Why College Is a Great Investment (for About 30% of Students)

Simple Takeaway:

About half of all college students will drop out before graduating. Of those who graduate, over 40% work in a field that doesn’t require a degree. That adds up to 70% of all college students wasted their money and time. So you should go to college if the things you want to do in life require a college degree instead of work experience and you’re able to pay cash for classes. Otherwise, you should find another route.

Is college worth it?

Consider these stats:

  • About half of all college students will drop out before graduating
  • Over 40% of those who graduate college work in a field that does NOT require a college degree
  • Therefore, college is a waste of time and money for roughly 70% of students (50% drop out rate + (40% unnecessary degrees x 50% of the graduates) = 70%

But here’s the issue…

  • Nearly 90% of high school graduates want to go to college even though less than half of high school graduates feel prepared for college.
  • Around 50% of all college students don’t know what they want to major in
  • 80% of students change their major while in college (wasting time and money)
  • Over 70% of college graduates work in a field unrelated to their major
  • About 50% of all college students will go into student loan debt with an average debt amount of between $20k and $40k

America has a serious higher education problem.

We’ve brainwashed kids into thinking college is the only path to success.

The majority of high school graduates want to go to college, yet the majority of them don’t know why.

The phrase “college dropout” has become a bad word in America.

Instead of having a system that’s built to equip kids to enter the workforce in a productive way, we send them into a system that takes their money and burdens them with debt while they have the audacity to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

What’s even worse is, we incentivize students to stay in school and continue going into debt.

If they drop out, their student loan payments will kick in or they’ll lose scholarship money and have to repay it.

College is expected in America.

And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, college is a big business where plenty of people make loads of money on students blindly signing their life away before they’re old enough to know what they’re doing.

Students become numb to the idea of student loan debt because everyone they know is doing it and their teachers teach them how to be good at borrowing money. 

They figure out far too late that college can be a disastrous waste of time and money if you don’t know what you’re doing.

But we shouldn’t be altogether against college.

For certain career paths, college is absolutely necessary to get the additional training needed to be able to operate at the level at which the job market needs.

If you want to be an engineer, you probably don’t want to teach yourself that. Most people would like to know that you got some sort of formal education before you start designing, inspecting, and building bridges that people are going to drive across.

We usually also like to know that whoever is operating on a family member’s heart or brain spent a significant amount of time in college learning how to do that in a very meticulous way.

I certainly hope they didn’t teach themselves and I certainly hope they didn’t learn online.

So in very technical or high-expertise career fields, college is great.

The problem is:

  • over a third of college majors in four-year institutions are in things like business, communication, and arts
  • over two thirds of majors at two-year colleges are in liberal arts, general studies, and humanities

I love business and I love the arts, but when those are the most popular degree fields in college (and they are), a huge chunk of money, time, and energy is being spent on college degrees that just aren’t necessary.

That doesn’t mean they’re not helpful, but they’re not necessary to work in fields like business, arts, and humanities.

(This is coming from someone who works in – and hires in – the business world in a creative role.)

Most high school graduates want the college experience. That’s it.

Many of them understand that it’s a social pressure thing, but they want to do it anyway.

So if you’re considering college, here are a few questions to ask:

What do you actually want to do with your life?

You’re on this earth to serve. It’s the only thing that will matter when your life is over.

God put you here for a purpose and that purpose is to know him and to know and serve people. 

Harvard University conducted a nearly 80 year old study to try to figure out what led to healthier and happier lives, and they found that the keys to health and happiness are relationships and community.

Therefore, the best use of college is to find a career where you’re going to best serve other people.

Start with what you’re good at. Write down some things that come to mind.

Then think about which of the things you’re good at that people actually need.

Don’t chase what you’re “passionate” about. Find the overlap of what you’re good at and what the market needs. That will get you paid so you can start building momentum. You can find passion later.

Step one is to find a job – part-time, full-time, internship, whatever – where you’re getting paid and getting experience.

Next, look at your list of things you’re good at that people are willing to pay for, and pick out the things you enjoy doing – even just a little bit.

It’s not rocket science. You’re going to be better at something if you enjoy it.

Now, take the things you narrowed your list down to and start looking for places where you can do that job working towards something that’s important to you.

If family is important to you, prioritize jobs that pay more (because families are expensive). Look for remote work, no travel, regular hours…you get the picture.

If feeding hungry kids in Africa is important to you, you can either find a nonprofit to do the work you’ve identified, or prioritize jobs that pay well enough and offer enough PTO for you to travel, donate, and volunteer.

You don’t necessarily have to land the perfect job. Just start with what you’re good at that people need (high market demand). Then look for which of those things you sort of enjoy doing. Then do that work towards the end goal of building things that matter to you.

That’s called being a good steward of resources.

A salesman who is good at solving problems and enjoys talking to people will make a lot of money because he will serve a lot of people well.

If he thinks building churches is important, he doesn’t have to become a church builder. He will build more churches as a salesman funding church planters than he could quitting his job to do something he’s “passionate about”.

Don’t let college fool you into overcomplicating this.

The market needs things. Figure out how you can serve a need well that’s in high demand.

Then choose roles inside of that that you actually enjoy.

Once you’re serving a need, then you can tie your work to what’s important to you.

If you try to do those in reverse, you’ll never be satisfied because you’ll never serve people well (and you’ll always need more money).

Does what you want to do REQUIRE a college degree?

Most jobs will gladly take experience in the place of a college degree.

The obvious exceptions to that are health, engineering, architecture, science, and teaching.

If you don’t want to go into one of those fields, you probably don’t need college. Now, whether or not you want to go to college is another story.

The quickest way to learn about how to get into a career field is to ask people who actually are doing the jobs you want to do.

Make some calls. Look at job openings for positions that are attractive to you. They’ll all likely say that a college degree is preferred, but less and less job descriptions today say that a college degree is required.

Once you’ve genuinely identified whether or not a college degree is necessary for some of the potential career options you’ve identified, then it’s time to move on to the third consideration.

What are the next steps they can take without debt?

Student loan debt may be normalized in America, but it’s becoming a huge problem and it will cripple your adult life.

Student loan debt is now the second largest type of consumer debt category in America second only to mortgages.

Work a full-time job for about a year or so before going into college.

Then look into payment plans with the college. They’re usually happy to help.

A year will feel like a lifetime, but you’ll be free from debt and the depression and anxiety that it brings on.

If you want to go to college, first get a job doing something close to the career field you want to be in. Get a year of experience in that job. Save like your life depends on it during that year. Then go to college. Cash flow the first semester and get on a payment plan for the remaining semesters. When you graduate, you’ll have a degree plus 5 years of experience in your career field, putting you above the entry level 3-5 year salaries. You’ll be a mile ahead of the market and your future won’t include bloodsucking debt collectors.

Employers will eat that up.

Is college worth it? Usually not, but it depends. 

It depends on what you want to do with your life, whether or not the things you want to do require a formal education in today’s market, and whether or not you have the cash to make it happen now. 

Be patient. Culture makes us feel like every moment needs to be seized and that you should chase your dreams immediately before they slip away.

But all of your dreams will still be waiting for you in a year or two once you get a little experience, cash, and perspective about how you can actually serve the world rather than going to school because it feels like it’s what you should do.

Patience is unique, and it’s almost always the diligent and prudent who serve the world best and ultimately end up being the most fulfilled.