To the College Bound

“A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern; he repeats phrases and thinks in a groove.

Jiddu Krishnamurti


You shouldn’t go to college. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. It’s a waste of time, it’s too much money, and its value is overinflated.

How did that make you feel? That is, if you’re still reading. First, let’s clear the air – I don’t really mean all of that. Not necessarily, anyway. But how did it make you feel to hear me say, “Don’t go to college.” Odds are, if someone gave you that advice, you’d have a strong reaction, and likely your parents would be downright mad. In fact, I’d bet a nickel that most parents would have a much stronger reaction to the “Don’t go to college” advice than they would to similar advice regarding the military, Peace Corps, trade school, or starting a business. Why? Most millionaires in America own their own business. Myriads of successful people come from the military or the Peace Corps, and jobs you get through trade school can never be outsourced to Asia. Why the visceral reaction towards the college option?

The college degree has come to symbolize the American dream. Doesn’t matter if your degree is in underwater fire prevention or upside down basket weaving – in fact, a common piece of advice I got as a teenager was, “It doesn’t matter what the degree is in, just get it!” Not getting a degree has been stigmatized – everybody can at least get into community college. The story goes that if you’re not going, that means there is something wrong with you. It is the expressed mission of many High Schools to prepare you for college, no matter what. This is a handy piece of sociology to know when it comes time to jack up tuition.

Here’s the real story. College is a means to an end. If the end doesn’t require college, then don’t go for the sake of going; if the end does require it, then by all means, knock yourself out. If you aren’t certain (or have no idea) what your end goals are, then do something else, or if you are bent on college, go to the cheapest one your heart will allow you to go to. Because while college maybe a fine place to “find” yourself, it is one of many places to do so, but it is also the most expensive. You don’t have to travel far to find stories of people putting themselves into twenty or fifty or a hundred thousand dollars of debt, only to discover that instead of philosophy they’d rather study the mating habits of trout – or instead of needing an MA they needed an associates for whatever it was their goals were.

I listen to a lot of Dave Ramsey, and he always gives the same advice regarding a cosigner for a loan. He says that if a friend or family member asks you to cosign a loan, then run. It is a banks job to predict if that individual is capable of paying back a certain amount of money, and if they need a cosigner it means they are no good for it. Run.

The federal government “cosigns” your student loans. Actually, they own your loans, because no bank would give an 18 year old thirty thousand quid a year in hopes they might actually complete a degree, get a job, and pay back $30k * 4 + interest. If you or the bank makes a bad call with a house or a truck, you can always sell or they can repossess that house or truck. A degree is a piece of paper worth tens of thousands of dollars. It can’t be sold or repossessed. Many times kids don’t finish or don’t use their degrees, then where is the incentive to pay back the loans? It’s a huge risk for the banks, but the federal government can just go into your pay check, your bank account, or raid your home with roided-out storm troopers. So they don’t mind handing out college money. That’s why there is more college loan debt than credit card debt in America.

There is a math problem that you have to face with college. You are going to leave after 4 or 6 years somewhere between forty thousand all the way up to over two hundred thousand dollars in debt. It is damn near the most expensive decision you’ll ever make, and you can’t take it back like you can with a house. Worst case scenario you can foreclose on a house. You can be upside down on a house and even if you sell for half price, you just limited your exposure by half. You can’t sell a degree.

I’m not saying don’t go to college. I know it sounds like that right now, but I’m not. What I’m saying is don’t think in a groove. Don’t live your life on a train, letting the tracks take you wherever the tracks take you. Be intentional and informed in your decisions, and have a plan for your life. There are very few jobs that justify fifty or sixty thousand bucks a year for four years in order to be “qualified.” Be creative. Transfer community college credits. Take Clep tests. Get a 4 year degree in 6 years and pay cash by working a full time job. Or two full time jobs. Know what you’re working towards and minimize (or eliminate) your debt, so that if you change your mind later it doesn’t kill you to know you have a hundred thousand dollar biology degree hanging in the kitchen of the tapas restaurant you just opened.

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