Whether you think college is right or wrong for you, you’re right.
We’ve been spoon fed the idea that everyone should get the “college experience.” What a great marketing campaign, right? Talk about FOMO. The conversation around the dining table has shifted from “Are you going to college?” to “What college are you going to?” Heck, my nieces are already visiting colleges and they haven’t even graduated middle school. But unlike other “experiential” purchases you’ve made in the past, your college degree should be making you money.
With so much pressure to go to college, no one bothers to question whether it’s necessary to go in the first place. If you are indifferent about going to college, it’s best to wait until you know exactly how you’ll cash in on your degree.
I’m going to assume that if you are reading this, you are deciding whether or not it’s worth investing upwards of $40,000 for a college degree. Here’s how you know if college is right for you:
You intend to put your degree to work.
College takes up too much time and money to blindly enroll without understanding how you will use your degree to make you money. If you are like me, you don’t have the funds to go to college more than once and aren’t interested in accruing debt if you can avoid it. You need to put that degree to work and fast.
You can avoid earning useless degrees by deciding on a what job you want before enrolling in college. You wouldn’t pursue a degree in psychology if you planned on applying for a job in graphic design. Look up your “dream job” and find out what degrees you are going to need.
Unfortunately, selecting a job you enjoy isn’t the easiest decision to make. Admittedly, when I attended UC Davis, I had no idea what kind of job I would be best suited for. However, I was keen on finding a way to use my artistic skills professionally. In identifying the skills I wanted to developed, I was able to narrow down jobs options that I would enjoy. Then, I decided on a degree to pursue. In hindsight, you don’t need to have all of the details nailed down, but you should have a vague idea of what you want to do.
No one can decide your career path for you and simply wanting ANY job or career isn’t enough to justify going to college. You can save that money to buy a house, travel, start a business, raise a family — or whatever.
Personally, UC Davis was helpful to me because my instructors were able to provide me with guidance and structure. I went in with a fuzzy idea of what I wanted to do and I left with a clear road map towards achieving my goals. (Shout out to Glenda Drew and Tim McNeil for hanging in there with me.)
Sadly, I’ve watched too many friends earn degrees they don’t use professionally. If you find out that you have pursued a field that you hate, pivot and move on. It’s not practical to put yourself through financial strain to only harbor a degree that you don’t intend to use. Why spend one more cent on a structural engineering degree, when you really want to be a yoga instructor. There are better uses for your time and your money. You want a degree you can use.
The ROI for your degree will make you money.
When you view college as an investment, you expect a return. With fewer jobs on the market and more students pouring into college institutions, it’s imperative to consider the economic landscape of your desired profession. Imagine if you spent 8 years earning a degree only to find out that there aren’t enough job opportunities in your profession. It happens.
My sister is an optometrist and finding work in the U.S. is extremely competitive. Many private practices have closed down because they cannot compete with commercial brands and online marketplaces (Lens.com, LensCrafters.com, WarbyParker.com, hubblecontacts.com). Optometrists, like my sister, are resorting to combining multiple part-time jobs to make a full-time salary. Not to discourage you from obtaining your dream job, but it would be nice to know what you are up against from a financial perspective.
Some professions, like becoming a doctor, are easier to asses your ROI for your education. But what about careers that aren’t so obvious? Let’s work backwards. I’m gonna list it out because I like steps.
- Search job listings and find out what degrees you need to obtain.
- Create a list of schools where you can earn that degree.
- Comparing the annual tuitions and the number of years it would take to earn that degree.
You want to apply to schools that offer you the best education for the lowest tuition price in the least amount of time. Figure out how much time it would take to payoff your loans post college. I know this seems like a numbers game and it is.
If you are shopping around for an education, you want the best bang for your buck. When you go to the store to buy something, you don’t just pick up the first carton of milk. You shop around, you compare prices, and you try to buy a product offers you a high return on your investment. That’s why we check the expiration date. College should be no different. Getting a degree will not ensure you a successful career, so do you due diligence before you decide to go. You want the highest return on your investment.
You can’t get the experience you need anywhere else.
Have you considered alternative educational methods? Not all degrees are created equal. Some jobs require a degree from a prestigious school, while others do not. Talk to people in the industry and find out how valuable a degree is before going to school. Perhaps you can get the technical skills you need without getting a formal education.
This route doesn’t apply to all professions and maybe even most professions, but it does apply to the tech industry. Sure, your resume may get expedited if you have a degree from MIT or Stanford. However, if you can outperform your peers, no one is going to squabble over the absence of your degree. They may even praise you for it.
What about job listings that state “degree required?” Well, of course they say that. Having a college degree is the norm. If only there were only other less costly methods to educate yourself….oh wait, shit, there are:
- Internet (Youtube, Online classes, Forums, Blogs, Articles, Podcasts)
- Books (Amazon, Library, Book stores)
- Community Classes
- Internship, Apprenticeship, Mentoring
- On the job experience
Essentially, you could teach yourself. This requires a ton of time and discipline, but it can be done.
After I finished up my degree at UC Davis, I worked for a leading digital creative agency called Big Spaceship in New York. There, I met a young rockstar developer. His name was Matt Kenefick and he was only 19 years old. Before he came to Big Spaceship, he was living in San Francisco, skateboarding around and working for Abercrombie & Fitch as a retail salesman. He scored a job with Big Spaceship because he was focused, self-taught, and ambitious as hell.
While only one of us went to college, Matt and I both have gone on to build our own companies in the tech industry. Matt owns a creative development company called Polymer Mallard and I founded a online marketplace called Concourse.
College isn’t for everyone and that’s ok.
I’m convinced you can be successful with or without a college degree. It’s time to stop thinking of college as a right of passage. It’s time to think strategically about how we invest in our education.
“College isn’t for everyone” isn’t euphemism for “some people are smart enough to go to college and others are not.” If you understand how your degree will make you money, then go get that degree. If you are going for the experience, to discover yourself, or because you feel obligated to go, don’t go. Save yourself some time and money by exploring your options outside of college first.
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Are you wondering if you should go to college? Are you thinking of going back to school? Share your experience in the comments below.
Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m an artist, design director, and a entrepreneur. I’ve spent the last 10 years in the tech scene and I enjoy sharing my experiences with you.