If I have one regret in life, it’s that I didn’t go to college until I was 25. I’m very happy with my life today, so I guess it’s all good – but I always wonder what would have happened if I didn’t drop out of college when I was 18, after one quarter. How many years of frustration and failure would I have avoided?
Because the next 5 or so years were NOT fun for me. I spent most of them working shitty dead-end jobs at print shops (if you’ve ever worked in one, you know it’s fucking soul-crushing), trying desperately to get a job that didn’t make me want to put a bullet in my head – and getting almost zero traction.
I wanted to be a graphic designer, and I spent every waking moment on nights and weekends teaching myself. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to go to school – that I was smart and worked hard and didn’t need that piece of paper – that people would see potential in me and everything would work out.
But it didn’t. I got one door after another slammed in my face because I didn’t have a degree.
Until I finally admitted that I fucked up, got smart and went to college, where I got a degree in marketing and management – and felt like I had finally gotten the key to all the doors that were previously locked for me.
Within a month of graduating I got a big corporate job (graphic designer for Abercrombie & Fitch, who were super hot at the time – maybe you hate the company, but it’s a great name to have your resume) and it was off to the races… I’ve put in a shitload of hard work since then, but basically everything has fallen into place – and NONE of this would have happened without a degree and the things I learned in college.
COOL STORY, GUY. BUT WHY SHOULD I GIVE A SHIT?
Because I’ve seen a very worrying/annoying trend lately, which is that there’s something of an anti-college trend brewing – talking heads on TV ranting about how the education system is broken and college is a scam, sometimes even explicitly telling people not to go to college.
It’s ironic that many of the people spewing this crap are rich guys who went to elite colleges (for example Peter Thiel, a billionaire who went to fucking Stanford!). They have no clue what it’s like to be held back by a lack of education, because they’ve never experienced it – so how could they possibly give you good advice on the subject?! To be honest, I think it’s fucking irresponsible of them to say this shit.
And since many of us who come from punk/hardcore have a distrust of authority and institutions, it’s a message that I fear a lot of kids will listen to – especially the ones who are on the fence about college, not that stoked about the idea of spending 4 more years in school, and want someone to give them a reason to bail (a decision that could seriously fuck up their lives).
So if you are in high school, college or know someone who is… please, please don’t listen to these people. They are out of touch weirdos who are giving you very bad advice. Make your own decision based on what’s right for YOU – not because some rich old guy told you college is bullshit.
To be clear, college is NOT for everyone – but I do think it is best for MOST people, and if you are going to make the decision to skip college, at least do it with full information and a plan. Don’t make the same foolish mistake I did when I was 18.
First, let me start by naming + shaming a couple of the (faulty) assumptions of the anti-college types:
You can find lots of data along these lines: People with a 4-year degree earn somewhere around $1 million more over their career vs those with just a high school diploma. Yes there are freak exceptions like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg… but are you Gates or Zuck? Me neither.
Assumption 1: Degrees are worthless
This one drives me nuts!! You’re always hearing some news story about how college graduates can’t find a job and they’re accumulating all this student debt only to end up as baristas or whatever – with the underlying message being that a college degree is worthless in the job market.
My friends, this is 10000% certified, Grade A bullshit.
I can tell you from years of painful experience that without a degree the job search is so, so much more difficult. Right or wrong, you will simply not be considered for the vast majority of white collar jobs without a degree. In many cases, you’ll never even get past the initial screen.
Think about it from their perspective: if you’ve got 35 applicants for this job who all have degrees, why would you bother looking at the rest of the applicants without degrees? With no degree, your resume usually goes straight in the trash.
Sure, you can eventually find a way to make it happen without a degree – but it will be WAY harder. No, a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job – nothing does. But it WILL make things much easier for you in most fields. And why make life more difficult if it can be avoided?
Many of us who come from punk/hardcore have this hard-headed attitude that we’re gonna do things our way no matter what, and while that’s a good thing in many cases – this isn’t one of them. This is a battle you don’t need to and probably shouldn’t choose to fight.
Just get the damn degree. Don’t play life on Dark Souls-level difficulty if you don’t have to.
Assumption 2: What you learn won’t help you in “the real world”
You’ve heard people sneer about how the stuff in the classroom has nothing to do with “the real world” – but ever notice how this is almost always coming from someone who is unsuccessful and/or majored in something stupid? Someone who is butthurt about their own lack of success and wants to point the finger at “the system” instead of themselves?
