Kids, go to college or you’ll die alone in misery

Every time I write or speak about college, I tend to upset many parents and other decent, educated people. They are righteously offended at the mere suggestion that college isn’t necessarily the only way to go. Angry mothers email to tell me that my “anti-college” message is polluting the minds of their children. They don’t want their kids to skip college and become hobos and drug addicts. This is understandable. I should know — I’m one of those malcontents who decided not to get a four year degree. And what a tragedy my life has been ever since I made that fateful decision.

I’d like to apologize to anyone I’ve upset by relaying my own experiences and perspectives. I am NOT anti-college. To prove it to you, I’ve written this Message About Education. Call your kids into the room, this is addressed to them:

Hi kids! Hey, let’s discuss college! Actually, this is not a discussion. You WILL go. You MUST go. Only lazy, dirty losers don’t go to college. You aren’t a lazy, dirty loser, are you? ARE YOU?

Good. I didn’t think so.

This week, the President has been making his pitch to “fundamentally rethink and reshape” the higher education system, and so the conversation has once again turned to the importance of cramming as many warm bodies as possible into colleges and universities — at any expense to themselves, their parents, and the taxpayers. Over 70 percent of college students are already on some form of federal aid, and damned if we can’t get that number to an even 100 percent. Meanwhile, outstanding student loan debt has long since surpassed a trillion dollars with no signs of slowing down. If you had a math degree you’d know that a trillion dollars is, like, a lot.

You see, kids, as executives at the academic and banking institutions make billions from this setup, a bunch of 20-something’s with no assets, little to no income, and no work experience, are left with an accrued debt many times higher than the GDP of a small European nation. Millions of college graduates haven’t been able to find a job, with even more either moving back in with their parents or refusing to leave the nest in the first place. We are now faced with legions of young adults who have sacrificed their financial future — and whittled away several years of potential life and work experience — all for the sake of a piece of paper and a severely damaged liver.

Clearly there just isn’t any conceivable reason why any rational person would want to miss out on all of this!

Although formal “higher education” is obviously necessary for people who wish to become doctors, nurses, engineers, architects, etc., some rebellious souls might question whether ALL young people should be pushed into universities. Some crazed anarchists are beginning to suggest that this situation could be brought under control if we stopped positioning four year colleges as the ideal for all kids. These troublemakers claim that purchasing a six figure education on a credit card might not be in the best interest of those who haven’t a clue as to which job path they will ultimately pursue. These barbarians run around insisting that you should try to figure out what you want to do with your life, and then only invest a considerable amount of time and money into a four year college if it will actually be necessary to attain your goals. These psychopaths even go so far as to claim that, often times, skill and experience are more important than a piece of paper from an expensive college!

These voices should be silenced immediately. Cover your ears, kids. Don’t listen to them. Don’t question these artificial societal constructs. Don’t question anything. College is normal, you should want to be normal. Don’t strive to be an exception. Don’t attempt to break any mold or venture outside the box in which you’ve been placed. Some have made this grievous error, and they’ve all become failures, bums, terrorists, and cab drivers.

Kids, consider this an episode of Scared Straight. I’m that hardened, hopeless, caged criminal, reaching out, imploring you to avoid making the mistakes that I’ve made. I didn’t go to college, children. I arrogantly ignored the pleas from guidance counselors and college recruiters. While my friends were off to tour campuses and attend college fairs during the summer before our senior year of high school, I lazily and selfishly went to work and learned life skills. How could I have been so foolish?

Well, it’s too late for me. My future is broken, my potential is shattered and wasted. I’m an uneducated failure.

People enter college for two specific reasons: First and foremost, the experience. Nobody wants to miss out on the once in a lifetime experience of college. As a far, far, distant second, college is also pitched as a means to an education. Now, allow me to tell you how my life has been ruined by missing out on these two things.

Experience.

