I never thought I’d see the words “college” and “scam” trending on a Twitter hashtag together.
But all it took was one event to spark a whole new tone of discussion surrounding college.
Let me break it down for you:
Operation Varsity Blues uncovered a large scandal involving dozens of high-profile people, including well-known actresses, fashion designers, company CEOs, and college coaches. These people paid large amounts of money to cheat the admissions process of well-known colleges, faking test scores, athletic credentials, and other records. The purpose of these bribes? to make sure their children made it into colleges such as Stanford and Yale.
This scandal has sparked many conversations on social media, the general reactions stemming from horrified and angry to shocked and hurt.
But the most astounding part was the fact that the majority of society seemed surprised. “How could this be allowed to happen?” was the general tone that echoed over social media and the the news.
What else could you expect from a system that has been touted for years as THE WAY to success?
Heres what you’ll notice about any system (like college) that is held up as the perfect path:
1. Everyone’s going to flock to it. “College = success,” kids are told from day 1. They want to be successful, so college is the next logical step. Soon the entire society is marked by blind faith in the system, and when the first winds of scandal cross the horizon, that same society is left crushed.
2. Someone’s going to try to take advantage of it. There will always be those individuals that bribe to trick a system or gain favors with it. History is marked by these people- some things never change. This also comes from blind faith in the system- some will do anything in their power to acquire the status that the system offers.
3. When given a choice, it will always lean in favor of the money that supports it. Money is the only way for the system to survive. That’s why, in addition to the college scandal that’s alive and well, many people are drawing attention to legacy status as another factor of inconsistency that lies at college’s core.
What have we established so far? The system is corrupt by nature. The college admissions scandal was only the catalyst that opened people’s eyes to the corruption.
So what are our options?
We could take the stance of many people, and complain about how the rich are always going to have advantages like this. We could gripe about how lower-class students are never going to have a chance, and cry for the government or some other third party to fix this mess.
But that’s a victim mindset. You might get some engagement on Twitter about your martyrly rant, but you won’t be any more free. You might rally a whole bunch of people around your cause, but you’ll still be chained to the actions of the people who “wronged you” by ultimately exposing the system you put your faith in.
Instead, let’s take this scandal from the perspective that we’re all free individuals that have full control over our own futures, regardless of the actions of others.
This means viewing college just like any other life investment.
College as an Investment- is it worth it?
So let’s look at college from the perspective of an investment. Yes, it’s an investment, whether you’re a parent or a college-age student.
Other than the obvious investment of money, many parents spend time, energy, and money getting their kids into just the right sports so they can (hopefully!) have a chance at good scholarships. Outside that, some pay for tutors and test prep- this side of the investment increases the more money you have. Then there’s the stress spent as they wonder if their teens are ever going to get it figured out and the countless fights over whether to complete homework or not.
Not all of this is bad. Children are a great investment! But when you start to examine the investment closely, you’ll see that more often than not, 12 years of time (at least) + thousands of dollars + lots of stress are spent investing not in your children, but in college. It’s often not really about the child’s goals and passions. It’s about “what’s best” for the child.
And we’re seeing now that what people have told us is “best” for the child might actually be one of the worse investments you can make.
But let’s look at it from the child’s perspective.
To start out, as young adults your children spend 4 of the best years of their lives in college. That’s no small investment. Considering that technology is advancing at lightning speed, the value you lose by not being actively in the market is also a huge cost.
Finally, it’s normally the child that is stuck with student loan debt 10 years down the road. More times than not, they have a job outside their degree specification. If they’re lucky, they have a job that’s making them enough money to live comfortably and pay off the remainder of the debt.
Compare this to a real estate or stock market venture.
Would you invest in a company that has a track record of inconsistencies and no guarantee for future value? Would you buy a house crumbling at its very foundation? What about making an investment that you know your child will have to be paying off 10 years down the road?
Wouldn’t you do your research to find the other opportunities available, even if everyone around you stated that it’s still the safest route?
