Not Everyone Should Go to College

One of my personal heroes is Dan Miller. He’s an author, speaker, and coach, similar to what I want to be when I grow up. He’s had a storied and interesting work history and is one of the most good-natured and creative people you’ll ever hear from. I love his 48 Days podcast and listen to it regularly.

On a recent podcast titled Do What Others Don’t Do (sound familiar?), Dan mentioned driving by a prestigious private school and seeing a sign out front proudly advertising that, once again, 100% of the graduating class was admitted to college.

And it broke his heart.

What he said he’d have liked to see was something more like this: 60% admitted to college, 10% going to trade school, 10% continuing a family business, 10% entrepreneurs, and 10% traveling the world to figure out their goals and passions.

See, it’s not about doing X to achieve Y. Instead of forcing any one path on our students and children, we should make them aware of all the opportunities and encourage and support them in their pursuit of the one that most resonates with their abilities and dreams. Some should go to college. Some should not.

Let me break off and talk to those who may soon or presently be making a decision about college.

When you’re graduating high school, you’re most likely going to hear that your life is over if you don’t go to college. You’re going to hear parents and teachers and coaches and even peers telling you that you’ll never amount to anything without a degree.

Well here’s some perspective for you. Once you graduate college, you’ll be inundated with editorials questioning the value of college, complaining about degrees that offer no value, listing statistics about the rising cost of education, and the tremendous weight of student loan debt that burdens so many grads. It’s a complete reversal. It’s like you were punked, only instead of harmless fun, Ashton Kutcher took 4 years of your life and $50,000 out of your pocket. Less funny.

If I can emphasize one thing to new and soon-to-be high school grads, or really anyone considering further formal education, it’s this:

You are not an adult after you finish college. You are an adult now. Making the decision to go to college and what to study is probably your first major decision as an adult. Understand the impact of this decision on the next decade or more of your life, and grant it all the focus and gravity that a decision of that magnitude deserves.

Don’t just pick a major. Don’t just pick a university. Make a life decision. That may involve college. It did for me. But I also don’t intend to work in an area related to my degree for my entire life, so balance that information into the picture. My wife on the other hand often wonders if she’d be further if she hadn’t gone to college where she did and studied what she did. So believe me, I’m close to the feeling.

Understand all the opportunities available to you. Make the tough call. It might be what society tells you is normal, or it might be something completely different. No matter what you choose to do, make it a learning experience, and no matter your decision, never stop learning. Your ability to learn is what will make college worthwhile if you go, and also what will make college unnecessary if you don’t attend. Your ability and desire to learn is your greatest career tool. You just need to pick where that learning is going to happen.

Education Never Closes Doors

I had an interesting chat this weekend with personal friend and Travis Lane Coaching advocate Allen Herbert. As we often do, we discussed higher education and the choices people make in that arena.

Allen was talking about a friend of his who was deciding on a major and neglected a very solid field of study from their consideration. The reason? They didn’t want to be locked into something related to that degree for an entire career.

Now, I’ve made some people pretty upset over the fact that I think some college degrees are a worthless sham. I still think that. Here’s a more elegantly stated reason why. It’s not just about the money, it’s about unlocking an opportunity that is only unlockable via a degree.

When I say you should pick a college major with good career prospects regardless of whether you love the field or not, I do not mean you shouldn’t pursue a career or further your education in areas that you love. By no means. But you should not spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars to obtain an education that is unnecessary to enter that field.

If you’re going to go to college, assess the return on investment. If $30,000+ and 4 years of full-time study unlocks a career for you that is in demand and pays at rates above the poverty line, then it’s probably a good investment. If you want to work doing something you love and the pay is low, do it… or better yet, get creative and find a way to maximize not only your job satisfaction but also your income. But don’t spend all that time and money for an education that doesn’t give you new and fruitful opportunities. That is a waste.

You see, furthering your education, whether via personal reading, attending seminars and workshops, networking,  formal classroom education, or anything else you can imagine, it never eliminates opportunities. It only creates them. If it’s an expensive or lengthy investment, it should open up high dollar opportunities.

And the best part of those kinds of investments it’s that they’re almost universally acknowledged, even outside the specific field of study it takes place in. I’ve got an old friend with an engineering degree who graduated and went straight into a Sales Management position at Pepsi. Though irrelevant at face value, his high investment degree was recognized more as a statement of personal character and intellect than as a technical indicator.

So you see, education really is about opportunity. Don’t be sold on the idea that you have to follow some linear progression from degree into relevant job field and get stuck in that industry forever.

Continually educate yourself, make wise decisions regarding costly formal education, and go find or create something that you love.

PSA: High Prestige Colleges Are a Waste

It’s summer, so many of you teenagers or parents of teenagers are probably considering all sorts of college options. It can definitely be a tough decision, and there are a lot of misconceptions and mistakes that can cost you a lot of money.

Misconception number one: prestige, name brand colleges give their students a leg up on life.

For a long while I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that top-end colleges don’t really provide students anything more than an impressive resume, and a recent podcast I listened to from NPR’s Planet Money cited some research to back my hunch. Charles Wheelan, in his book Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data, describes this experiment. Here’s his explanation on the NPR podcast:

[Two researchers] found a large group of students who had been accepted to a group of schools that they described as the highly selective schools, so it’s the Ivy league and a whole bunch of others you would recognize, and those same students had also been selected or admitted to a group of schools that were less traditionally competitive… less highly selective. So they were good enough to get into Harvard. Some of them subsequently went to the highly selective schools; some of them didn’t. And what that sets up is a nice comparison group where everybody in the sample is smart enough to get into what we describe usually as the very best schools… some went to those schools, some didn’t. So then we can compare their life outcomes 10 or 15 years later. It turns out, there doesn’t appear to be any great advantage, in fact, no statistically significant advantages at all in terms of wages for most students going to the highly selective schools with one notable exception which is for minority students, there does appear to an advantage, but for the vast majority of folks in the sample, there was no real huge advantage to getting into and going to one of these highly selective schools. (emphasis mine)

You can listen to the full podcast here: NPR Planet Money #453. It’s about 18 minutes long, and the part I referenced starts around 11 minutes.

Your wallets and bank accounts can breathe a collective sigh of relief. You or your child will really be okay if they don’t go to Yale. No matter what school you pick, you’ll have to work hard to learn and make the most out of your college years, stay dedicated and focused in order to finish, and then transition into the working world and put as much effort into that as you did to your education.

Even better, if you educated yourself and invested the difference, you could have a fantastic head start on your adult life.

So, be smart, study hard, and remember, it’s not the college that makes the difference, it’s the student. You have been informed. Good luck!