6 Reasons to Avoid the Wrong (and Expensive) Education

Growing up and working through high school, there was never any doubt about going to college.  99% of my high school class headed college immediately after graduation.  At the time, that seemed to be an astoundingly awesome stat, with all of us on track for guaranteed prosperity. But now I wonder: should everyone aim for more and more formal education?

According to a recent Harvard study, college isn’t for everyone.  One-third of jobs now and in the near future don’t require a college degree, like electricians or plumbers.  These types of jobs are here to stay, and not everyone is cut out to be lawyer or a doctor.  Many of my high school classmates have moved on to other jobs and careers that either weren’t what they studied for or jobs that don’t require a degree at all.

Here are reasons I’ve realized that a college education isn’t what everyone needs:

1. Education is expensive.  Regardless of your earning prospects after college, earning a four-year degree will set you back a few bucks.  Roughly $140,000 bucks, in fact, for an average, private four-year university.  Most students and their families clearly can’t throw down cash for that. Even financing just half the cost with loans will leave a large financial burden at graduation. Personally, I dislike college loan debt because it creates pressure  to immediately find a job and paycheck for loan payments. Job satisfaction and lower-paying yet rewarding job opportunities are shoved aside due to a necessity to earn a big enough paycheck.

2. More education and more degrees won’t always help you.  Think a law degree is a way to guaranteed riches? This article could make you think differently.  Still swayed by the admissions department’s employment statistics?  Those might be a lie, as schools may count “server at Applebee’s” as being “employed after nine months” even though a law degree isn’t needed for that. There are simply no guarantees anymore in this economy.  More than just a degree is required.

3. Experience can be much more important.  I’ve seen lots of graduates’ employment prospects get crushed due to a lack of any relevant past jobs on their resumes.  Many positions have an expected minimum amount of experience to qualify candidates and simply having a college degree simply isn’t a substitute for what is learned in the workplace.

4. There’s more to learn beyond the limits of college majors.  There are some skills that you just won’t get with a degree.  There are career and lifestyle options that aren’t taught in schools.  I’ve been (slowly) discovering where else I can learn without taking up formal education again.

5. Something I’ve already learned in my limited work experience: people-skills are more important than technical knowledge in some cases. Being super smart but terrible at communicating is an awful combination in a job or business where you need to interact with coworkers and customers regularly.

6. After earning a degree, you might want to do something else.  This is where I fit in (or, I guess, don’t fit in).  I’ve completed six years of college and earned two degrees (with almost no debt or loans).  My career in engineering hasn’t even begun yet, but I’m already unsure what direction I will head.  I can see myself with an engineering career, but I’m interested in other things, too.  I don’t feel pressured to get a job against my will, and I’m glad that I have options.  This is 2011, where almost no one is a lifetime employee at a single company anymore or even stays in the same field for their entire career.

If you really want to try out college or work towards another degree, consider a state university or other public institution until you’re certain what path to take.  If you’re unsure about the field you think you want to enter (which is perfectly fine; a lot of people are), test the waters at a more reasonably priced venue first.  There’s always the ability to transfer later.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from following their dreams here; I’m merely suggesting that all options be considered.  Before investing a lot of time and money, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and always do what makes you happiest.

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photo by: sidewalk flying