Paying for College and Grad School: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don’t Really Need

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Yesterday, while flipping channels at 2 in the afternoon, I realized something: “The Real Housewives of Orange County” was playing on not one, but TWO channels at the same time. Two different episodes, at once. Is this heaven?

Besides that show, and Jersey Shore, one of my other odd loves is reading online articles about education (see my bookmarks about education.) In fact, wade into virtually any online discussion about education, and you’ll quickly notice the following beliefs:

  • Majoring in English or psychology is useless. Study the hard sciences
  • Anyone who spends $50,000/year for a college education is a fool
  • “Elite” colleges are simply for rich kids whose daddies got them in, and they coast until they get their 6-figure job
  • Do anything possible to graduate without debt! Better to go to that state school than the expensive school!

Unfortunately, each of those above “beliefs” — which are usually presented as fact — is wrong.

Yet online commenters have been increasingly vocal about pushing these beliefs, spreading them until the point where they seem almost axiomatic.

And yet, today we have an incredibly detailed and persuasive guest post from someone who disagrees with me.

Someone who thinks that many universities — even elite schools — are a waste of money.

Someone who argues that you can do the most important part of education on your own.

And someone who shows us that, even if you’ve graduated, it’s critically important to understand how we make our educational choices, because they reveal so much about our invisible scripts, or the hidden choices we make — often without even knowing them.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “education is the most important thing you can do,” you know what I’m talking about (especially if you’re Asian).

Josh Kaufman is one of my friends and one of the people I call when I’m stuck on a marketing or systems problem. When it comes to education, I like to hear opposing views — if that they are written by smart people, not anonymous pitchfork-carrying online warriors.

So here’s Josh — with some counter-intuitive arguments, but carefully delineated and argued. I don’t agree with everything, but there will not be a better 15 minutes that you spend today.

If you’re intrigued, you can get his new book: The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.

Remember, this post is not just about education. It’s about blindly following what “everyone” says in our careers, personal finances, relationships, and virtually all of our major decisions.

* * *

Josh Kaufman: Unbundling College: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don’t Really Need

On my way back from a recent trip to New York City, I found myself in a rush hour subway car bound for JFK International Airport. It was a long ride, and you can only be smashed next to someone for so long before it becomes more comfortable to strike up a conversation than endure the cramped silence.

One of the interesting people I met on that subway car was a young woman (let’s call her Jennifer), who was beach-bound to celebrate graduating from a masters program “in Boston.” After prying a bit, she told me she had just graduated from Harvard Business School.

I asked her what she planned to do next. “I’m moving to the west coast to work for a consulting company,” she replied.

“Are you excited about that?”

“Not at all,” she said with a grimace. “I want to work in developing countries, but the World Bank said I had to have a masters degree, so I went to HBS. When I applied after graduation, they told me that they’d already ‘filled their quota of Americans,’ and there was nothing they could do. I don’t want to be a consultant, and I know I won’t enjoy it, but it’s the only other job I can get that’ll pay enough to cover my student loans.”

For all of her intelligence and drive, Jennifer was an indentured servant.

Then Jennifer asked me what I do for a living. I told her that I’m a business teacher, and that I’d just finished my first book.

What I didn’t tell Jennifer is that I teach people to avoid making the same mistake she did.

“You can’t put a price on a good education”… or can you?

If you ask your parents or mentors how to become successful, their answer will most likely include four interrelated invisible scripts:

  • “Get the best education you can.”
  • “Colleges provide the best education.”
  • “The best colleges are expensive.”
  • “More college is better.”

Like so many of the invisible scripts we grow up with, three of these assumptions aren’t necessarily true.

After graduating from high school, almost everyone will tell you that you should obtain a bachelor’s degree – at a minimum. If you’re smart and want to become extra successful, go to medical school to become an MD, go to law school to become a lawyer, or get an MBA to become a C-level executive with a company jet, stock options, and golden parachute.

Most people seem to think that that the path to becoming a successful person is linear, non-negotiable, and unchanging: go to school at the best institution you can get into (where “best” equals “most expensive”), and pay whatever it takes to attend. Common wisdom says that no price is too high to pay for a “good education”, as long as that education comes in the form of a degree from a prestigious school.

Common wisdom is dead wrong.

Separating education from credentialing

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge advocate of getting a world-class education. Here’s the rub: education and credentialing aren’t the same thing.