The college experience opens your mind and expands your horizons. A bunch of kids from the same age group follow the same path and go to the same colleges where they live together in a controlled environment. There, they go to the same classes, dress and speak the same way, do the same things on the weekends, drink the same crappy beer, develop the same priorities, and even vote the same way on election day. Also, they learn a lot about diversity.

My experience, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as fulfilling or eclectic. Like the unambitious sloth that I am, I got into my car at the age of 20 and drove 150 miles to a place I’d never been, in a state I’d never visited. I rented an apartment with my own money and got a job at a radio station and a second job as an assistant manager at a pizza joint. I met and learned how to work with people from all different age groups and backgrounds. I set out specific goals for myself and worked to achieve them.

Needless to say, without college, it was all in vain. Seven years later and now look at me. It’s the classic tale of failure and despair: Married, two kids, a career, a long term plan for the future, no debt, and I’ve never been unemployed. Please, avert your gaze. I am so ashamed.

Education.

As you can no doubt tell, I am teetering on the edge of full fledged illiteracy. Kids, when you’re told to “get an education,” remember that you can only learn things about things if you pay exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege.

I did not do this, so — just like all of my fellow non-grads — I am uneducated and uninformed. Such is the fate of anyone who does not attend an educational facility. Sure, I can go to bookstores and libraries and read books on many different subjects. Yeah, the internet, if utilized properly, can be a magnificent portal to an infinite expanse of information; but none of these things qualify as an “education.” I merely research topics and explore ideas because I want to know more about them. My motivations can not match the purity and fruitfulness of someone who learns what they’re told to learn in order to pass a test.

Recently I got into a debate with someone about the War Between the States. He argued that the Civil War was fought primarily to end slavery. I contested that economic and cultural factors played a much larger part, particularly in the lead up to the conflict. Halfway through our discussion, he angrily responded to a point I made about the Morrill Tariff by blurting out, “Please! I have a history degree! Where’d YOU go to college?!” End of debate. Trump card. Me, I’ve read books and essays on the subject. I’ve traveled to various battlefields and reenactments. I’ve spoken to people well versed in Civil War history. But I don’t have the piece of paper to prove it, so my knowledge is unsanctioned and illegitimate.

Education is something that happens in buildings specifically designed for that purpose. Then, after a few years, you walk across a stage and — POOF! — you’re educated. You’re done. Education complete. You are officially an educated person. You completed all the steps, followed the path, solved all the puzzles, made it to the final boss and killed him, and now you’ve beaten the game. Time to kick back and take it easy!

But not me. I’ve no experience, no success, no way to learn anything about anything. I can only crawl back under that bridge where all the other non-graduates live. It’s getting crowded under there, in the mud, amongst the nameless failures. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the horror stories about some of the other miserable mopes in my community. Many of them have had it WAY worse than me. Losers like Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg — trust me, their stories would send chills down your spine.

So go to college, kids. No matter what. Just go. It’s the only way to avoid a life of sadness and disappointment.

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317 Responses to Kids, go to college or you’ll die alone in misery

  1. I went to college. I was fortunate to graduate (in ’97) with only about $19,000 in debt and marry a woman whose parents could afford to pay her entire bill with cash. Otherwise I’d still be paying it off.
    Now, as a certified leadership coach (a piece of paper, to be sure, but only valuable if I can really help people grow, and something I trained for NOT in a college) I am fully in agreement with the writer of this blog. ONLY go to college these days if you need it to achieve your goals. ONLY.
    Also: I wrote a novel. But I wasn’t a creative writing student. I’ve played around with stone sculpture and have sold pieces of sculpture. But I wasn’t an art student.
    I’m now a salesman working in the B2B arena. That’s the one thing that probably relates closest to my degree. No, I wasn’t a business major…
    I was a religion major.

  2. DrLindyke says:

    Well said. I left college early because I met the people who I would be working with, and in an instance of prophetic wisdom, decided that I did not want to work with them (I was a Journalism major). Instead I joined the military, got paid to learn electronics and travel the world, and became a consulting technologist upon my return to civilian life. I didn’t miss out on a thing (except, perhaps, all of that crushing student loan debt I have heard so much about).

