Making Plans and Achieving Goals

Stop Mindlessly Going To College

Stop Mindlessly Going To College

It’s graduation season! I was recently reminded of this because I unintentionally planned my golf/beach weekend during “senior beach week”. This is the time of year when all the high school kids head to the beach for a week to celebrate their graduation.  For kids on the east coast, that means Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  (I’m not sure if “senior beach week” is really a thing all over the country, or not.)

Anyway, I was only there for one night but that still led to some interesting interactions with some rather intoxicated kids.  It seems that everyone goes to college but no one has a clue why or what they will study.  I did attempt to ask some thought-provoking questions such as “why that school” and was met with blank stares and “because my friends are going there”.  I considered putting together a powerpoint for the kids on “making good life choices” but decided against it.   Just not sure it was the right environment. 😉

Think About The Future

So, In honor of all the high schoolers who are heading off to college, this one is for you.  Before you pick out your dorm room decorations and decide on your fraternity/sorority, let’s take a second for your future.  Far too many people go to college with no real plan at all. They just know that from the time they were in elementary school, they were going to go to college.

Unfortunately, just “going to college” doesn’t do much of anything for your future besides put you in tremendous debt or cost your parents a lot of money.  Colleges offer some really ridiculous classes and pointless majors.  You can’t just assume that because you got a four-year degree that a good job awaits you.  I know college is a fun and exciting time but you need to realize that the real purpose of college is to better yourself through education, not drinking with your friends.

“But a four-year degree in something that will help open doors”.  Wrong!  You have to have skills that someone is willing to pay for to open doors.  I know a lot of people with four-year degrees that work in jobs that require zero education.  I don’t want to see another repeat of Occupy Wall Street.   (That was a protest where a bunch of people with no employable skills and ridiculous degrees camped out in New York demanding that rich people hire them and pay them well.)

So before you head off to college, please take a few days this summer for your future.  The below might not be as fun drinking at the beach but the payoff will be tremendous.

How Much Is College?

The first thing you should do is to spend some time figuring out the cost.  College is crazy expensive and you should start by calculating the cost of going to college for one year.  Here is a good calculator to give you a high-level look.  The numbers range quite a bit from in-state versus out of state and public versus private.

I would suggest you actually go beyond the calculator and set up a spreadsheet for yourself.  Try to find information specific to the school you are going to.  You should definitely be able to find good numbers for the big ticket items like tuition, books, housing, meal plan, parking, and transportation.

However, don’t forget about the other ones like possibly joining greek life, playing club sports, tickets to sporting games, the cost of needing business clothes, traveling home, stuff for the dorm/apartment, going out with friends, lab fees, certification tests, possibly moving home over the summer, etc….  I know you won’t be able to give exact amounts but it helps to at least think about it and make a guess.

You will probably find your cost for four years to be around $100,000+.  Hopefully, this number motivates you for the next step.

Minimize Debt

So many kids and parents just shrug at that number and fill out their student loan application.  Please take some time to explore your options.  You might be eligible for financial aid or scholarships.  About two-thirds of students are receiving some help so it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.  The best place to start is filling out the FAFSA form.  Instructions can be found here.  Just about anyone who puts in the time to apply for a bunch of grants and scholarships will usually end up with something.

While in school, you need to be constantly aware of your loans and work hard to keep your spending in check.  Work part time while in school, live in the cheap apartment with lots of roommates, limit eating out and bar time, don’t go to Miami for spring break, etc.  So many students will just spend money like it is unlimited while in school.

A final big way to save is to commute from home or possibly attend a community college for two years.  I know the “college experience” is an amazing thing but it sucks paying for it when you are 45.  At least explore this as an option.

What Job Do You Want?

The next thing to think about is which job you want instead of which degree you want.  I would suggest starting another spreadsheet to help you out.  For any job you think you would enjoy, fill out the following information.

  1. Average Salary – This is so important.  I know “money isn’t everything” but I hate hearing people complain about how much they make.  If you want to be a teacher, you can find out (to the penny) what teachers are getting paid.  Civil Engineer salaries might not be as exact but you can probably get within $5,000 of your starting salary, per area.  Also, look at future earnings.  Some jobs increase dramatically over time while others hit a ceiling.
  2. What Is The Availability – Do some searches online to see who is hiring people with less than 2 years experience.  The location will be big here.  If you are willing to move anywhere, you can increase your chances.  If you would like to be a Biomedical Engineer in Nebraska, it probably isn’t happening.
  3. What Education Is Needed – Find out which degree people get who do the job you want.  Perhaps a masters or doctorate degree is needed.  Perhaps multiple degrees are needed.  Then, look at a sample schedule for those degrees.  If you need up to Calculus 4 and Differential Equations 2 by end of Sophmore year, but struggled with Algebra, you might be going down a bad path.
  4. How Much Debt – If grad school or multiple degrees are needed, factor that into the spreadsheet you made for calculating the average 4-year cost.  Sometimes, the cost of medical school might not be worth it to you.

