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.