  3. Sarah says:

    I am currently attending a community college. My dream is to become a teacher so I am unfortunately stuck in the game to get that glorious piece of paper. Fortunately for me I was home schooled, therefore I usually perceive things differently than my classmates. However, specifically this year I have noticed a change in the way I study. I have become accustomed to how the classes and professors “work” and I find myself slipping into that “test-passer” mindset. I agree with your post, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions for people who need to go to college but who desperately want to stay out of both debt and conforming to society’s standards or learning and living successfully. It would be much appreciated!

    • I went to school and got an education degree so I could teach. It was a waste of money and time. Thanks to God I got married and so I teach my children. We homeschool. I had to unlearn everything I learned. You were homeschooled. Don’t waste your time and money. Don’t follow my bad example. Get married and teach your own children. The satisfaction will be better than you can imagine. This is said in love. Do as you wish.

    • CT says:

      I was also an education major in college. Starting at a community college is a great choice to help control costs. So, good job there. Just make sure that your credits will transfer to the university or college you plan on attending. Be careful about where you decide to transfer. I made the mistake of choosing an expensive university when I could have chosen a cheaper one which had a better reputation for teacher education. This was all because I started college not knowing what I wanted to do.

      If you can live with your parents and drive to college rather than living in a dorm or apartment, then do it. You will save a ton of money that way.

      Having a part-time job during the school year and a full-time job in the summer will help, too. I made a nice amount of money by tutoring and substitute teaching and working in a cafeteria during the school year and working in manufacturing (through a temp agency) in the summer.

      Don’t be afraid to take a semester off if you run low on money. You might even find your way into a job that will pay for your classes.

      Good luck!

    • Kate says:

      Get a job as a para-educator (teacher’s assistant). Not only will most school systems pay for your college classes but you’ll get actual hands on experience in the classroom so you know what it’s really like and if teaching is really what you want to do. Since an absurdly high number of teachers burn out in the first few years this is pretty crucial. (fwiw this is what I did and I decided that while I love teaching kids I did not want to be a public school teacher; too much paperwork and bullsh*t).

  4. Mynn says:

    I left college a few years into it because I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I am SO GLAD that I did. I’m now back in college, but with a purpose. And I will come out of it with less debt because I chose to be more informed. Thank you for standing up for the fact that doing things differently is not the same thing as wrong and bad.

    • anna says:

      i dont like what i am studying about. my classemates are stupid and i am very diferent compraring with them, so i am thinking not to go to the college.

      • anna says:

        people are not friendly, and they just thinking how to pass the exams with a ¨5¨of 10.
        they dont study for study , they just go to the university because its Cool.

  5. Pamela says:

    Wow, Pamela. I was waiting for someone to write like this. I left high school with a general notion that I “might” attend a business school. I remember the pressure. I decided to work full-time at a women’s clothing store for a year. For some of this time, my mom and I shared the family car to get to “both” of our jobs. Then, I bought my own car. For two years, I worked at a bank. I saved $10,000.00 while living at home. Then, I payed for and attended Allentown Business School. The point is I thought, before I bought my education. I think that if today’s youth really learned how to handle money earlier in life, they would “never” consider going into as much debt as some of them are now doing. Also, many do not consider how their own financial lives connect to the larger picture. The government and banks are riding “a financial debt tiger”. They want the next generation and the general public to be in as much debt as possible because….. they can keep riding the “tiger”.

  6. Andrea says:

    Totally agree. I was homeschooled and have always loved learning and progressing. What a disappointment college was. My first week in a math class, the teacher told jokes the whole time and then told us to go home and study the next chapter. What?!! I was paying him for that? I might as well have done homeschool for college as well as high school. It Would have saved me money and time, plus, I already knew how to discipline myself to learn on my own.

