Deciding on College

TL;DR

Only go to college with a career range in mind.

Treat the entire college experience as a financial investment, since you’ll have to pay it back someday.

Hunt for schools with the price tag in mind more than the pedigree.

When you’re done with college, move on to your career, since it’s an expensive lifestyle decision to stick around.

Why go to college?

College is specialized training:
  • College education expands on the primary and secondary education you’ve already received, formally or informally.
  • While college experiences are unique, they’re typically reproducible elsewhere for far less money, especially through the military or trades.
  • While a fraternity or sorority is a powerful network, there are many equally powerful networks elsewhere for nearly any mainstream industry and interest.

Your college experience must support your career plan:
  • To justify the time and money, the future work should give you enough satisfaction for at least 10 years for every 2 years in school.
  • Otherwise, since college credits don’t expire, only consider general education requirements until you know where to invest, then drop out until you know what to do.

Don’t “follow your dreams”:
  • Our dreams change constantly, especially before we reach our 30s.
  • Most people want an easy life, which is guaranteed failure.
  • Instead of acquiring debt to follow a dream, work a job and follow your curiosity until you’re fully aware of your desires.
  • Instead of setting a fixed future goal, pursue the most promising and most likely future possibilities.

Before choosing a particular college, understand beforehand what you want:
  • You should know your career goals before speaking with a recruiter.
    • A recruiter is a salesperson who wants you to go to college, even if it’s not in your best interests.
  • Don’t contact or respond to a college until you have a program in mind.
  • If you don’t know what you want, it’s better to learn by trial-and-error in the workforce (and make money while doing it) than paying for a degree that’s potentially useless in the future.

Discover what you want to do by observing people as smart as you:
  • Learn brutal honesty with yourself and your mental limits.
  • Your natural talents are always useful, but you probably don’t know how or where yet.
  • The hardest possible job you can do will likely pay the most.
  • Make sure the job matches your personality.
    • If the job is too intense, it’ll burn you out.
    • If the job is too easy, you’ll be bored.

Only pursue a program in something you’re already familiar with:
  • Disregard any pop culture you’ve consumed about that job (including “reality TV”), since it usually dramatizes the exciting parts of the job and incorrectly captures its daily routine.
  • You’ve had a family member or close friend describe their daily life at their job.
  • You’ve volunteered for or worked on it.
    • If you don’t have that experience, volunteer somewhere.
  • If you can’t find somewhere to volunteer, then that job is not in demand.
    • If it were, they’d never turn down free volunteer labor.

Degrees don’t mean as much as what they represent:
  • A degree is a piece of paper that says that teachers observed that you spent time in classes, turned in the work, and got at least “B” averages on all the tests.
  • Desiring to learn and working hard on good things guarantees success, which is what a degree should imply.
  • However, many specializations have so many college graduates that the degree does not distinguish the student as successful.
  • Plus, which school issues the degree hasn’t contributed much to students’ success for decades!
  • Hiring managers generally prioritize extracurricular activities and attitude over grades.

Only a few industry-specific degrees are almost always useful:
  • Nursing will always be useful because it’s a vital component of the healthcare industry, which is always guaranteed to need workers.
  • Accounting is always necessary, specifically with a bachelor’s degree, to attain a CPA license.

Some degrees would be useful, but the market is flooded with graduates in that field:
  • Criminal justice degrees are useless because many people who have watched crime scene investigation television shows (e.g., CSI, NCIS) were trying to “follow their dream”.

Some degrees are legitimately useful, but only with 6+ years of investing effort into a Master’s degree or higher:
  • Divinity degrees (i.e., religious training) are often necessary to become a pastor in many denominations.
  • Most of the sciences require a master’s or doctorate to conduct scientific studies.
  • Becoming a doctor requires a doctorate, as well as about the same amount of time in a residency or fellowship.

Quite a few degrees are technically useful, but the information is free elsewhere, such as on the internet:

Some degrees are completely useless for any work except teaching in it:
  • Art, of all types, represents what we already do for fun: creative writing, fashion design, film/video, music, photography, studio/fine art, theater arts, art history, art appreciation, et al.
  • Humanities degrees are vague enough that they don’t connect to any marketable job skills: history, languages, philosophy, political science, ethnic/civilization studies, religious studies, gender studies, et al.
  • Some degrees are simply learning better speaking and writing, such as communications and advertising.
  • Many sciences are “soft” sciences, where the subject itself has a limited scope of necessary rigor to study it: psychology, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, holistic health, et al.

Many high-paying jobs don’t even need college:
  • College is necessary to move into some management roles, but most positions require work experience more than a degree, and you can usually take night school later on after you’re more financially stable.
  • Most trades only require some knowledge and maybe a trade school certificate to start an entry-level job.
  • You can make a ton of money without college if you can withstand getting dirty, smelling awful, being in a dangerous environment, or being alone for long periods of time.

