The Question You're Not Asking: Should You Go To College?
If you have (or are currently attending college in pursuit of) an engineering, law, computer science, medical or any other kind of degree that qualifies you to do something with a tangible effect on the world, this is not the column for you. You're not going to get anything out of it. Well, maybe some well-earned Schadenfreude at the expense of all the little grasshoppers who didn't till for winter, but aren't you above all that? Why don't you go somewhere and understand some math, asshole.For the rest of you, I need to tell you something, and it's probably going to hurt: All that talk about how a higher education improves you as a human being, instantly launches a stellar career and hurls you screaming into the transcendental nirvana of financial stability -- yeah, that was all bullshit. Unless you're going for a professional degree, you really should not go to college.
You know what to do here.Not for credit, and not at a four-year school, anyway. I know, I know: "But what about all those posters in the guidance counselor's office, stating in plain, hard numbers how much more a degree-earner makes over their lifetime?" Even a Bachelor's degree, they say, nets you over a million dollars more than a high school graduate. Isn't that number strange? A million. Even $900k sounds substantially less impressive, doesn't it? But no, it's that fabled "more than a million." Shit, that's no longer money, it's a lifestyle: Going to college makes you one whole millionaire better than those savage high school plebeians. And though the findings change a little with every new census bureau report, it's always been right around that magic number. The latest version tells us this: High school graduates average 1.2 million over their lifetimes, while a Bachelor's degree nets you 2.1 million, and it scales upward from there. But here's the actual language: "Adults ages 25 to 64 who worked at any time during the study period earned an average of $34,700 per year. Average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates"I've bolded the relevant text. Everybody in that survey has a job, which, incidentally, is a thing that your college degree absolutely does not guarantee you. All the unemployed people, their college degrees doing nothing for them? They don't factor in. But hey, maybe the situation will be better when you're out of college. Things might pick up. You just need to get more loans for now, to get you through, is all. And that's exactly what's happening, according to Robert Shireman,
Soon the old brag "first in the family to go to college" will be "first in the family to be debt free after high school."But, hey, you're young and full of foolish hope: Let's assume the optimistic scenario -- that you get out of college without owing an unreasonable amount, after which you're immediately and miraculously employed, and you make that nice, round, one million dollars more per lifetime. Awesome, right? But what if it wasn't a million dollars? What if that amount starts dropping? How low does that number have to go until it's no longer worth it? 750K? Half a million? The real figure, when all is said and done, is
Pictured: You. Not being useful.If you start looking into the benefits of a college degree, you'll see this phrase a lot in the articles extolling their virtues: "... people with professional degrees earn more/have more rewarding employment/satisfy more sexual partners on top of a Ferrari." What does that mean, exactly? Can you even
Right around the time you catch yourself pirating cliff's notes for Pulp Fiction, you start to redefine the term "higher education."But then, I never quite understood the professional degree kids who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives before they were even legally allowed to smoke. At 18, all I actually "knew" that I wanted to do was girls, bong rips, and handstands - and I never did get that handstand down. We live in a coddling society, and our culture is extending mental adolescence further and further into the late teens and even 20s. I, for example, didn't really feel like a grown, responsible adult male until any day now, hopefully. The kids that have a life-map at 18 were always somewhat rare to start with, and now they're a dying breed. But even the lost teenagers still have that drive. It kicks in the second they get out of high school, and it's propagated by one of the most pervasive PR campaigns ever: "Go to college. You're nothing without a college education. It doesn't matter what you want to do, or even if you know what that is at all. Go to college. College fixes everything." And why would the government be so gung ho about it -- willing to offer you all that free money (hey, you don't have to pay it back until college is over, and that's a lifetime from now! That's basically not even
Yes. I know it was. It was a satire about current trends, not prophecy. If you believe otherwise, you're the kind of idiot the movie was referring to.So the financial gains aren't so great, so what? College isn't about money: You learn things, you gain wisdom and you improve as a human being. Maybe the benefit isn't in net worth, but in collective knowledge ...Maybe not: Sociologists at New York University found that about
"I really find that course in West African Feminist Fiction has helped me distinguish between the regular and the plus pumps."I'm not saying you won't get anything out of college: While I was there, I certainly felt like I learned and grew as a person...for about the first year and a half. I think everybody should go to a community college for a bit. Everybody needs some of those early mandatory classes and social experiences, assuming they didn't already get them in high school. You need to take at least up to Calculus in math, so you can immediately forget it, but insist to the IT guys that you totally understood it at one point in your life. You need the introductory writing classes, at least up until argumentative essays, so you can win fights on the internet. And you need all of the general survey history courses, with a few psychology and philosophy courses thrown in on the side, so you can see how fucked up our species is, and come up with some pretentious bullshit reasons as to why that might be. And by all means, if you have the money, audit any class that sounds interesting, but keep in mind that this is the information age:
"He wasn't the absolute worst in school!"But in the end, we can only really speak to personal experience: I'm a writer/editor, and I have an English degree. Yet I was so turned around and brainwashed by college-lust that I actually postponed accepting my dream job, writing dick jokes on the internet, because I wanted finish my degree...
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Oh, but for the record, it's not this bad everywhere: Here's a list of reasonably priced schools that are as full of exotic potential sexual partners as they are of knowledge.
Want to reduce your college debt? Find out how in 7 College Scholarships That Require Absolutely No Talent. And get you some more Brockway in 5 Movie Martial Artists That Lost a Deathmatch to Dignity.