Options that YOU, as a free individual, have today (no matter your income level, race, GPA, or other irrelevant factors)
We’re entering an era where education, in addition to many other social and economic structures, is becoming decentralized.
That means you don’t have to answer to a third party like college to have a successful career.
(I know someone’s going to ask this, so let’s get it out of the way:)
“But what if I want to be a doctor or a lawyer? I need a degree to practice.”
Sure, these are examples of careers that aren’t in that decentralized category. But good news for you: when others are making the free choice to build careers in more profitable ways, the value of your degree will go up. Besides, lawyers make up 0.36% of U.S. population, and doctors make up only 0.29%. That still leaves 99.35% of the population to explore careers in new ways.
In the end, college is only necessary for highly specific careers, and even if you’re sure you want one of those highly specific careers, it’s wise to take some time researching before rushing into the investment.
So you have all the information, here are some opportunities you can pursue outside college:
1. Take a gap year before making a final decision.
A gap year can be the perfect way to explore a possible career path without having to commit years of your life and thousands of dollars to it.
Even if you’re sure you want a specific career, it’s still good to take a year and explore your options. If, in one year, you’ve already changed your mind about your preferred career path, then it’s a pretty good sign that you would have burned out in college as well.
Plan your gap year around things you’re interested in. If you’re thinking of law, volunteer for an attorney. Find masters of your preferred career and learn from them. Take some courses related to your interests. Regardless if you decide to go to college after this year, you’ll have experience under your belt that will be valuable to your career later!
2. Skip college and start a business.
It’s the perfect era for entrepreneurship. Never has it been easier to reach people, build relationships, and sell new products! Many young people I know have at least started Etsy shops or dropshipping sites, and the experience is invaluable to their growth.
Entrepreneurship is also the perfect way to learn a large array of skills that you can take anywhere in life. Start a business, and you’ll launch a foundational career path in sales, marketing, customer service, operations, and basic tech.
Oh, and in case you needed more convincing, here’s a list of entrepreneurs from the last 100 years that succeeded without degrees:
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Steve Jobs
- Andrew Carnegie
- Coco Chanel
- Frank Lloyd Wright
- Michael Dell
- Steve Madden
3. Invest in an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are the way to go in today’s world. Not only are traditional trade apprenticeships a highly valuable experience for any young person, but more and more tech apprenticeships become available every day as well. Here are some apprenticeship/ job placement programs that are available today:
- Praxis: 1-year bootcamp + paid apprenticeship
- Crash: discover, build, launch: start your career using these three steps
- GenM: free marketing courses and digital apprenticeships
- GetApprenticeship: entry level remote jobs
4. Build your own higher education plan.
If you’re serious about learning, then take the time to craft your own learning plan. You can work on the side, and complete the courses you want to finish for a much lower cost than you would pay in college.
I personally know several developers who are entirely self-taught. Many other highly-needed skills like copywriting, graphic design, and video editing can be learned online. With a little discipline and a lot of showing your work, building a career simply by taking courses online is much easier than you think.
Don’t know where to get started? Check out these websites:
5. Just start working.
I can’t stress this one enough. Especially if you’re not sure what you want your career to be, the best investment is to just start working and saving money.
Having experience at a mediocre job is much better than having no experience at all! And there’s nothing stopping you from building a small business on the side, or taking courses you’re interested in while you’re working.
Jobs in serving and fast food are one of the best ways to build customer service skills. (If you’re great at customer service, you’ll be in high demand, because every business wants their customers to be happy.) Using tools like the value creation mindset will set you up for success no matter how irrelevant you think your job might be.
The college scandal is nothing to fear. It’s simply the manifestation of a system that society has relied on too strongly for the last couple decades. With the numerous options available today, it’s never been easier for young people to break the mold and strike out on unique paths that are meaningful to them.
Don’t let a scandal hold you back. It’s time for career launch!
(This post was originally published here on the Praxis blog.)