Education is often free in an internet-empowered society, but college isn’t:
  • Working in a low-wage industry (e.g., restaurants, couriers) often teaches productive habits, people skills, and the virtues of patience and perseverance that help support better-paying jobs later.
  • With the internet and a desire to learn, you have a near-limitless source of free videos, courses, articles, databases, research papers, and tools to sharpen your skills and understanding.
  • A college’s pedigree and prestige are nowhere near as important to employers as work ethic and attitude.

Your higher education is an investment

Calculate your expected financial return:
  1. Estimate the median income for your most likely future role.
    • e.g., $60,000 a year
  2. Multiply it by the number of years you’ll withstand that role until you want to jump to a new career later (about 10 if you can’t guess).
    • e.g., $60,000 a year x 10 years = $600,000
  3. Contrast the extra time on top of college to get acquainted with the role and make a legitimate living at it.
    • e.g., 4 years of college plus a year’s internship = 5 years
    • e.g., 1 year of skill-building plus 3 years of marketing yourself = 4 years
  4. Divide the new total of years by the income calculated in #2.
    • e.g., $600,000 / 15 years = $40,000 per year
  5. Compare it to an alternate job that you have now or could have soon.
    • e.g., $40,000/year vs. $25,000/year at a low-wage job = $15,000/year improvement
  6. Calculate the financial ceiling for your college experience.
    • e.g., 15,000 college-improved pay x 10 years = 150,000

Even while you go to college, keep your job on the side:
  • Stay working whenever you can to earn a living and avoid huge student loan debts.
  • Try to find low-paying apprenticeships or part-time industry work instead of merely volunteering.

Hunting for schools

Find the tuition costs of each school:
  • Estimate textbooks and fees into the total cost.
    • The previous editions of textbooks are often nearly identical (e.g., the 6th or 7th edition instead of the 8th).
  • Include the cost of living and any work you’re sacrificing to attend classes.
    • Calculate whether on-campus or off-campus costs less.
    • Deeply consider online courses, since they’re almost always cheaper.
  • Check whether they have an accelerated program to cut down on how long you’re going.
  • Note the terms and conditions of all school-based awards.
  • Many financial aid programs only apply to first-year students, so consider the total yearly cost after completing your freshman year.

Try to save as much money as possible:
  • Before going to university, take community college courses and online-accredited courses for every possible course required for your degree.
  • Consider self-study colleges where self-study can help you to rapidly get the credential (such as WGU or University of the People).
  • You can often negotiate a lower price or more features for your schooling experience if you simply ask.
  • Consider in-state tuition, which is usually cheaper than out-of-state.
  • Ask about campus work study programs.

Get as many scholarships and grants as possible:
  • Watch closely for demography-based scholarships:
    • Race (especially non-white)
    • Gender/sexual orientation (especially non-heterosexual)
    • Age (especially being older)
    • Odd, demographic-specific, industry-specific scholarships (e.g., a full-ride scholarship for a Filipino aspiring to be an architect)
  • Look for government-issued grants.
  • Take the SAT or ACT to open up more scholarship opportunities.
    • Before the tests, study and get tutoring to score higher.
  • Some scholarships require you to volunteer or write an essay, which is about 20 hours of mild research or menial labor for thousands of dollars.

Carefully consider any loans you may need:
  • Student loans are debts.
    • The only collateral they leverage against is your future ability to work.
    • The only type of bankruptcy that can clear student loan debt is uncompromisingly severe.
  • Expand your options to explore working a trade as a means to your degree.
  • Federal loans are almost always cheaper, with fixed interest rates and better repayment terms.
  • Estimate the amortized interest you’ll end up paying by the time you’ve completely paid off the loan.

Finishing your education

While at school, budget your time and money to maximize your experience:
  • For most people going to college, it’s their first move away from home.
  • Find affordable, meaningful ways to enjoy your life while you pursue your curiosity.
  • Most federal loans will let you go wild with borrowing, so live as little off them as possible to avoid suffering under them for decades.
  • You’ll need your work habits later, so keep working and building habits.

Leaving college should always be the beginning of your education in a more practical field, not the end of it.

Drop out of college if you’ve found a more meaningful purpose, especially if you’ve started a business!

At some point, you must leave college:
  • If you’ve can’t find work after getting a degree, a higher degree won’t help.
  • In fact, completing a college degree often creates a “glass floor” against entry-level work:
    • Beyond some graduate degrees in law, medicine, or education, most master’s programs add very little value to a career, and most doctorate programs are only useful to teach the discipline or work in a tiny subset of the industry.
  • After graduating, don’t try to maintain the college lifestyle.
    • Some people will keep getting college degrees across multiple unrelated disciplines, but they are forever enslaved to their student loans.
  • Educators are capturing known-effective things, so they tend to stifle innovation, and your capacity to create and innovate will only come from outside a college.