  7. xavier says:

    well said.

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  9. Cheyenne says:

    I got my degree ten years ago and have come to view it as the single worst investment I have ever made. Not just in money, which is significant enough, but in time. That “education” can’t even come close to what I’ve learned since by simply working and living life. I refuse to tell my children that a college degree is the key to unbridled success and future happiness. If they choose that path, so be it, but I will make sure they know there are other, more sensible paths available to them.

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  12. Debbie says:

    I had to reply to this post…I am enjoying your blog a lot..

    I went to college because it was the right thing to do…my issue is I was also a young wife and mom, ended up divorced with a 16 month old at 20…still going to college. I graduated with a BS in BS (literally..a BS in Behavior Science) when I was 28. By this point I was remarried, to someone who was also going to college for a long time since he also had a child young. So we ended up both under 30, with two children (we each have full custody so we raise them both together as just one family and have since they were babies), and debt that is equal to purchasing a home. Since we have this debt, we cannot purchase a home. We live with my mother in law, thank God for her since my husband was out of work for a while. We helped her raise her younger sons (who are now in college…lucky for them mother in law saw what we have been through and is paying for their college…or maybe we are since we pay half her bills) and she is helping us with our kids (when I say this I mean she babysits once a week when our work schedules overlap).

    Neither of us uses our degrees. My husband has a job that doesn’t require it, though I would guess the degree did help him get this job, but his pay is kind of laughable…Luckily he is a hardworking man and doesn’t mind keeping the crappy job with crappy hours to support us. My job requires an AS, but I don’t think the BS hurt..but I think my experience was more valuable than my degree. I work 20 hours a week finally making a normal hourly amount for my age, education, and experience…but I only work 20 hours a week so I can homeschool our two middle schoolers…although I was working toward my MEd and wanted to be a teacher. Well, I am a teacher, I just teach the two people I love most in the world. I couldn’t bring myself to work in the public school system any longer.

    But no matter what we do, that six figure debt is looming over us and we most likely will not own a home while we have a young family. No bank will give us a loan since we have that debt and we don’t make enough to cover the student loans and a mortgage.

    I will encourage my children to be whatever they want to be. My oldest will most likely choose a field that requires a degree…and he is being taught to apply for scholarships and how to only take loans for what he needs, but to try to pay for it while he goes. And my youngest will most likely choose an occupation that doesn’t require a degree, and she is being taught how to manage her money and that a two year degree in business might be the best option for her so she can learn how to run her own business…but she can do that while she lives as home and works as she goes…if she goes…to college. But I will not present college is a must, or the only way to be successful. That is how I was raised and I regret “getting an education” almost as much as I regret my first marriage…which is a lot.

  13. Christina says:

    I was force-fed the ideal that getting a education would allow me to have a bright future. Instead I am angry, bitter and in debt up to my eyeballs. I have applied to so many jobs that require less than the Bachelor’s I currently hold only to not be given a chance. I regret my decision, because I feel that my degree has led to employers discriminating against me. There is nothing for me around where I live, and my minimum-wadge job does not provide enough money for me to save up to relocate. I made more before I had a degree! I am so trapped!

    • A possible reason why you should not include your degree on your resume is that employers may feel that either a) you view their job as a steppingstone, and you’l leave as soon as you can; b) you’ll want more money that they are prepared to pay. As long as you have a computer, you are not necessarily trapped. If you’re in the United States, contact me directly at “caballafamily[at]yahoo.com”, I may be able to offer you an opportunity that will put you n business for yourself on a small scae, and won’t require any advance investment on your part.
      I think that the days of American long-term employment security are over for a good many years; but for someone willing to pay the price in time, commitment, and intellect will do all right for themselves. Sincerely, David A. Laibow .

  14. werqwer says:

    wefqwef

  15. Jilleana Smith says:

    I dear gosh. I’m contradicting myself–again.
    I love my art yet I love my science. Ugh, I swear. This article only makes me question everything that was shoved down my throat more, this is definitely doubleplusungood.