Education is the process of learning something useful – concepts, knowledge, and skills that improve your life in some way. Education is what happens in your head, not necessarily what happens in a classroom.

Credentialing is the process of completing a (mostly arbitrary) set of criteria in exchange for a social signal – a degree, certificate, or other form of verifiable proof you’ve played by the rules.

If you want to succeed – to do work that matters, make a difference, and live a rich life, you owe it to yourself to get the very best education you possibly can. That does NOT mean mindlessly mortgaging your financial future (and/or the financial stability of your family) in order to obtain an expensive and unnecessary credential.

Education and credentialing are sold as a bundle, but you’re usually better off unbundling them as much as you’re able. By treating them as separate tools with different objectives, you expand your available options enormously.

Where the scripts came from…

It’s not that our parents and mentors are misguided: the world of credentialing has changed dramatically in the past few decades, and the scripts haven’t caught up.

Twenty five years ago, college was less expensive by a factor of ten, even after adjusting for inflation. You could pay most of your costs by working for minimum wage part time and full time over the summer, and the degree opened enough doors to make a credential a pretty good investment. According to research published by USA Today:

The average debt for a college graduate has soared 50% in the past decade, after inflation, according to the Project on Student Debt, a non-profit advocacy group…

Today, students who don’t want to borrow at higher rates have few other options. Twenty-five years ago, students who wanted to avoid debt could use money from part-time and summer jobs to help pay for college. But since then, college tuition has risen at twice the rate of consumer prices. Tuition has soared much faster than pay has for the kinds of low-wage jobs that students tend to hold.

In 1981, a student could work full time all summer at minimum wage and earn about two-thirds of annual college costs, according to an analysis by Heather Boushey, economist for the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Today, a student earning minimum wage would have to work full time for a year to afford one year of education at a four-year public university – and that assumes she saves every penny, Boushey concluded.

A recent article in The Economist paints a similar picture:

“College fees have for decades risen faster than Americans’ ability to pay them. Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13 (a year in the Ivy League will set you back $38,000, excluding bed and board). Academic inflation makes medical inflation look modest by comparison.”

The benefits of credentials have declined over time, but the costs have increased dramatically. It’s basic math: the higher the cost and the lower the benefit, the worse the return on your investment.

Credentialing is primarily social signaling

“This is a story about us, people being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about.” – Tim Jackson, in a TED talk on conspicuous consumption

College credentialing has become a luxury market. Students (and their parents) aren’t really buying education – they’re buying social status. The credential is seen as a straightforward path to prestige.

In “The Prestige Racket” journalist Daniel Luzer of the Washington Monthly exposed one of the primary reasons behind the last few decades of credential inflation: perception engineering.

Today George Washington, like many “up-and-coming” second-tier schools – American University, New York University – is ruinously expensive. After decades of offering a low-cost education, GW took a sharp turn upmarket in the late 1980s under the presidency of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. The university went on a high-class building spree, financed by a dizzying series of tuition increases. When Trachtenberg took office, undergraduate tuition was $14,000 – below average for a private, four-year college. By the time he left in 2007, it had mushroomed to $39,000 a year (or, including fees and room and board, a whopping $50,000) – making GW the most expensive school in the United States.

What Trachtenberg understood was that perception is reality in higher education – and perception can be bought. “You can get a Timex or a Casio for $65 or you can get a Rolex or a Patek Philippe for $10,000. It’s the same thing,” Trachtenberg says. The former president gambled that students who couldn’t quite get into the nation’s most exclusive colleges – and who would otherwise overlook a workmanlike school like the old GW – would flock to a university that at least had a price tag and a swank campus like those of the Ivy Leagues. “It serves as a trophy, a symbol,” he says. “It’s a sort of token of who they think they are.”

What’s amazing is that this strategy worked. During Trachtenberg’s tenure, applications for undergraduate admission increased from 6,000 to 20,000 a year, GW students’ average SAT scores increased by 200 points, the endowment increased to almost $1 billion…

Welcome to today’s increasingly elite higher education system, where lavish campuses, high tuition, and huge undergraduate debt loads have become the norm. In dogged competition for affluent, high-scoring students, today’s second-tier colleges aim to achieve higher prestige by aping the superficial characteristics of America’s traditionally elite schools. Indeed, there are few alternatives for ambitious administrators. “If you want to rise, you try to do the things that make you look like Harvard,” says David Labaree, a professor of education at Stanford University. “It’s hard to take a different path.”

