The one question my parents permitted regarding college was, “Which are you going to attend?” Their persistence proved so successful I never considered, perhaps the other question, “Should I even go?”
Lucky for me, mom and dad’s persuasion was accompanied with an offer to pay for all expenses minus the “fun” money – for which I would spend summers earning and the school year spending – one $10 visit to the ATM at a time.
As a high school senior, I felt college was not only “the right thing to do,” but doing otherwise meant a lifetime of selling Slurpees at the 7/11.
Today, I am (and always will be) tremendously grateful to my parents for the experience they gave me and the education I received.
I no longer believe, however, that college is the best go-to decision for everyone. Instead, I think there are only three reasons in which people should go away to a four year college today and these three reasons are:
#1. Paying $100,000 (or $200,000) For It Will Not Financially Cripple You
Today, in-state tuition at Indiana University (where I went) is $24,418 per year, out of state is $47,270. At Colorado State University (near where I live now), it is $24,164 for in-state and $41,044 for out of state.
In other words, today’s in-state college freshman who requires student loans will have accrued approximately $97,000 in debt, after four years of school.
College loan calculators*, indicate these students will then spend the next 42.5 years paying this debt off. (In other words, the debt an 18 year old signs up for in 2014 will be paid off half way through 2060 – right around their 65th birthday.) To note, college students will also pay approximately $100,000 in interest on this loan, or close to $200,000 in total.
Not prepared for that kind of financial liability? Perhaps you should consider another viable option to prepare for your future.
#2. You Are Prepared to Be a Master Networking
My parents never said a word regarding the questionable employability of my degree choice, biology and environmental science. But from a very young age what they would say was:
“We will pay for four years of college and not a day longer. Want to / need to go for more time? Prepare to pay for it. Can’t find a job afterwards? You can live with us. Our rental prices will be market rate.”
I was perhaps the only second grader in the Detroit area concerned with room and board rates – two decades out.
As my freshman year of college ended, I got down to business. I found a Suburban Detroit phone book (as you did in 1992) and identified every Environmental Science-ish company in the Motor City. I typed up letters upon letters upon letters from my dorm computer lab and mailed one to every company I found.
I got one response.
It turned into one 5 dollar per hour internship and four months later – my first letter of recommendation.
I kicked it up a notch the following year. I put on a new fuchsia sport jacket, some lip gloss and returned to my dorm’s computer lab. I printed up my resume, now complete with relevant job experience, AND threw myself in front of the first folding table with an employer that had the word “Environmental” at the Indiana University Job Fair.
A year later, I hounded every person I knew (and every person they knew), found a guy in my scuba class that knew a guy, that knew a guy at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and then landed one of the of two jobs they had available for college students – in the entire state.
Upon graduation, I had three jobs relevant to my career, three letters of recommendation and one dream job studying largemouth bass in Puerto Rico. Had I not had this experience in college getting a job would have been incredibly difficult if not impossible. If you are not prepared to do such a thing, I don’t think you are prepared to take on 100s of 1000s of dollars in debt either and you are certainly not preparing yourself to have any means to pay for it.
#3. Your Career Choice Absolutely Requires It
If you want to be a urologist, a veterinarian, an attorney or something similar – you are required to get your hands on a degree or two – and as such you are going to have to go to college. (p.s. This does not, however, mean you can’t spend the first two years at community college.)
So What Should You Do If You Don’t Go?
1. Determine if You Even Like What You Are Considering Studying
How many people wanted to be lawyers only to spend a summer in a law firm and then run like hell from the idea?
How about before signing up for insane levels of debt to study something you “think” you want to do you ask your parents, your friends parents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, teachers and street sweepers who they know in the legal field and/or find a list of every legal office in your area, send them a letter describing your interest in their field and inquire if they have a need for someone like you in their offices. (The whole damn place isn’t full of many degree holding litigators, someone needs to put mail in boxes and order the lunch.)
Tell them you will volunteer for free, if you must, but see if you even like the field, the environment and the people before you lay down close to a quarter of a million dollars (Bad News Alert: It will be more than that for a law degree) to become one.
2. Get Paid to Travel and Learn another Language
Even with a deep and desperate interest in travel, as a high school graduate I believed anyone packing their backpack to head to the airport instead of their milk crates headed to college was days away from standing in line at the soup kitchen. (And I don’t mean to volunteer.)
Now at 41, I know navigating the world’s customs, language, currency, transportation and diarrhea medicine will give anyone a pretty clear idea about what they want to do and do not want to do with their life. It will also make people more well-rounded, confident and self-aware, or in other words, a person far better equipped to make major life, financial and education decisions.
3. If You Can’t Figure Out What You Want to Do – Spend Time “Doing” for Others?
Want to be a veterinarian? Volunteer at the humane society. Want to do social work? Volunteer at a half-way house. If you find the work interesting, then you may decide it is worth the financial commitment to pursue further. If it turns out not to be for you – you have created the opportunity for a letter of recommendation for your life’s next pursuit and – your selflessness has made the world a better and brighter place.
4. Go to Community College
Cost per three credit course at a community college? About $300. Cost per three credit course at a four year college? About $900. Difference between English 101 and Spanish 101 at a four year college vs. a community college? Not a whole lot.
5. Get a Two Year Degree (They Often Yield Jobs that Pay More than Four Year Degrees)
Jobs that require two year degrees and their salaries:
- Electrical Technicians, over $46,000
- Radiologic Technician, over $52,000
- Aircraft Technician, over $40,000
- Communications System Installer, over $78,000
- Dental Hygienist, $57,000
Some of these jobs, many may argue most of these jobs, pay more than what most four year degree holders will earn – and you can get educated to do them for half the price. Want to get a four year degree afterwards? Well, now at least you will have a bit more money to pay for it.
And the One Thing You Absolutely Must Do:
What no one will tell you is the moment you decide not to go to college (and the moment you graduate from it) the structure of life as you have always known it – vanishes.
A life without structure can easily lead to days, months, years or a lifetime of floundering and anguish. You do not have to identify your life’s passion at the age of 18 (or anytime you are considering a change), you do not even have to think about it, but if you do want to grow and move forward you must pick at least one productive thing you to do, on a daily basis to ensure you are always moving in a positive direction.
* This assumes 4.66% interest, a salary of 35,000 dollars per year per year job to start and 15% of your initial salary going to paying off the loans.