Those of you who show up here on a regular basis know that your boy Nelly here isn’t very generous with the guest post spots. In fact, I tell most of these people to kiss the hairiest part of my ass.
But today, you kids are in for a real treat. Paul from Asset-Based Life is one of the finest finance bloggers out there. Handsomest too, or at least I’m assuming. He consistently posts some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking stuff out there, and he’s not a douche despite having a blog name with a hyphen in it. It’s criminal he doesn’t have more readers.
Paul and I decided to do a “dueling banjos” type of post, whatever the hell that means. He’s going to take one part of an interesting personal finance argument while I take the other. The winner will feast on the warm brain goo of the loser. We do not mess around.
The topic? It’s about going to college. To put a further twist on the topic, I’m going to argue the pro-college side of the argument despite consistently saying college is hella overrated, while Paul, who’s presumably more edumacated than a penguin dressed up with a bowtie, will take the anti-college side of the argument. Make sure you go check out Asset-Based Life for my side of the argument.
Without further aideu, here’s Paul. Make him feel welcome by tossing some rotten tomatoes his way.
There was something truly decadent about going to college. My parents were quite frugal and passed it down to me, but somehow financial discipline was thrown out the window when it came to college. I was told over and over, “We’ll pay for wherever you get in.” I managed to get in a very good and very expensive school. So much for the ol’ ROI.
College opened up many career paths. I learned a lot and had some fun. But as a cold, pragmatic investment decision, college was highly suspect when I went. It’s even more so today.
College Costs Too Much
A degree from my alma mater, if you started today, would set you back a cool US$280,000 (if you grew my actual cost back from dinosaur times by 7% p.a., it’d be about $360,000).
That is a lot of money.
If you consider your career a quest to build a big pile of financial assets (not a bad way to view it), college can start you off with a huge crater to fill.
There is certainly a premium in going to college, and a further premium to a great university. I just feel that the premium is rarely worth the cost.
Even if you’re able to go to college on the cheap, or even free, there’s still a big opportunity cost to the time you spend there. Which brings us to our second charge against college.
College Takes Too Long
You can accomplish a lot in four years. You can earn a full four years of wages (trust me – I went to college). You can learn and master a trade. You can start a business and see it thrive.
There’s a long-running quip that a bricklayer who stays busy can outearn (net of school cost) a doctor. Add in a high saving rate, compound interest, and perhaps a little entrepreneurship, and their tortoise v. hare race isn’t even close.
If I had simply learned a trade out of high school and started working and investing, there’s a great chance I’d be ahead of where I am today.
But What About the Learning!
I learned some really interesting things in my college coursework.
I had an Anthropology 101 class that was fascinating. But you know what was far more fascinating? Just about any Jared Diamond book I’ve ever read.
I had a great Philosophy course where we proved we do exist. That was definitely worth a semester of my time, and I feel sorry for you non-college grads who are still struggling with that question.
Almost everything I learned in class could have been picked up from a book (and funny fact, we actually used those “books” in our classes). Today it’d be even easier with all of the cheap or free online teaching resources.
As a business major with post-college jobs in finance, I was rather shocked how little of my coursework I used. In those rare cases I did, I always needed a refresher to remind me what I (sorta) learned.
Notwithstanding that, I did need a college degree for my first job in financial consulting, and that brings me to…
College Is An Incredibly Inefficient Filter
It’s hard – sometimes very hard – to get into college. That can make college a useful filter for employers. Since the schools have gone to all of that trouble to identify top test takers, high achievers, and whatnot, lazy companies can use that as their own screen for hires.
The only problem with this Rube Goldberg machine is that it requires students to then sit through four years of classes, many (most) of which they’ll never actually use. Plus there is the real risk of finding after four years that you should have gone a non-college path. Sorry about that.
Can’t we design a near-instant filter similar to college admission? Is it really that hard? I know of some companies who rely heavily on IQ, behavioral, and knowledge tests and don’t really care about your pedigree. I think that trend is just starting.
If college was and would always remain a ironclad filter for great jobs, I’d probably favor it more. But we’re shifting to a more meritocratic world where your college degree union card isn’t as important. The role of college as a filter may be nearing its end.
The Move to Meritocracy
Nelson (feeling charitable) and I (ambitious!) have both decided to write these guest posts today. Somehow we both felt it was a good use of our time.
Are you going to measure the quality of our posts based on how much we spent on college (fingers crossed)? Or are you going to judge them based on the quality of the writing (boo)?
There are many fields where college just isn’t relevant anymore, and there are many a millionaire and billionaire with no degree. If an orangutan was a world-class programmer, he’d have a job at Google tomorrow.
There are professions where college is still a required credential, and if you really want one of them, then have at it. Just know we’re shifting more to a world of merit. If you just want a big pile, college may not be the best route. I’ll tell you what is.
The most lucrative career paths have always involved entrepreneurship. If you want a shot at being truly rich, start your own business.
It’s a scary path with uncertain prospects, but one thing is certain: You do not need a college degree to become an entrepreneur.
On the contrary, I think a college degree can inhibit entrepreneurship. College debt, a comfortable salary, and a personal brand of “college grad” can lower your risk tolerance and turn up your nose to many simple but great business ideas.
As an entrepreneur, if you ever need skills that might come from college, you can simply hire those folks. When they sniff that you don’t even have a degree, you can tell them to go make you some more money.
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. While my current effort (strategy consultant) levers my college and MBA degrees, I have no doubt I could have found one that didn’t need a degree at all.
Wait! College Is So Much More than Career Prep
I had a wonderful university experience. The social aspect was really fun. I made great friends and had many a good time. I even spent a semester in London, which was culturally amazing for a simple Texan lad.
But here’s a sneaky little secret. Did you know that people who don’t go to college are also allowed to have fun? You may not get do it in a Hogwarts-like setting, but you can have many of the same incredible experiences. You can even visit foreign countries and cultures – they let in non-students too. And you can do it much, much cheaper.
Can your genius reach its full potential without being tested in the crucible of college? I’m gonna go with yep. Many brilliant minds are forged outside of college. Colleges mass-produce pseudo-intellectuals, but I don’t know that they craft real genius.
College Isn’t Completely Worthless
College is a safe and well-trodden path from high school. You don’t need to pick a career; you just need to make it to your 9am class. Your professors will help you learn, the administration will help you pick courses and majors, and recruiters will come right to you on campus.
All of this outsourcing doesn’t come cheap, though.
I didn’t even think about careers in high school. With my parents’ full support, I just moseyed to college ‘cause that’s what one does. Had I sat down and grasped I was at the start of a great adventure, with college as one of many options, I might have gone a totally different and more lucrative route (esp. if my parents gave me my tuition as seed capital!).
College is clearly worth something. It’s just often not worth the cost in money and time. It’s an incredibly expensive luxury. In a word, it’s overrated.