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Is College Even Necessary Anymore?

I have a degree in English – specifically, in Creative Writing.

This fact has never been useful to me.

That’s the truth. The degree has not helped me get a job. It hasn’t convinced any clients to hire me. It’s never gotten me a raise.

All it’s been good for is taking up space on my office wall and about $40,000 in student loan debt.

The last few years of college were tough ones for me. I changed schools, which inexplicably forced me to take freshman English classes as a JUNIOR ENGLISH MAJOR. I became a commuter, and not only lost most of the friends I made at my former college, but never made any new ones at the new college (working two jobs made it impossible to spend “extra” time on campus for any reason). I was never able to get assistance in finding a career path for myself – which is generally promised at every college – and I took unnecessary courses, extending my graduation date out a year because some classes didn’t complete certain requirements, which I only learned after taking them.

At my old school, I made the Dean’s List. But I became so disaffected by my new situation that I completely disengaged from my classwork. I was put on academic probation and literally only went to college enough to pass my classes.

Side note for my favorite story: one of my literature classes featured the worst kind of liberal arts professor – the tenured one. You know, the old guy that can’t get fired, so he has zero interest in making an enriching, engaging class. I stopped going to the class promptly and showed up for final exams.

At the final exam for the semester, a fellow student who knew me from other classes looked at me and said, “You’re in this class?”

I passed the class with flying colors.

In discussing this whole thing with my parents last night, I was able to articulate a thought that never really materialized in my head: the reason I withdrew from college to such a degree is because I figured out what I wanted to do with my life and a creative writing degree was not going to do bupkis for me.

I already knew I was going to be a freelance copywriter. And at that point, college courses were completely irrelevant. They were not preparing me for anything. Instead of being a source of knowledge that could be useful to me later in life, college had become something that just got in the way and delayed my success.

I even considered dropping out at one point near the end of my college career, but too many people around me swore up and down that I “needed” a college degree and I would regret not having one.

To this day, I regret getting one.

Today, five full years after I’ve graduated, I’m a freelance copywriter who is going to break the six-figure income mark this year. I’m more successful than I ever dreamed I would be, and I’m thankful for that. God certainly has tossed a lot of blessings my way.

But as I look back on college, especially the last 3 years of it, I can’t help but think that it was a waste – and it only made me wait an extra 3 years to reach where I’m at today.

Do I think college should be eliminated? Of course not. But we should be rethinking it in a few ways. Here is where my head is regarding college:

  • If you’re going into a strictly fact-based career that requires a wealth of knowledge, get yourself a college degree. If I’m going to have major surgery, I’d prefer to have a doctor that went to college. It also makes sense for your scientists and most engineers. Go get that piece of paper, if not more.
  • Before deciding to go to college, explore all of your options. If you want to go into marketing, look into the world of freelance writing or freelance design. Clients don’t give a rip if you have a degree – they want to see what you can do. There are plenty of opportunities to build your own career these days. If you want to write or be an artist, skip college and wait tables while you spend all your free time working on that stuff to build out your portfolio or whatever.
  • If you don’t know what you want to do, take a (focused) year off. I have no problem with the gap year, but if you’re going to take one, don’t waste it. Take that time to explore all your career options and see what might be a good fit for you. My neighbor’s son took a year off to determine that he wanted to work on power lines for a living. Now he’s headed to Idaho for a 4-month program. When he gets out, he’ll make almost $30/hour doing it. It’s a well-paying, honest living, and he gets to start right away without a ton of debt. That’s brilliant, and there should be more people taking those kinds of career paths.

If I had to do it all over again…

If I had to go back and redo that period of my life, here’s what I would have done:

  • Stayed home with my parents for a year or two
  • Taken the copywriting course that I took in July 2011
  • Waited tables (or whatever) at night and hustled like crap to build my copywriting career during the day
  • Take those profits and pay off all my debt
  • Live the good life and travel more before settling down

Now, hindsight is 20/20. I did enjoy the first two years of college very much, and I made at least a couple friends that are incredibly close to me to this day. And if your life is the sum of all of your experiences and decisions, then I would keep it the same to ensure that I would still end up in the great spot I am today.

But the point is: the system is broken. A college degree isn’t a guarantee of anything anymore. And neither is not getting a college degree. There are paths to go in every direction, but we need to do a better job of showing our youth those different options and helping them decide what’s best for them.

They’ll be better off. And so would this country. What do you think?

business, college, debt, personal finance