The Wrong Choice
Joanne Jacobs links to an article titled Why I Wish I Hadn’t Gone to College by Keri Savoca.
Savoca writes that she would have been a lot better off had she spent the 11 years doing something else. "I watched my peers who didn’t go to college establish businesses, get into specialized trades, become social media influencers, or do exactly what I was doing, but without the student loan debt."
I don't know who her peers are, but I think she imagines life very differently from the reality for high-school graduates. Here's what she thinks she could do (in italics) along with my commentary:
If I had never gone to college in the first place, I could have:
- started a business 11 years ago, right out of high school
- started to build a social media following 11 years ago
- started writing books 11 years ago
- started coding 11 years ago
- built a recording studio 11 years ago
- taken an office job 11 years ago, and worked my way up to a management position
For that matter, there aren't very many office jobs available for people without a degree. Remember, a degree doesn't guarantee a job. That means that all those people with degrees are applying for these office jobs. Which means that someone with only a high school education doesn't have a chance.
- done an apprenticeship 11 years ago, and worked my way up to a high-paying union job
All this goes to show that the alternatives to college aren't really realistic. People who think they can just 'make it' without an education are deluded. Sure, sometimes it happens. You could be Justin Bieber, maybe. But if it hasn't happened for you by the time you're 20, it's not goine to happen.
What about people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and PewDiePie? Sure, they achieved fame and fortune without a university degree. But they developed these while they were in college and have no degree because they dropped out of the program. Even if you don't finish the program, being in college gives you advantages (especially if you were lucky enough to drop out of Harvard).
But here's where we see the real lesson: going to college isn't about succeeding at college, it's about preparing for your future.
And that was where Keri Savoca made her real mistakes.
Savoca's timeline is a bit opaque in the article, but it's like this: after high school, she went to university for six years. She took an undergraduate degree in music production and arts management in three years, went to graduate school to study theater sound design. Then, she writes, "Turns out that full-time jobs in theater are hard to come by, and at the time, they paid about $40,000 a year. In New York City."
So she then earned an education degree, thinking, "if I teach for 10 years while making on-time payments, the remaining balance will be forgiven! By age 33, I’ll be debt free!After that, she taught for five years." Here's the lament: "I taught for 5 years, got a chunk of the loans forgiven, and realized that I was still in trouble. After paying rent, car insurance, and Sallie Mae, I had literally nothing left at the end of each month. Zero. Nada."
So what went wrong? She says it herself - she spend all of her time working on her college program, and none of her time working on herself. "From 9:00 AM until midnight each day, I worked on my craft," she writes.
But here's what she didn't do:
- she didn't start a business, or develop any sort of sideline at all
- she didn't start building a social media following
- she didn't start writing books
- she didn't learn to code
You might ask, how do I know all this?
Well, I took the other route at first. The one she says she wish she had taken. It wasn't by choice; I had neither the grades nor the money to go straight into university. And I discovered first-hand that there is a very limited ceiling when you have only a high-school education.
Then I took the university route. I majored in philosophy, for which I'm sure there are even fewer openings than there are openings in music production and arts management. And sure, I taught for a while. But my actual career began when I was able to apply the other skills I had honed alongside my studies at university, especially writing and coding.
And here's the thing: even if you do everything right, success might still elude you.
But this is not an argument for less skills. You won't be further ahead if you stop learning after high school. If you want to avoid debt - great. But for most people in most places, you're looking at college, whatever the cost. Just remember - the degree isn't the goal. It's the pathway. You are the goal.
And even if you find yourself still in debt at 28 like Keri Savoca, keep working, keep developing skills and experience, and don't give up. Make of yourself everything you can, don't look back, and savour the experience. Life - even when it is hard - is beautiful.