An Alternative To College Education

It has been pretty much indoctrinated into western society that the best thing you can do is finish school and then go straight to college, because once you have a degree it will open up a world of prospects. This is pretty much what my parents told me and what many parents today are telling their children.

But how much merit is there to this idea and is it really the best advice you can give young adults?


What Is The Common Advice?

As already stated, modern society seems to lay an awful lot of emphasis on college education, with the idea being that a degree or masters will set you up for life. You go to school, you apply for college and once you have a degree your prospects are so much better than if you don't get a third level education.

Politicians often state that they want to see more college educated people and that this will lead to prosperity and wellbeing. The reasons they state for this belief is that college educated people have a higher average income than non-college educated people. But is this the whole truth and can cause and effect be simplified that much?

In my opinion and experience the higher income of college educated people is not so much to do with the college education itself, but rather with the mind set of the average person that goes to college. My observations with graduates hired in the company I work for has been that they are ambitious and have a good work ethic, but I do not believe this is the result of college education. The reason I do not believe this is because their education is generally much too broad and they end up having to be fully trained for the specific jobs. And the lifestyle of the average college student is not exactly something that would be compatible with a productive job.

Is College Education Worth The Money

It is my belief that that someone who wants to go to college would still end up with a higher than average income if they skipped college altogether, and I will tell you more about why I conclude this in the following paragraphs which include my own personal experience.


Is More College Education Working?

Now the first question is whether the idea of going to college, no matter what, is really such a good idea? Should everybody have a degree and would it really make us all better off?

Unfortunately observations of the real world do not seem to favour this idea. A very large proportion of college students graduate with huge levels of debt hanging over them and end up in relatively basic service sector jobs that do not require any kind of college education. There are countless young adults with various types of degrees that end up working in retail outlets or driving cabs. This is not just a phenomenon of the economic situation of 2012, but has been observed for many years.

I have seen this with many school friends of mine who went straight to college, not knowing what they really wanted to do and simply went into some sort of arts degree that essentially guaranteed very little work and a lot of time to party. Once they finished their studies they realised that there really wasn't much work for them and that their education basically didn't prepare them for any kind of job.

The three most successful people from my class in school all skipped college altogether and went to do on the job training and apprenticeships where they earned little to no money for two to three years, but also didn't end up with tuition cost related debts.


My Personal Experience

When I finished school I decided to not just sign up for a college course, because I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't see the point in wasting my parent's hard earned money (who were willing to finance my college education) when I really had no idea what I would like to do for the rest of my working life.

So what I did was apply for a pretty basic call centre job in a large multi-national IT and electronics company. The pay was not great, but plenty for a young adult with no real commitments or responsibilities. Many friends of mine made fun of my decision and the fact that I was earning so little for having to get up everyday at 7am, sometimes at weekends.

However, while I was being paid for some quite basic work I was able to sign up for as many internal training programs as I could fit in, some of which I did outside my paid working hours. All the training was related to IT and electronics and I very quickly was getting a much more real world education in IT. The result of this was that after 6 months I was promoted to a more senior position and after 2 years was accepted into a position where the majority of my colleagues had degrees and were 3 or 4 years older than me. I also ended up helping out with the training of graduates who had spent 4 years or more in college. Essentially I had learned more in two and half years starting at the bottom of the ladder than many college graduates had learned after 4+ years of studies. And on top of that I was earning more than they were and had no debt to service. Quite a few of my school friends that studied IT now have 5 years less on the job experience than me, have huge debts and they earn a lot less than me.

Is College Education Worth The Money 2

This approach also allowed me to take part time evening and distance learning courses that were paid for by my employer and I now also have a degree. Now, I can see what you may think, "aha, so you do think a degree is beneficial". However, I can actually say that my degree has had no impact on my career at all, as none of the course content is applicable to what I do. Because I have so many years of work experience employers are interested in my work and not my education; I have never ever been asked for proof of my education, but always for someone to provide feedback on previous jobs.


Successful People With No Degrees

Even in today's day and age there are many people that are extremely successful but either never saw the inside of a college campus or dropped out soon after starting

Some examples of non-graduate success from many different backgrounds include:

1) The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, who went to college for 1 semester,

2) Andrew Carnegie was a wealthy industrialist, who dropped out of High School,

3) Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, richest man on earth and Harvard drop out

4) The famous photographer Ansel Adams dropped out of school and got no formal education in photography.

5) Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle and college drop out

These are just a few people and there are many, many more that have had success throughout the world. It would certainly seem that if you want to be really successful in the IT world you should at the very least drop out of college or not go in the first place.


The Alternative

So what exactly should you do or recommend your kids to do? What I am going to recommend my kids is that if they are interested in a career where they do not have to have a college education that they first see if they can get a job as an intern or at the bottom of the ladder.

This has several advantages. Firstly, it allows a young adult to experience the work environment and assess if this is actually something they would enjoy doing. As already mentioned earlier, too many people end up wasting 4 years of their lives to either find out they cannot get a job or really are not interested in the jobs they can get.

Secondly, there are real opportunities for ambitious youngsters starting at low level jobs in large companies. Pretty much all large multi-national companies I have worked for have had internal educational and training programs and also fully or partially funded third level education in return for a minimum number of years service.


Is This Alternative Always Possible?

The simple answer is no, certain careers will require a college education, and there simply is no way around it. Most of those jobs where college education is essential are jobs that require some sort of licensing in order to work in that area. Some of the most obvious jobs would be lawyers, doctors, accountants, nurses and teachers. If you have your heart set on one of these options then there is unfortunately no alternative for you but to go to college and get the required qualifications.

My concluding advice is that you should not believe that a college education is the only way to get your career started or even guarantee a successful career; there are very viable ways that do not involve years of education with high levels of expenses and debt.


Image Credits: Tax Credits, 401(k) 2012