So you’re 18 and everyone is telling you that you have to go to college. Your friends are all going. Your parents want you to go. You think you want to go, but is it the right move? For me, I once saw college as the beacon of hope for those who wanted to rise above their stations, but now, I see it as a system that needlessly mires you in debt, bleeding you at every turn. At one point, my advice would’ve been to go to college and to never look back, but now, I don’t think like that and neither do many of my peers who also attended college. What has shifted over the years? For one, I graduated in 2005 and found it hard to land a job without any experience even though I had a degree. Then I moved during the 2008 financial recession and found I had to take two part-time, low-wage jobs to make ends meet. I saw that my degree didn’t mean anything. I received a degree in English and many may say that I didn’t pick a ‘useful’ degree, but it was a degree nonetheless, and it was supposed to be a leg-up on others who didn’t have it, except I found that those with connections, excellent interview skills, and experience actually had the leg-up and not me. So why was society pushing me to go to college and why was I perpetuating a system that didn’t help others?
The social climate we live in now is very much different than the one our parents grew up or even just a decade before I went to school. At one point, a degree did mean opportunities and doors opening to you, but the over saturation of the market in more recent years means that a degree doesn’t hold the same value anymore. Along with rising tuition and costs, the enormous debt that students incur with attending school, kids are not really reaping the benefits of a degree anymore, so why should they be encouraged to attend? For me, school was a wonderful experience to be independent, grow, and make friends, but I could’ve done all of that at a technical institute. Luckily, I earned a scholarship that paid for the majority of my school and walked out nearly debt-free, but many of my peers did not and still cannot afford to buy a house or get married to start a family to this day. They are still tied to this large debt they incurred when they were young and promised a life that never came true. So what is my advice to kids who are facing this dilemma today? Should you go to college? Should you take a year off? Should you go to a technical school?
First of all, no one talks about the cost and the economic impact it will have on you as you age. Look at the cost of the schools you want to attend and map out how much that will cost you for four years. Imagine interest being added on. How long do you think it will take for you to pay off $60,000? It’s like a mortgage payment, but you don’t have anything to show for it. Loans will ask you to cosign, but many co-signers don’t realize that if the student defaults, they will be responsible for the full amount. Student loans can’t be discharged due to bankruptcy. If you have a student loan, you will have it for life, so think of it as college herpes, because it’s not going away. Did you put references on your application? Guess what? The loan servicer will call them if they can’t get a hold of you. How do I know? Because I worked for one. No one tells you these things when you’re signing your life away. Some people say ‘well, kids, you should’ve known all these before you started school, but you didn’t, and it’s your fault now.’ Really? People like to place blame on individuals when they don’t understand the issue is the system, for when the system is the issue, it means we’re all to blame. Until the system is drastically changed, I don’t think college is a viable option for those who are struggling to get a better life. You may be one of the few who actually gets a ‘good’ degree and then lands a ‘great’ job, but even then, you are still thousands of dollars in debt.
Let’s answer some of those questions from earlier. Should you go to college? It’s up to you. Some positions ask for more experience so that it is wiser to start working right away than to get a degree first. Some jobs that never had a prerequisite for a degree before have started requiring one now because they know college students are less likely to leave because they need to pay their college loans. Are you thinking of pursing a certain field or path and know exactly what you want to do? I say go ahead. Now, you don’t have to get accepted into the most prestigious school and attend it for four years. Look at smaller colleges. Look at religious colleges. Religious colleges are much more expensive, but some offer full scholarships. Try to avoid schools that are for-profit such as DeVry and University of Phoenix. If you can get this education at a lower price, I urge you to do so. This will save you so much money in the end. Try to stay in-state, as the tuition will be cheaper, or look to see if your state has an agreement with other neighboring states for lower tuition. If you have a dream school, you may want to attend a smaller college in your town for the first two years and then transfer to your dream school for the remainder of your degree so you can graduate from that school. Being able to go to school in your hometown and living with your parents will save you money and possibly save you from living with them after college.
Should you take a year off? As a teenager, I was told that it was extremely detrimental to take a gap year because the majority of those kids would never attend college. However, studies have shown this is not the case nowadays. This fear tactic really sunk into me and I was very fearful for any kid to take a year off, but now, I think it’s perfectly fine to do so. What happens if you don’t take a gap year? You go to college. You pick a degree. You don’t like it. You change degrees. You graduate. You enter the workforce. You don’t like your profession. You wish that you could go back for another degree. A gap year allows you to see into the future. To see what work is like. What is the real world like? What do you want to do? What jobs are available? Oftentimes, as kids, we live in a fantasy world where we are told we can do anything and as we’re so optimistic, we think we can achieve everything, but the truth is, there are very limited positions that exist and we have no idea what they are. It’s good to get an idea of what is out there and what you are willing to do, what you’re capable of, and what inspires you. Whatever the profession, find something that fulfills you, for all the money in the world is not worth a job that you hate and is slowly killing you.
Should you go to a technical school? I once watched a t.v. program where a child had to attend a technical school for two years first before attending a 4-year institution to the horror of the ‘experts’ at the time that decried that the child’s education was being water downed, but that was a different time and era. The truth is, no one should be telling you what is valuable to you and what isn’t in terms of what your education is because they are not the ones paying for it. You are. Times have changed and so have technical institutions. You can go to a technical school for your generals and transfer to a 4-year college. You can get a certificate. You can get an associate’s degree. You can graduate with a skilled trades degree that will earn more than many people who graduate with a four-year degree. There is no longer a stigma to going to a technical school and I would encourage my child to go there when they are older. Take nursing. You can earn a degree from a technical college. A four-year institution. Or a medical school. Which do you think is the cheapest? Obviously the technical school and that may be the only degree you need for some places that do not require a four-year degree. The point is, there are a lot of options, so look at it from a financial aspect, and not always what is the best school aspect.
A long long time ago when I was young, I read an article that asked why kids can’t go to college simply for the love of the education no matter the degree. The article stated that we shouldn’t focus so much on how much money we should be making but instead on what we may learn instead. We no longer have the luxury or privilege to think like this or let anyone else think that this is the norm. It is because of people who thought like this that we are in the situation are now. Times have changed and yet, our mind-sets have been slow to do so. It is only with our younger generation that the shift has happened because we have been the ones to live it. Once you get your degree, just know that it doesn’t guarantee you anything. Also, remember when you really wanted to get into a prestigious school and shunned the smaller colleges because you wanted the allure of the bigger school? When you interview for a job, no one cares where your degree is from. You might run into the occasional bro who bonds over your old alma mater, but usually, that doesn’t really happen. Employers are looking to see if you’ll be a good fit and even though some positions require a degree, it means very little after you meet that requirement. Everything else depends on how well you do in the interview, but that’s another post for another day.