It’s a common manifestation of the weird and stupid idea that a degree is just a piece of paper, that you won’t actually learn anything. This is so dumb and misguided I don’t even know where to start.
I use the shit I learned in school every damn day. For example, I had to take 3 quarters of calculus as well as a bunch of stats and probability – all of which are precisely the skills I need to read and interpret digital marketing analytics.
What you learn is 100% on you. You will get as much out of college as you put into it. Skip class twice a week and take the easiest classes you can? Choose a bullshit major because it was easy and you just wanted to coast? Well then yeah, you won’t learn shit – but that’s YOUR fault. Blaming the school for it is a bullshit excuse for your own laziness.
Choose a useful major, work your ass off, and your college years will be fucking transformational. Simple as that.
I promise college isn’t like this lol – you’ll meet tons of cool and non-douchey people
OK, SO WHO SHOULD *NOT* GO TO COLLEGE?
Like I said, college is definitely not for everyone. It doesn’t make financial sense for everybody, and some people just aren’t a fit for 4-year college (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – in fact I think we should pay a lot more attention to those people).
If you want to work in a field where you’ll be self-employed and credentials don’t matter like say, wedding photography or starting a landscaping business then college is totally optional – but imo it’s still worth considering since you can learn a lot about how to run a business in college.
Another great option for people who just aren’t into the idea of sitting in a classroom: the trades. You can make a great living in the trades (plumber, carpenter, mechanic, welder, etc) and the job security is fantastic: the world will always need people who can do this shit and the unions are often pretty strong. And there are lots of other solid semi-trade jobs like medical technician or phlebotomist that you can get with some vocational training.
But here’s the key: only skip college if you have a better plan. And if your plan is “nobody can stop me – I’ll find a way!!!”, well… that’s not a plan lol. That’s just being a stubborn teenager like I was, and I can tell you now that it’s gonna be a long road.
COMMON OBJECTION #1: BUT WHAT ABOUT DEBT??
Student loans suck balls. I know because I have a lot of them and they caused me massive stress when I first graduated (and still piss me off when I make the payment every month). But they were the best investment I’ve ever made: I make about 3x what I did out of school and they’ve already paid for themselves several times over. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Let’s say you graduate with $25,000 in debt. This might seem like a horrifying number to you now, but that’s something like a $150 a month payment which is honestly just noise once you’re making decent money.
And given that people with degrees make way more than people without them (56% more according to USA Today), you’d be kind of dumb to let fear of some modest debt scare you away from a massive boost in income.
IDK about you, but I’d happily pay $25,000 now if it means I’ll make $1 million more over the course of my career.
I hear 22 year-olds say they’re “too old to go back,” as if people are gonna look at them like they’re this guy (they won’t, and besides that – props to this guy for having the balls to go back to school at his age, so fuck anyone who makes fun of him)
COMMON OBJECTION #2: BUT I’M OLDER – IT’S TOO LATE FOR ME TO GO TO COLLEGE 🙁
Wrong! It’s never too late to improve your life!
Yes, it is harder to go back to college when you’re older – life gets more complicated. But literally millions of people have done it and you can too – it’s almost always worth the sacrifice, so quit making excuses. The longer you wait the harder it’s gonna get.
Like I said, I didn’t go until I was 25 and didn’t graduate until I was 30. I won’t lie, it was hard as fuck – but I’m so, so SO glad I did it and I think you will be too.
Think about it this way: If you think you’re on the wrong path, are you going to keep walking down it just because it’s a pain in the ass to change direction?? Or are you going to take control of your life and do what you know you gotta do?
Please do not listen to the anti-college crowd, especially if the person talking is a rich guy who went to a goddamn Ivy League school and doesn’t know a thing about being held back by a lack of education. These people are not on your team.
Don’t play life on hard mode unless you have to – get an education. Whether that’s a 4-year school, a 2-year degree, or vocational/technical training – I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what’s best for you.
And if you decide that more education truly isn’t for you, then fair enough – but at least do it with full awareness of the implications, and with a better plan that the one I had.
- College isn’t for everyone, but imo it probably is for most people reading this
- If you’re not into college, consider the trades or technical school – they can be great options too
- Starting a career without a degree is hard as shit and frustrating as hell. Don’t put yourself in this situation if you can help it.
- Student debt sucks but the ROI is usually massive. Don’t let it scare you away from school.
- Think for yourself!!! Don’t listen to some rich guy who went to Harvard talk you out of going to college