Recently, I met a long-lost childhood friend for coffee. As our reminiscent banter was drawing to a close, I asked, “So, what do you hope to do with your degree?”
He sighed as he looked at the wall. “I don’t. I was going to be a police officer but last semester I got a job as an officer on campus. That’s about as close to the real thing as you can get, and I hated it.”
“Are you going to finish?”
“I kind of have to. It’s junior year. It’s too late to switch.”
“What do you want to do now?”
He smiled a little and looked down at his near empty coffee mug. “Open my own parkour gym in Colorado, only I’m going to be stuck with college debt I didn’t need to rack up and a piece of paper I can’t do anything with.”
One of the questions most highly asked of high school students is “where are you going to college?” and yet stories like the one above are becoming increasingly common. According to an article in Businessweek, more than 40 percent of college students fail to graduate, even on a 6 year track. Years and years spent in preparation, yet college confusion seems higher than ever. Why? Aren’t there college alternatives?
Perhaps the problem lies not in students’ abilities, but in the questions asked of them. Instead of asking “where are you going?” ask “why are you going?” Instead of “what do you want to do?” ask “what are your dreams?” Try switching “what degree do you need” out for “what do you need to make these aspirations reality?”
College is not a bad place to be, but with the way technology has changed our world, it is no longer the only good option. In a technologically savvy age, young people entering the work force need to be thinking outside the box, even if they want to go a more traditional route. They need to be thinking “how can I tweak that?” and “what’s something unique I bring to the table?” Instead, students are promised that if they go to college, they will get a job. Consequently, they enter school with that minimalist mindset and, as a result, are being crushed before they’ve even had time to hang up their cap and gown. Before grabbing those college applications, here are some points worth some consideration and discussion.
First, as stated in the book Hacking Your Education, college is like going to the gym: it’s only worth it if you put in the time. I have encountered many students who are at school for one thing: parties. In fact, I have met individuals who have chosen their school based on the party notoriety alone. There is nothing wrong with letting loose. Having fun and decompressing from a long week is healthy, but if you are going to get the most out of your college years, you have to find that healthy balance. In a class half-full of exhausted and hung-over students, that balance can look more like a tango. You may not be the one partying, but the road is still a rough one if your lab partner only shows up half the time because he/she is on the floor of some bathroom.
Second, studies show that the average college graduate is over $27,000 in debt, and the numbers are ever-growing. Since 1980, college tuition has risen more than 350 percent with no signs of stopping. When looking at your options, it is important to weigh the necessity of spending that kind of money. For some, it is not only worth it, but necessary. For others, you can do just as well taking singular classes, joining a focus group, or even studying at your local library.
Third, the number of new college graduates far exceeds the growth in professional positions that these hopefuls look to fill. America has, according to Businessweek, an estimated 100,000 janitors holding college degrees. The fact of the matter is, there are a limited number of professional spots in the work force and, upon graduation, thousands of young contenders are all fighting not only each other, but seasoned professionals, for those spots.
Finally, all of the real practice and learning experiences happen outside of the classroom, and yet we pay money to sit inside one. This is not meant to undervalue the importance of protected learning, but it is important to understand that until you apply it, information is simply information. You don’t learn how to drive a car by only reading the manual: the real lessons happen behind the wheel.
If at this point you are thinking “What would my child do instead of college? I hate to think of them going through life without the safety of a degree.” I leave you with this; life is already uncertain, and there are plenty of resources to help young people reach their full potential outside of an institution. There are books like Hacking Your Education that are full of ideas of how to grow and reach your career goals without college. Your child could take only the classes she/he needs elsewhere, form a learning group, get involved with others with similar interests, or attend conferences and conventions. There are even gap year programs that help you launch, such as UnCollege. Read this if you’re wondering, “what is a gap year?”
To be clear: this article is not recommending that we all boycott college. College has many advantages. It is a place where concentrated learning can occur with minimal interference. Having a college degree offers a sort of safety and feeling of accomplishment, and it is shown that for every year of college, there is an 8% increase in overall life earnings. What this article does encourage is options; thinking outside the box. For some, the right decision is college. For others, the path to their dream career looks different. I know, for myself, Global 365 would not be in the works if I were still enrolled at my university. Some dreams cannot come true with college, and others can’t come true without it.
Home School graduate, coffee fanatic, and recent college drop-out, Taylor Nieman is a young American writer with a passion for travel and the-road-less-taken. Her greatest desire is that through her blog and writings, found atwww.taylornoelnieman.com, young people will be inspired to forge their own path and encouraged to live their “impossible” dream.