Going to college has become a big, expensive decision that most families are automatically saying yes to. Anytime we see decisions as large as this without questioning it we should pause and reconsider. As Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” There are lots of good reasons to go to college, and I will be going next fall. but too often people go without evaluating why.
Why college is overrated:
Let’s say a college education costs $20,000 per year. That’s $10,000 per semester where a student takes about five classes. Each class meets twice a week for fifteen weeks, so around thirty classes. Therefore, every time you step into a class, you’re paying about $65. And in most classes you’re receiving little individual attention. Could you spend that $65 to improve your skill set and career prospects in better ways? Although a college degree is a necessity for many jobs, what people and companies are looking for are ways to create value for their company and customers. Instead of focusing on getting a piece of paper that proves your adequacy, focus on doing great, valuable work. If you can do this without spending boatloads of money or by using the money more wisely, shouldn’t that be an option to consider? Regardless of what path you take, developing skills that will help the world is paramount. How and who it will help is completely up to you, as is where you develop those skills. Start by creating value and the path you take will fall into place.
Ask your parents how much of what they learned in school is actually applicable to how they make money today. 2010 U.S census data examined by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that just 62 percent of college graduates have a job that requires a degree. Furthermore, only 27 percent of graduates had a job closely related to their major. Just as the world has drastically changed since our parents were in college, it will continue to change from now until we are members of the workforce. The twists and turns that our lives will take are unpredictable, as is the world we will live in. In ten years there will be jobs available that don’t even exist now. And jobs that do exist won’t be around anymore. There’s a chance that what we learn in school won’t be applicable.
Consider a gap year:
If you’re a high school student struggling with where you want to go to school or with what you want to study, consider taking a gap year. The options for this year off are limitless. And, in twelve months you can do so much. The first thing I recommend for a gap year is to pursue a professional interest. If you have a career in mind, find out if there’s a way you can start doing it. Seek out job opportunities and internships. Discover if you would actually like it. Yes, you can’t just go be a doctor. But, if you’re stubborn enough, I’m sure a doctor’s office could find a way to make you useful. And if you focus on doing a great job, they might start paying you. Secondly, take time to travel. Commit yourself to actually learning the language you took in high school. The benefits that traveling will bring to your life are outside the scope of this article, but if you have a whole year off, time away from home should be part of it. You can fund it with the money you earned cleaning stethoscopes. Lastly, think about your interests. What topics have always seemed interesting, but you’ve never had time to dive into? Find some books on it or an online course. Have you always wanted to draw, write, or make music? Whatever it is, this is the perfect time to attack those subjects. Exploring these curiosities will challenge you to think about what your real interests are and the things that you have a knack for. You may discover exactly what you want your career to be.
One of the push backs against a year off is the worry that once kids have time off from school, they won’t want to go back, or won’t be able to academically motivate themselves. If you can’t motivate yourself to keep learning, whether through reading books, taking courses, or taking classes without an institution telling you to, then you should really consider if it’s the right time for college. In college, kids aren’t forced to show up for class. They just fail. Except now being a slacker costs thousands of dollars. Instead, take time to improve yourself before spending all that money. Develop good study habits with the training wheels still on. Then, when you go to college you’ll be more prepared and more mature. There is a big difference between an 18 and a 19 year-old, and being a year older, a year smarter, and a year more prepared will give you an advantage.
Also, why is everybody in a rush to grow up?
The coolest part about taking time off is that you’ll discover that there’s so many more options than what we’ve been led to believe. You’ll realize that the traditional high school to college to work path is not the way our lives have to be. There is no path you have to follow. Make your own path. Time off makes you question the assumptions. And, you’ll realize in other places in society that these assumptions guide our lives in so many ways just because nobody has thought to question them.
Why I’m going to school:
I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished the last two years. At the age of twenty I’ve built a career for myself, I’ve traveled the world, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and my interests. I felt that I was learning and growing so much that one gap year turned into two. But now, I feel that I have squeezed the most out of what I can at this stage in my life. In college, I hope to have my thinking challenged every day. Yes, there are certain skill sets I want to develop, but more importantly I want the experiences that college will bring. To be in a new place with new people and a new culture. Life’s a journey, and I want college to be an exciting chapter of it. Lastly, I do recognize the value, and often the necessity, of a college degree. So, I will go through the system and spend a lot of money for a fancy piece of paper. But, now I know that I’m not doing it because that’s just “what people do,” or because, “that’s what the next step is,” but because I feel that it is the best decision for my growth. Consider what the next step for your growth is. Is it school? An internship? An eleven month trip around Europe? There is no path you have to follow. Make your own.