m amazed how many people go to college and don’t 1) study; and 2) show up, then wonder why they’re failing almost all of their classes. I’m not the smartest person in the world. I’m not even the smartest person on this website. I know plenty of people smarter than myself who should have graduated college, but they didn’t. Ninety-five percent of the time they failed to do one or both of aforementioned tips – study or show up.
In the end, I’m not for or against college. Hypocritically, I even plan on pursuing my Masters. However, I think college is the best worst plan for people who have no plan at all. If you’re an entrepreneur with a great idea like Facebook, come from a rich family, want to go into a branch of the military, want to take the chance at obtaining one of those six-figure-non-college-degree requiring jobs, or you simply don’t care about making a substantial (yet, not guaranteed) income in the future, then I honestly believe college will be nothing more than a complete waste of time and money for you. As with life, you will only get out what you put into college.
College is one of many paths to achieving your goals, but it is by no means the only path. Depending on your goals, it might not even be the best path. However, if the path you choose is routed through college, then I think the most important lesson you can learn is the one thing they never bother to teach you. You need to learn what you’re going to do after college while in college – and if you’re really smart, before you ever get to college. This was a lesson I had to learn on my own. It was very time consuming and very expensive. I don’t regret the experience, but I do wish I had learned it much sooner and much cheaper. It would have made my life a lot easier, but maybe life isn’t meant to be easy.
What are some informal lessons you learned from the college experience that you wish you knew sooner or that someone explained to you before you started? Let’s help others learn from our mistakes instead of suffering from them themselves.
A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others. – Latin Proverb
PS… Excuse all the hyperlinks. They’ve been made available to provide quick references for the college students among us.