(Reading this article is instructive – reading the comments from GWU alumni is even more so. Watch what happens when people believe their social status – which they’ve paid for – is in jeopardy.)

Expensive credentials are rather like expensive cars – you’re paying a lot of money for a depreciating asset whose value declines within five years of purchase. When purchasing a car, you can choose between a Rolls Royce and a Honda Civic. Both will get you where you need to go, but at a dramatically different cost. Is the short-term bump in perceived social status really worth it in the long run?

The Student Loan Industrial Complex

Make no mistake – credentialing can certainly open doors, but it can just as easily close them if you pay too much. If you finance your credential with student loans, you can quickly find yourself in a position where you’re paying the equivalent of a mortgage. Today’s student loans are often mortgage-sized, and work pretty much the same way. You’ll pay 5-10% interest, depending on whether or not it’s a Federal or private loan, and the payments amortize like a mortgage loan. For the first few years, you’ll be paying mostly interest, and if all goes well, you’ll ultimately pay 2 to 3 times the original principle to discharge the loan.

If you find yourself experiencing financial hardship for any reason – unemployment, layoffs, medical emergencies, etc, you’ll quickly find yourself in what I like to call the “Student Loan Death Spiral”. Every time you defer a payment, miss a payment, apply for abatement or forbearance, or consolidate your loans, you’ll rack up automatic additional fees on top of your original principle. That can quickly make your total debt load grow to unmanageable proportions overnight. (For details, see this detailed infographic: The Student Loan Scheme: Gateway Drug to Debt Slavery)

Student loans are also subject to another unique legal provision (at least in the US): they can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. No matter what happens in your financial life, your student loan debts will follow you to the day you either pay them off or die. (The only other loans that fall in this special federal “no escape” category are debts from criminal acts and fraud.)

Taking on loans to finance a credential can make becoming a successful person more difficult than it really needs to be. Debts make it difficult to change course, even if you find you don’t like your new life as much as you thought you would. And, just like credit card debt, they can quickly overwhelm you if you spend more than you can pay. Know the risks before you sign on the dotted line.

Never forget that colleges, universities, and student loan providers are businesses, and have a vested interest in maximizing the total amount you pay for a credential. The more you pay, the more limited your options and the lower your return.

What to do if you ABSOLUTELY need a credential

Sometimes, you really do need the piece of paper. If your desired job mandates a credential as a legal requirement of doing business, you may have to suck it up and get one. The only time a credential is worth the cost is when it’s used as a non-negotiable screening criteria to do the work you already know you want to do, and there’s no other way. If the path you want to take absolutely requires a credential as a screening mechanism, it pays to do what you can to get the best signaling value as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

If you absolutely must have a credential to do what you want to do, NEVER EVER PAY RETAIL. Here’s what you can do to minimize the direct costs of credentialing:

  • Counterintuitively, apply to the most well-known and prestigious programs you can. Well-endowed private universities are usually in a much better position than public universities and community colleges when it comes to awarding financial aid, grants, and scholarships, so “expensive” schools can give you the highest signaling value AND end up being less expensive in total. Aside from the time and money you invest in applications, there’s little harm in applying to evaluate your true options. Remember, it’s not about the sticker price – it’s about what you ultimately pay in total for the credential, and how much money you borrow to pay for it. If you can get a degree from Harvard or Stanford for a few thousand dollars, by all means, go for it.
  • Apply for EVERY financial aid program, scholarship, and grant you can – even if you think you won’t get it. Way too many people disqualify themselves for financial aid instead of letting the selection committee decide. My wife and I both completed our undergraduate studies on full-ride scholarships neither of us believed there was any chance we’d receive.
  • Establish residency before you attend. Most US colleges and universities give massive discounts to citizens of the state they’re located in, typically as a condition of state funding. Never pay “out of state” tuition – most residency requirements are ~1 year, so establish residency by taking a “gap year” before you attend to save boatloads of money.
  • Look for little-known backdoors. Competition to get into top programs can be intense, but there are often hidden backdoors if you’re willing to do some research and try an unconventional approach. Backdoors can help you pull off anything from getting an accredited bachelors degree in one year for $4,000 to skipping the admissions process and graduating from Harvard for $40,000.

In addition, here are five things you can do to ensure your credential investment pays off:

1. Don’t enroll in a credentialing program if you’re still figuring out what you want to do with your life.

Many people advocate going to college as a way to “explore the world” and “find yourself.” Here’s the secret: you can do this quite well on your own, without paying a college five-figures per 36-week-year for the privilege.