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  18. This really made me laugh so hard! I’m a fellow failure too. I did not go to college and I only published 2 books, built up a blog community, started a cake decorating business, traveled to 5 different countries, recorded some of my music and started a international non-profit. It’s pretty sad for a girl my age, not even 22 yet. I’ve always been an under achiever… probably because I was homeschooled. LOL

    You should have heard the gasps and seen the surprised and tortured facial expressions along with the desperate pleas for reconsideration when I completed high school (at 16) and decided not to go to college. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

    All the credit goes to God and my parents though. I couldn’t have done it without them!

    This is an old blog post I wrote about my choice not to go to college:
    http://stayathomedaughter.com/2011/09/20/why-i%E2%80%99m-not-in-college/

  19. rlcarterrn says:

    As someone who really loves sarcasm I so enjoyed this post. Not only for the content but also for the ingenius way in which you presented this. As an RN, I am obviously one of those people who did have to get a 4-yr degree (actually I could have gotten a 2-3 yr degree but these days the 4-yr is much preferred anyway) in order to have my current career. But I completely agree that thousands, if not millions, of kids are truly wasting their time & money by going to college nowadays. Most of my friends from college who weren’t in nursing school do not have well-paying jobs in their field of study post graduation. Many of them could be doing the same thing they’re doing now w/o their degree & all the associated debt. I don’t mean to say that makes their degree & their time spent at college totally useless. But when they’re in a lot of debt b/c of it & having to live w/ their parents or just barely scrape by month-to-month… Well, we’ve got to be asking ourselves if this is a path we can keep taking. I know my husband & I have already agreed that won’t be pushing our future kids to go to college unless they have a very specific job in mind that truly requires a degree. Otherwise we will encourage them to pick a “trade” & get schooling/experience in that.

  20. Asha01 says:

    I am someone who had to attend college, but not just for the academics. I guess I am one of those rare individuals where college actually made a difference in my life. I unfortunately started a family early and so struggled through most of my bachelor’s with my daughter in tow. I am now at the end of MS in Leadership which I believe will leverage me in the future. I agree that college is not for everyone but some of us need this accomplishment in our lives. I also believe that many individuals are unable to find work because of their lack of skill in finding employment and some individuals have simply given up. I was discovered for my current job because I had a degree in a particular field. In my opinion, the most appropriate thing to let people know about college is: If your going to go, then make it work for your future. Colleges and Universities are simply signing up individuals for the endowment; however, when you sign up for college make sure that you are going to an institution where you can prosper and learn. Also, I agree with the writer in that you have to get out an explore. Sign up for a trip to study abroad if you can afford it. The issue is that now students have to take charge of their lives not just think that a degree will speak for itself. I have worked in HR for several years and I decided that a BA in HRM and now an MS degree are important for me to move forward. Another smart idea…I noticed some of the new graduates out there are also getting dual degrees and certifications these look attractive to employers. Also, I wouldn’t trade my educational pursuits for anything in this world! To each his own!!

  21. Rachel Harper says:

    I am not college age yet, so I can’t speak from experience, but hear me out: I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary to go to college. BUT, I have always considered it part of my plan for the future. No matter what. For as long as I can remember, I have also wanted to be an author. Obviously this doesn’t require a degree, so why should I “waste” my money on college? I’ll tell you why. I primarily want to go so I can “know stuff.” I don’t know what I want to major in, but I can assure you that I will take a wide variety of classes. Even though only two years if science are required at my high school, I’ll be taking four. Why? Because I think it’s interesting. Just because I won’t need it to survive doesn’t mean it’s not worth knowing. Also, I’m not too worried about the cost, not because my parent will pay for it, but because I can get scholarships. It’s not even halfway through my freshman year and I’ve already won one for a thousand dollars to any school. I also want to go to college because I enjoy being around intelligent people. College is where I want to maybe find someone to marry. I am introverted, and I want to actually be around people who can carry on an intelligent conversation for a change. So basically, I guess my point is, just because college isn’t absolutely necessary, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go.

