College pitfalls episode1:

I’ve decided to start a series of entries that go into detail on some mistakes I have made or have seen made in the name of pursuing higher education. While I am by no means an expert in this subject area, this is one of the few things I have accrued experience in simply by “fucking up” over and over again.

Is a college degree the right fit for me?

College is an interesting institution. The overall attitude of society towards college is one of respect. However it has become quite bloated in some regards and has led some people into a lifetime of debt servitude. Circumstance often asks the impossible of the inexperienced high schooler. How do you know what you want to do with your life when you have had limited to no exposure to the possibilities that life has to offer? A short solution to this is to expose yourself to these possibilities before you start college. Do not take someone else’s word as a guide to what your future holds. Just because you are good at math does not mean you should be an engineer. Just because you are a good writer does not mean you should major in journalism. Just because you are first chair in band does not mean you should major in music.

Before choosing a major, find out if the end-point of that road (a job or lack thereof) is where you want to end up. There are many avenues for this as professionals or enthusiasts are eager to share the details of their careers with aspiring students. At many Universities there are panels held for each various degrees with professionals that will explain how their jobs really are. Frankly I found them quite enlightening when I was going through my identity crisis as an undergrad. They will be brutally honest about misconceptions about the careers they have chosen. An example of this was when one student said he wanted to get into accounting because he was creative and wanted to use that creativity in setting up businesses. Obviously accounting is not a creative endeavor unless you are doing something illegal. However, this brings to point how little most people actually know about a field unless they ask someone who is in it.

The majority of people in the United States have been indoctrinated into the belief that to become rich or middle class a college degree is necessary. I was indoctrinated into that belief! The United State government has made it increasingly easier to get a college degree which has in turn made it extremely expensive. After graduating high school I had very little knowledge on how debt worked. I thought it was simply buy something now and then you can pay it later once you got paid. Once I learned that virtually everyone was in debt in one way or another and that the compounding interest is an extremely powerful force, I decided that maybe I should focus on understanding on money in general. Crudely simplifying the situation, debt can strongly restrict and/or increase your standard of living in amazing ways. The majority of electricians, plumbers, and mechanics, are in a better financial position than lawyers, doctors, and psychologists. Tuition at major universities is growing at a staggering rate at which point the earning potential of high-end degrees will be overshadowed by the debt obligations they will have to encumber in order to earn their first professional dollar.

There are memes everywhere in our society of people reaching insane levels of wealth without taking the predetermined path: make good grades in school, get into a good college, make good grades in college, get a high paying job, tolerate the job, retire, and then hope you die before you run out of money. You do not have to follow this path to make a living. Lo and behold you can actually twist and turn this formula as you see fit. I am working on that myself.