I’m a huge advocate of “gap years” – intentionally and mindfully taking some unstructured time to explore the world and experiment on your own. Most colleges allow you to defer enrollment for up to two years after you’re accepted, so there’s little reason not to take them up on the opportunity.

If you’re young, rent an apartment close to whatever college you think you’d like to attend, so you’re surrounded by people your age. (You don’t have to be accepted to a university to live near campus.) Talk with professionals in whatever field you’re interested in exploring. E-mail or call a professor or TA in your intended field and ask them which books you should read, who you should talk to, and which conferences you should attend. By showing more initiative than most enrolled students, you’ll receive help exploring any field you’re interested in – before paying tuition.

Even accounting for living costs, gap years are an inexpensive but valuable education – your time is fully your own, and you can invest that time in any way you deem best: starting a business, meeting people, traveling, or doing research on your own. (Partying is also an option, if that’s important to you.)

You can also use this time to optimize the remainder of your education and credentialing. Find a way to graduate in 2-3 years instead of 4-5 (by planning your course load and testing out of classes), and you can easily save tens of thousands of dollars.

2. Don’t seek a credential in a field where skills and experience matter more than the certification.

In a recent New York Times article, Allison Brooke Eastman, an aspiring photographer, revealed that she racked up $170,000 in student loan debt pursuing a photography degree – a situation so bad her fiance broke off their engagement when he found out.

No matter how you slice it, Eastman’s credential was a waste – she could’ve learned just as much (if not more) at a fraction of the cost by picking up a top-of-the-line camera, buying a computer and a Photoshop license, paying for tutoring with a pro, and shooting pictures until her shutter wore out.

That’s what Mark Cafiero, a professional wedding photographer in Denver, did – he’s a self-taught photographer who’s been shooting photos for most of his adult life. Mark regularly charges over $4,000 to photograph a wedding, and he’s booked solid. He has also created two other successful photography-related businesses on the side. No one cares whether or not he has a degree – his skills speak louder than any piece of paper can, and he has more work than he can handle.

3. Don’t seek a credential when the up-front cost is more than a year’s starting salary in the field.

The field you intend to work in matters enormously. There’s no kind way to say this: if you pay $100,000+ for a degree in a uniformly low-paying field like social work, you’re a fool, and your credential will probably ruin your life. Sad, but true.

Before committing to a field and irreversibly loading yourself up with debt, interview/shadow/intern with people who are actually doing what you think you want to do. Ask about what it took to obtain the required credential. Ask if their investment was worth it. If you get the impression that they regret their choice, think twice.

4. Don’t seek expensive credentials in fields where jobs may not exist.

No credential will help you get a job if there are no jobs available. Some industries and markets have become financial death traps that require you to obtain expensive credentials to enter, only to discover no jobs exist to pay the student loan bill. The worst thing you can do is assume “it’ll all work out” without doing the research.

Law is a perfect example – a field that, for decades, was known for producing graduates that were able to immediately secure stable, high paying jobs. Borrowing huge sums of money for law school was a necessary evil, but expected compensation was more than enough to foot the bill.

Many recent law school graduates are now unemployed, but have over six figures in non-dischargeable debts. Here’s a common story of the Student Loan Death Spiral in action:

“I was admitted to one of the top 14 law schools in the country. And while I did well there I was forced to take out $150,000 in student loans. I know that is a lot of money but I figured this is prestigious, I can get a job making six figures. 2 years after graduation I was still unemployed… I filed for bankruptcy (which got rid of my $50,000 of credit card debt) which did nothing to stop the loan officers from the DoE. As it stands now I owe $412,329.57 (they expect monthly payments of nearly $4,000) and I am still unable to find a job. I am screwed, I think I will probably kill myself.” (Source)

This is a structural supply and demand issue that’s not likely to resolve itself in the near future. In short, this guy is royally screwed.

The same general principle applies to jobs that have traditionally been considered prestigious and high-paying, leading to oversupply. Take being a college professor: there are far more PhD-holders than available tenure-track jobs, particularly in the humanities. To make matters worse, having a PhD means that employers outside of academia consider you “over-qualified” for jobs, and won’t hire you. The PhD glut means that for every teaching position, there are thousands of possible candidates who are willing to work as adjuncts for low pay, just to do something. It’s like playing roulette: the only way to win is not to play.