Get Real

By doing the above task, it forces you to be realistic and it tells you which degree you should get in order to get the job you want.  Far too many people show up to college “undecided” and those people usually end up just taking the path of least resistance.  They take classes that are fun, interesting and easy.

Then, I hear these same people complain constantly about not being able to find a job, not getting paid enough and hating the job they did get.  Remember that a University is a business and if there is a demand for people to get a major in The Beatles, the University will actually supply the major to meet the demand.  Notice, they don’t promise a job, but they will take your money, just the same.

I know Engineering, Accounting, Data Analytics, Biochemistry, etc are tough degrees to get, but that is the point. Just like most things in life, a little planning and research upfront, will pay off enormously in the long run.

Okay rant over.  What advice would you give those heading off to college?  Any advice that helped you?  What would you go back and tell yourself?


20 thoughts on “Stop Mindlessly Going To College”

  • This is a great Grant and not a thing I would change. The occupy movement thing was so dumb. The occupy videos on YouTube are hilarious and sad at the same time.

    College is a business and at this rate I wonder if the colleges are selling themselves out. I hate this to our generation’s issue…fighting expensive classes doesn’t sound as glorious as fighting Nazis.

    • Hey Lily, thanks for commenting. My roommate in college was living in New York at the time and he said it was no less sad in person.

      I have considered that college’s selling out might lead a correction actually. If enough students leave a school with no prospects perhaps kids would quit going? You are right that our grandparents shake their heads at almost all of our “problems”.

  • You might’ve run into a little bit of selection bias during your Myrtle Beach stay. Many of the kids who put thought into their collegiate endeavors might skip an expensive beach week and instead visit family for free.

    I think your advice is spot-on, and I really want to emphasize the importance of applying for scholarships. I give out a modest annual scholarship at my high school alma mater, and less than five percent of the graduates applied this year. That’s insane! Especially because the scholarship is available to any graduate, not just one attending college, and it’s a check directly to the recipient. The selection committee supports trade schools, entrepreneurship, and of course higher education. The guidance counselor even tells the students about all the scholarships available to them and encourages them to apply. To receive so few applications really boggles our collective minds!

    • Haha. Very true that the kids bonging beers in the hot tub might not have been the cream of the crop. However, every single one of them was going to college.

      So so true on the scholarship. I was going to expand on that point but I was already getting a little lengthy with my post. Tons of kids think you must have a 4.0 and perfect SAT to even apply. There are so many scholarships out there that aren’t even academic based. They just want to hear your story and see if they can help.

      That is really amazing (extremely sad) that you only got a handful of applicants when the school tells them about it.

    • I plan on that being my daughter’s job before she goes to college. Just to apply to anything and everything. It is amazing how much money gets left on the table every year. Thanks for commenting.

  • Yeah it’s just not the same as it used to be. A bachelors isn’t a guaranteed ticket anymore. I can tell you, not even an MBA is. A bachelors is the new high school diploma. And an MBA/Masters is the new AA. I see so many MBA resumes, it’s gotten to the point where I’m numb to it. There’s nothing special about it any more. Now, if it was a top 3 or top 5 school, that would raise an eyebrow. But seriously, anything else is just barely “extra credit” worthy. It’s sad and it sucks for those who’ve spent the money to attain it (or are in the middle of it); so sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m just reporting on what I’m seeing first hand. Doesn’t mean it’s a dead end. Just not as much of a guarantee as it used to be. Not even close.

    • Well like I said every kid that we talked to was going to college. No offense to them but these weren’t what you would think of as scholars. I graduated high school 12 years ago and only about a third of the kids were going on to college.

      With more and more kids going to college it just keeps watering down the degrees. That is why it so important to get a real degree, work hard to make good grades so you can get good internships.

  • I do think that a lot of people just go to college because you need a degree and don’t give much credence to what kind of degree it might be although I also think this is less and less common these days. The cloud of debt after college is an oft discussed topic among people in the post-graduation age bracket and I think those discussions will carry through to their younger siblings and more and more people will eventually start making more sound decisions when it comes to majors and what to study.

