Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Reverse Engineer Your College Decision

We pressure kids to make big life decisions backwards. First, they focus on the HOW, then the WHAT, then the WHY. Are you surprised that two-thirds of adults are disengaged at work and just punching the clock?

Why do we tell our kids that the wisest path into adulthood is college-job-retirement? Probably because most employers still require a college diploma to signal that a person is intelligent, compliant and willing to conform. Even though CEOs keeps saying that college is not preparing people for the workforce, they still require a college degree.

Humans are creative beings and we love creating new and novel things. In fact, I believe that if we aren’t creating we are dying.

Teenagers live in a time when they can create something almost instantly— an app, their own freelance gig, a book, a screenplay, a family-friendly company. They could use their $120,000+ in college tuition to travel while taking MOOCs, learning to code, freelancing, and building real skills. This is a dream of most adults who can’t pursue it because they are burdened with debt and financial obligations.

Most people go to college for the wrong reasons

I would be foolish to say that nobody should go to college. If you want to go into the medical field, engineering, or become a university professor, you definitely need a college degree and more.

My niece got scholarships and part-time jobs to pay for college as she pursues a nursing degree. My friend’s daughter, for whom academics is a breeze, wants to become a petrochemical engineer and is certain to get her state’s biggest academic scholarship. Another friend’s son wants to become an economics professor. These young people did their research, interviewed people in their chosen profession, and got internships while in high school to test the waters. Yes, for them, going to college makes sense.

Most people go to college so that they can get a better job and make more money, even if they have no clue what that “better job” might be.

Most Teenagers are Missing Their WHY

The majority of successful entrepreneurs started their companies because they had an idea for how to improve something or make the world a better place. They had a creative urge they couldn’t ignore. Entrepreneurs succeed when they are connected to a WHY bigger than Self. Their WHY helps them surmount inevitable challenges and obstacles.

Teenagers don’t know what to do besides go to college. The social pressure to conform to this path is overwhelming. Everyone else is going. Parents often insist they go. And they are ruled by the fear that, if they don’t, they’ll be unemployed or flipping burgers.

Young people get caught up in the HOW (college) and don’t know WHAT (major, or job after college) and certainly haven’t considered WHY.

I suppose this keeps the wheels of industry and the economy going since companies get compliant workers that need to pay off their debts, but I think it is time to evolve to a better model of education and vocation.

Don’t make going to college a life goal.

I have always told my two daughters that, if college is a required step on your chosen path, I will do everything to support you in making it happen. But, don’t make going to college your life goal.

Why not? Without a strong WHY pulling you forward, you probably won’t connect your classroom experiences with outside work and projects or find mentors to coach and inspire you.

The university model was invented around 1200 AD so that the few literate men could deliver lectures to illiterate men in order to share information from books. Even though literacy rates are high and we retain less than 5% of what we learn from lecture, college freshmen are still subjected to large lecture courses — because these are the cash cows of the higher ed system.

45% of adults with student loans don’t think college was worth it.

Mass consciousness perpetuates the powerful myth that without a college degree a person will be an utter failure. Because of this destructive myth, generations continue to limit their future with student loan debt.

I’ve spoken with too many young adults who changed majors 4 to 5 times, took over 6 years to graduate from college, or dropped out of college a year or two into it. They are now working in the highest paying jobs they can get just to pay off their student loans — often ones that don’t require a college degree. And they don’t believe that college was worth it.

Let’s Empower Teenagers to Save the World

Self-help gurus make billions of dollars helping grown adults find themselves and discover their purpose. Let’s invite teenagers to take a short pause and do some self-discovery work so that they can design their lives from their WHY.

Teenagers have incredible unused capacity. Their cognition, emotional intelligence, and moral reasoning is equal to adults and their digital skills surpass most adults.

Let’s come from a framework of knowing that teenagers are competent, caring, and eager to do meaningful work. They are inheriting some complex problems. Forcing them to sit in lecture halls and get information from grown adults who are not themselves engaged in creating solutions is foolish.

Let’s invite teenagers to work on real problems as they gain skills and learn empathy, teamwork, and resilience. Perhaps we could call it Learn By Doing University.

As part of the Learn By Doing University, we would offer a personal development path using the best courses that have been developed to guide several generations of lost adults. We can tap into the huge life coaching industry and coach teens to find their own answers to the big questions. What do you care about? How do you learn? What is meaningful to you? Why are you here? What are your unique gifts and talents?

Then we can co-design their learning paths around their unique answers. They can reverse engineer their educational paths and design their lives from the inside-out.

This is not a frivolous pursuit. We need to unleash the energy, imagination, and creativity of teenagers so that they can become the entrepreneurs who create family-friendly businesses that save the world.