An extra note of caution if you think that you’re smart and ambitious enough to beat the odds: that’s what everyone else in the market was thinking when they signed on the dotted line. Beware Excessive Self-Regard Tendency – if the structure of an industry is not in your favor, it doesn’t matter how smart or skilled you are.

As a general rule, avoid entering markets where the suppliers are desperate for whatever work they can find.

5. Borrow as little as possible, then mercilessly negotiate your debts.

The more you borrow, the higher your risk and the lower your return on investment. Pay as little for your credential as you possibly can, and find ways to pay for the rest without taking on debt. Here are a few things you can do to minimize your borrowing:

  • Get as many scholarships, grants, and assistantships as you can.
  • Work a part-time job or freelance while in school to pay for expenses.
  • Minimize your daily living expenses, so you’re not racking up credit card debt alongside student loan debt. (For extra credit, live in a van.)
  • Participate in paid co-op and paid internship programs that have a record of hiring participants full-time after graduation.
  • Graduate as quickly as possible – less time in school equals less tuition and fewer fees.

Once you’ve reduced your total debt load as much as possible, do everything you can do negotiate the best possible interest rates with your lenders, and set up automatic payments to avoid unnecessary fees. This is a classic example of Ramit’s 85% rule – a few hours here can save you tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars throughout your life.

Whatever you do, don’t buy the line that student loans are “aid” – loans are actually reverse aid that makes your total cost much higher. The quickest and easiest way to screw up your life is to take on too much debt, so minimize your total debt burden as much as possible.

Remember, the primary value of the credentialing process is the credential itself, so the best strategy is to optimize for total cost and speed. After you graduate, focus your time and energy on doing real work and investing in your knowledge and skills on your own.

DIY has the best ROI

Most of the people who go to college say the same thing: most of the value of the experience had nothing to do with the school itself. As Ramit mentioned a while ago in “Your College is Not a Technical School”:

I think I could probably learn 80% of my college career simply from reading the books. But the last 20% – the hardest and most valuable part – came from talking to people, bouncing ideas off them, doing my own startup stuff, and making a bunch of mistakes. And I did all of this in the relative safety of college, where the worst that can happen is you get a “-” next to one of the letter grades on your transcript…

In the end, I think it’s actually more risky to focus exclusively on classes. Why? Because you have to compete against everyone else who will be trying to get jobs using the same criteria: grades. I hate competing against other people directly, so I’d rather simply go around them.

I agree with Ramit – those things really are the most valuable parts of college, and they have nothing to do with college itself. The freedom to experiment, explore, and socialize are the true benefits of the college experience – classes and tests mostly get in the way. Why pay unnecessary rent to a university for benefits they’re not actually providing? Might there be other viable ways to reap these benefits?

You can learn the essentials of most skills far more quickly and less expensively by reading, researching, traveling, meeting people, making friends, and experimenting on your own. With a little curiosity, hard work, and dedication, you can succeed on your own terms – and save a ton of money in the process.

Real-world experience (and results) will always trump credentials when it comes to getting rich. If you want to start a business (which is the quickest way to become a CEO), you don’t need a credential – what you really need are Economically Valuable Skills, a solid business idea, and a willingness to test it.

If your work can provide benefits that other people want or need badly enough to pay for, they simply won’t care whether or not you have a credential. Money in the bank speaks for itself.

As for potential employers, think about it from their perspective:

  • Would you rather hire someone who took marketing classes in college, or someone who actually helped a business get a 1200% return on their marketing investment?
  • Would you rather hire a random computer science major, or someone who’s actually built a fully functioning web application with real, paying users?
  • Would you rather hire someone who has taken a leadership class, or has actually recruited, lead, and managed a functioning team?

The more you invest in learning Economically Valuable Skills and gaining real-world experience, the more economically successful you’ll be. Learning the basics on your own, or enlisting the help of practitioner teachers, will help you learn the fundamentals without mortgaging the next 20-30 years of your life.