    The problem there is that if everyone is majoring in engineering and computer science then those jobs will become less rare and therefore have to pay less. It’s similar to what happened with pharmacy majors when I was in college. It was the hot major back then and now those jobs aren’t as easy to come by anymore(although they still pay well).

    • Thanks so much for sharing! Unfortunately if you look at the most popular majors it is the usual suspects. History, liberal arts, teaching, psychology, business. This agrees with my anecdotal evidence of cousins in college, baby sitters, and my senior beach week friends. Kids still just seem to be showing up and floating through.

      I’m not sure if we could ever have too many engineers. I am bias for sure but I think engineers are what drive the economy and we can always make room for more of them. I would have to think about it more though.

  • I know the liberal arts majors are going to hate me for saying this (I was one myself) – for the love of God, study STEM. No employer is going to say “you studied gender studies in university? You’re hired!”

    STEM majors at least learned something solid in university. Universities tell you that studying an arts degree gives you critical thinking skills. A recent study demonstrated that this is flat out not true. Basically, the only skills I learned in university were how to BS “empirical” evidence. (I studied management and economics.
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    • I completely agree with you. I think it should be required by the universities to give students statistics based on their chosen major. How long after graduating before getting a job, percent of students with a job in something other than major, average starting salary, most common jobs with this degree are…., etc etc.

      Employers want skills and real-world problem solvers. I am fascinated by philosophy and really enjoy discussing it but being able to have a deep discussion of morals and the afterlife will do little for most companies bottom lines.

  • Ever since I graduated from college, my whole perspective on education has changed. It really isn’t about the degree, it’s about the skills you have and how fast you’re able to learn. I interned at Goldman Sachs building some web apps, and a lot of my fellow IT interns weren’t necessarily IT majors, but they were very smart, picked things up quickly, and practiced some coding in their free time.

    I do think it’s hard to know what job you’ll want after college when you’re just getting out of high school, but it’s definitely something to consider. Could definitely save some kids the hassle of an extra year or two of college like I had.
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    • I feel the same way. Skills are what matter. The best engineer at my first job didn’t have a degree. He was smart, creative, love to tinker and knew what he needed know.

      I agree that it is hard to know exactly what job you might want but you should be able to come up with something broad. Like a teacher, mechanical engineer, accoutant, sales, etc. Even if you can’t come up with anything at least maybe you can eliminate some.

  • I think if I went back to college that I would have taken advantage of a semester abroad. Looking back I kick myself for not having taken advantage of it and I think it was a huge mistake. Especially since I love to travel now. So my advice would be if you go to college take advantage of everything that is offered even if it’s slightly out of your comfort zone.
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    • Rob, that is fantastic advice. Most universities have all kinds of amazing programs setup for students. Just like the scholarships, no one applies for no one is applying to study abroad. I can’t think of any kid in engineering that studied abroad but I wish I would have looked into. As always, thanks for your comments.

  • I feel like this is a great post for anyone who is wanting to venture into the world at any point. Going to school is expensive in the States and not everyone can go to Germany for their free education program.

    • Thanks for commenting. School here is expensive which is why kids need to be sure they are getting a good return on their investment. I am actually quite thankful that it isn’t “free” like some other countries.

  • Hey Grant. Great advice. I’m not a fan of college. Paying for 40 classes when only 15 or so pertain to your major doesn’t make sense. Who after all would frequent a pizzeria if it wouldn’t let you buy a pie unless you also bought 2 meatball heroes, 2 antipasto salads, and a party-size tray of baked ziti? The higher education business model is absurd. But wait, it gets worse. Most of what one studies in college is largely forgotten within 6 months after the final exam. And whatever one does remember will become increasingly useless as time goes by. My advice to recent high school graduates is the following:

    1. Avoid student loans like the plague.

    2. Live at home and go to a community college.

    3. Pick a major that will lead to a job that can’t be easily automated.

    4. Get a job, work your tail off, and never stop learning.

    Thanks again, Grant, for taking on the college-industrial complex. This is a discussion we should all be having, especially young people.

    • Thanks for stopping by Mr. Groovy!

      I agree the college model is a ridiculous money grab. I couldn’t figure out how kids were dragging out there major to 4 years. There final two semesters would be accounting 1 & 2 and then nothing but electives. Engineering was a little better but still I spent a lot of time learning a whole bunch of stuff that has never been used since.

      Unfortunately, most of society still wants to see that degree. Even if someone took every online class available from Coursera most companies would still go for the person with the degree.

      Very good advice. The “college experience” comes at a steep price and I want kids to at least consider other options and realize that when you are 40 and paying off loans those keg parties won’t seem as magical.

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