    • Asha01 says:

      Well said! You pose a valid point to go to college. Bottom line is some will need it and others will not! More power to those who do not need it. I; however, had to go to college because it has provided me with leverage. Some others in my profession did not need it as they were able to work their way up to the top and have the practical knowledge. I loved college every minute of it. I enjoy learning, reading, and writing! I too enjoy intelligent conversation. I am amazed that you are so young and have figured out so much so quickly! praises to you!

    • Dave Leigh says:

      Rachel, you’ve made a very good point for continuing education, but not so much for the expense of degree work. As I’ve expounded on in my own blog, school is ALWAYS in session. You will find as you gain experience that not only will you find intelligent people wherever you go, but — FAR more importantly — that a university education is no guarantee of exceptional intelligence. Logically, how could it be, when most people go?

      If you truly love to learn, you will find yourself doing that with or without the ivy-covered walls. I spend a lot of time on open coursework. I don’t get a single credit for it and don’t care, because I truly love the learning more than the credit.

      Also, please note that neither this reply nor Matt’s original post is in any way trying to discourage you from going to college IF YOU WANT TO. Rather, it’s to discourage the practice of denigrating those people who CHOOSE NOT TO; and decries the practice of pushing people to attain costly certifications that ultimately mean nothing. That’s an important point. Your own response, that you want to go to college to surround yourself with intelligent people, indicates the subtle prejudice that those who do not go are somehow not intelligent. I’m sure you don’t see that as a prejudice, but that’s the nature of prejudice: it is “pre-judgment”. Once you’re there, it is quite possible that an intelligent girl such as you will experience great disillusionment to discover that the people in college are just like the people from high school. Again, logically it can’t be otherwise… they ARE the people from high school.

      Go to college because you merely WANT to, and you don’t owe an excuse or an apology to anyone. Or go because the degree itself will be economically valuable to you. I do urge you, though, to challenge the notion is that “a degree” (nebulous and unqualified) is necessary for your happiness or success; or that those who merely possess them are more worthy of your esteem than those autodidacts who decided to exercise their intellects in other pursuits. Remember, when you exclude them you’re turning your nose up at folks like Tom Hanks, John Mackey, George Clooney, Russell Simmons, Woody Allen, Sandra Bullock, James Cameron, Ralph Lauren, Larry Ellison, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.

  22. Rob K. says:

    Rachel,
    As someone that did not go to college I can say that there of plenty of intelligent people out there that did not go to college. To go to college to shop for a husband is an expensive proposition that may not even work out, and truthfully is not a good plan. The majority of people that I know that went to college have said the same thing… that is it teaches you how to look for information to answer your questions.There may be some information obtained from professors but the majority of what you learn, you find yourself. My wife just spent 8 years obtaining her Masters of Business while working (she is now 47) and it was only to have a degree. She had mastered her profession in her mid twenties, but due to the current environment of requiring a degree to advance she went down the “college” road. We will see if it gets her anywhere.
    I work with some of the smartest people in the world and they often come to me for advice and ideas on important issues.I have worked for a major university as a mechanical engineer with no degree. You sound like an intelligent person with the mental resources to make smart choices. You are young enough to research what you want to do with your life. You can always talk to other people that work in the areas of interest to you,this will help you evaluate whether you really want to pursue that particular field. There is nothing in life that says you can’t change direction in what you want to do. You are only trapped by the restrictions you impose on yourself. Good luck in your endeavors.

  23. I love this article! This is sooooo true. I am so in debt and went to college because that was think you are suppose to do after high school. Scare tactics is right. I thought I only had 2 options. Either I could go to college and get a good job or I would spend the rest of my life working at McDonalds. I often tell people going to college is the biggest regret of my life.

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