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Thoughts on College

College isn’t something that I’m particularly well-qualified to address.  I dropped out of high school at 18 years old, got my GED, and started my business.  I did go to a semester of bible college, but that hardly qualifies as higher education.

Even though I didn’t find college to be something that was part of my long-term goal – I’m actually not 100% opposed to schooling.  I think it works fine for a fair amount of people.  This post was inspired by a conversation between my friends Cory and Chris on Twitter.  I tweeted something as part of that conversation that I do actually believe with significant conviction:

See,  I’m not anti-college.  I think it can be a great experience that provides necessary training for certain walks of life.  I’m 100% against two things that often come with college: 1) Lack of direction 2) Debt.

Over the past decade or so, the usefulness of a 4-year degree has been challenged by an ever-changing economy.  I feel like starting my company back in 2005 with no college education was a bit more of a leap of faith than it might be today.  I actually believe that anyone can be successful at working for themselves.  It’s a matter of hard work, sacrifice and discipline – but I think living life well requires those things of everyone.  Because of that conviction, I do question the general assumption held by my parent’s generation, that is: Everyone should go to college.

Lack of Direction

I can think of nearly a dozen people in my close circle of family and friends that were (or are) 5th-year seniors.  They went to college, because that’s what normal people do. They had no idea what they wanted to do next week, let alone for the rest of their lives.  For some reason, though, it was important to go to a 40K/year school for 4-6 years to end up with an English degree and working at a Starbucks.  Again – I think college works for some people.  But if you’re using it as an excuse to figure out what you want to do with your life – there are FAR cheaper ways of doing that.  I realize that I’m a bit of an anomaly – I knew I could run a business building software by the time I was 15.  I don’t think everyone has (or needs to have) that kind of direction at that age.  That said – if you’re 15-17 years old and have no idea what you want to do, DON’T GO TO COLLEGE!

That’s right.  Bold, italicized and underlined.  All caps, too, because I’m shouting.  There’s no reason to spend tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars at school to figure out what you want to do. Don’t go to school, go to work!   Find something you love to do and do it.  Heck, even if you don’t love it, just go make some money.  Life will never be as inexpensive for you as it is right now – go earn and save a ton of money!   Hustle, hustle, hustle and make the life you want.   Along the way, you’ll figure out what it is you want to do.  There’s life in the doing.


No me gusta debt.  Je n’aime pas debt.  Ich hasse debt.  我討厭的債務. Seriously.  I hate debt.  I can’t say it in enough languages.  It’s a scourge to personal finances and businesses alike.   Like the ancient proverb says, The borrower is slave to the lender. Debt causes you to miss the mark, to be shackled to things you were never meant to be shackled to.  One of the biggest areas of indebtedness today is student loan debt.  Student loan debt has nearly quadrupled in the last 10 years.  In 2010, for the first time this century, student loan debt was greater than both auto and credit card debt.  It’s a big deal and it’s weighing my generation down.  I know too many people who are working in dead-end jobs for “job security” for no other reason than their student loans.  I have personal friends whose student loan payments are bigger than their rent checks. 

Having two kids (and one on the way…and who knows after that!), has caused me to think about this often.  I am absolutely saving money for my kids to go to school, if they want to go.  If they’re going to become doctors or lawyers or certain kind of engineers – of course, they’ll have to go to college.  But what if they don’t?  What if they get married at 20 years old to some trust fund kid?  What if they start a business?  What if they take over my business?  What if the best thing for them is to go work at an orphanage in Tanzania after high school?  There are so many unknowns in life that I can’t imagine forcing my children on one certain path, boxing them into an academic world that may just not be their calling in life.

Again – if you don’t have to go into debt for it and you know why you are going – absolutely go to college.  Go to the best college you can afford that makes the most sense for the path in life you want to take.  But please, for the sake of your future self – don’t go to college just because normal people go to college.  I know normal.  Normal is broke.

Join the Conversation


  1. Only after 2 years in college did I realize these things. Thanks for writing this all down; if I ever need to have this conversation with someone now I’ve got a good reference!

  2. There are a few higher education programs that I’d be cool with to ‘figure things out’ but they are all one year things that have some travel incorporated. Any of them would have to be done with no debt.

    I have a Counselling BA which I don’t use as a programmer. Sucks that I spent all that money, but I was lucky and worked my butt off and thus came out with little student debt which we paid off in a year.

    I know 2 or 3 friends that had marriages fail sitting on $100k+ of student debt.

  3. Amen!

    I took a similar path. Long story short, I quit community college to focus on my freelance career. The main reason I began college was because I had the idea that if you don’t go, you’re a loser. You nailed the flip side of the coin which is probably less mentioned:

    “…it was important to go to a 40K/year school for 4-6 years to end up with an English degree and working at a Starbucks.

    College is for people who want to be nurses and accountants, not artists and philosophers. Not every degree leads to a job that can pay off the loan and support a family. Young people need to be informed about career outlook before taking on ten years of massive debt. I’m not sure how well parents, teachers and universities do that.

  4. I also skipped the whole college deal and it was because I did not see purpose in signing off 4 years of my life to any of the courses college had to offer. But at the time I felt rather silly about not going. I wish this post had existed back then.

    I was already learning technical stuff on my own (programming, hosting, etc) and was just plain sick and tired of the whole “study hard for the tests” ordeal during my teen years. (Homeschooling wasn’t so easy as some think.)

    Now, I am on my second to last year of seminary, doing the whole “study hard for the tests” ordeal, but it is something which fits my heart — and my wallet.

    I know a family who claims their two children will someday go to college because “that’s where they will learn to take a stand for their faith, grow up, etc”. That’s ok for them. But in my opinion, it is quite an expensive alternative. Doesn’t everyday life tests our faith and maturity just as much.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Daniel! Yeah, I think I’d tend to agree with your perspective on everyday living vs. college. Plenty of opportunity to be the person you are supposed to be without spending thousands of dollars to do it.

  5. I went to community college because I could pay it out of pocket and not rack up debt. I loved learning and left there with over 300 credits just because. Thought I needed a university degree to get a well paying job, but after college I moved to a different city that had tons of opportunities and so far nobody has cared about my degree and I still have the pleasure of the debt :(. My payments are astronomically high… More than most people’s mortgages.

    I agree with this post. If you know what you want and the industry requires a degree- go to college, otherwise save your money and go work. And I always recommend doing community college classes first because they are cheap and you can explore lots of areas without going into debt.

  6. The days where college had a guaranteed good return on investment in the workplace are long gone. Plus, so many of us end up not working in our area of study anyway.

    There are so many other creative avenues for a career now. For example, my youngest son decided to forgo college and found a software development training and apprenticeship arrangement instead. It’s a perfect fit for his personality and he’ll end up debt free with way more real-world experience than a degree would provide.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Doug!

      Software development is a perfect example of an area where you certainly could go to school for 4-6 years and get a degree, but you really don’t have to. I have many colleagues who did exactly that, and I have yet to meet any of them who are doing more fulfilling work or making more money than I (or many of my college/debt-free colleagues) am.

      Great comment, thanks Doug!

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