Mastering the art of business is how you get rich. If you’re ready to get started, you don’t need to wait for an acceptance letter from an Ivy League school. Here’s how to get started immediately:

  • Read great books. Authors spend years distilling their wisdom and experience into a form you can buy for less than $20, or borrow from the library. There’s no better educational bargain out there. Here’s my curated list of the best business books to help you get started.
  • Take business courses from practitioners. Learning directly from people who are already doing what you want to do is a great way to accelerate your learning process. Online business courses like Ramit’s Earn1k and my Personal MBA Business Crash Course can shave years off of your learning curve, and are worth the investment. (Watch out for “get rich quick” schemes, though – there’s no such thing as an effortless, instant path to financial success.)
  • Start your own business. Owning your own company is the quickest and easiest way to learn the ropes. Bootstrapping your own venture, even a small one, will teach you an enormous amount about how businesses actually work – skills you’ll use for the rest of your life.

Here’s to a rich, successful life – without unnecessary debt.

Josh Kaufman is a business teacher and the author of The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business. He teaches craftsmen, programmers, designers, artists, and professionals how to learn the fundamentals of modern business without mortgaging their lives. Learn more at PersonalMBA.com.

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88 Comments

 
  1. Wow, now *that* was a serious post Josh :) Great article though… and completely agree. With higher education costs literally spiraling out of control, it’s good to present some alternatives to people. I think most people would agree as well that the traditional college education is great for life experiences, but the actual useful material taught is pretty minimal.

    • I don’t think even the experiences are worth it Jason.

      I graduated from a top 10 MBA program last year and what do I have? A fancy title on my resume which is pretty pointless, some skills that were outdated even before they were taught and 100k plus of debt. My “experiences” consist of drinking too much with a bunch of people who thought it would be great to relive their undergrad years.

      Josh is 100% right, unless you’re going to learn some hard skills, save your money.

    • Thank you for this absolutely excellent article on thinking through the “Why?” before plunging into what everyone says is a “smart” decision but brings on a ton of debt–like going to graduate school when you can’t find a job or buying a house simply because interest rates are low. These should be carefully considered, personal decisions.

      As to receiving practical training in school, I found that choosing a program that emphasized real-world skills in the classroom, provided connections for top internships and included professors that still worked in the field was incredibly valuable. I left university with both theoretical knowledge and immediately applicable skills.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Saunders
      http://www.ScheduleMakeover.com

  2. [...] original post here: Paying for College and Grad School: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don… This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged afternoon, avoid, avoid-spending, college, [...]

  3. I’m all for this. Really, every time I read this kind of angle on education, I get amped up. But I do have one problem: I’m 30. I went the traditional route of going to college right after high school, except my parents paid for the whole bit.

    Which means no debt, for which I’m eternally thankful.

    But here’s the rub: if I were 17-18 and read this article, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me. I needed more guidance, more help than some books and tutoring.

    I needed the whole environment of other people around in the same situation. The dorm experience, the classes, the professors, the experience of living away from home.

    I had no idea what I wanted to do when I went to college: so I went there to try to figure it out. Four years, later, I still had no idea. But you know what: I matured and I became ready to go out into the world.

    I have no idea what I would’ve taken private tutoring on if I would’ve taken a year off (though I really think that’s a great idea too).

    So in theory I’m all for this…but in practice I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been open to it. I needed way more guidance than “buy some books, get some tutors, and take a year off.”

    My advice to the 17-18-year-old set out there: do whatever you can to NEVER go into any kind of crazy debt. However you manage to do it, you’ll be better off in the end. Regardless of what you do.

    • Completely agree. All the people who are emailing me saying, “I wish I’d read this 10 years ago” wouldn’t have cared back then.

    • I don’t think anyone really appreciates this perspective at 17-18. Social status and social proof are powerful forces, particularly as we’re preparing to live on our own. We don’t really understand the long-term consequences at that point in our lives.

      Unfortunately, student loan documents signed at 18 can drastically alter the next 20-30 years of your life. That’s why this discussion is important.

      For most of us, college is a sunk cost – we’re already there, or we’ve already graduated. We can’t reverse or change the decision… but we can change the expectations our children grow up with.

      My daughter is 12 weeks old today. We’re going to encourage her to explore things she’s interested in, and to travel when she’s ready to be independent. We’re going to teach her about Economically Valuable Skills as early as possible, and encourage her to think about starting her own businesses. If she wants to buy something, we’re going to ask her how she’s going to earn the money she needs for the purchase. If she wants to go to college, we’re going to ask her how she’s going to pay for it.

      The best thing my parents taught me was that, if I wanted something, I had to pay for it myself. That included college. I’m a better person because I had to figure it out on my own.

      Adjusting to adult life is difficult for everyone. I think the best thing a young person can have at a young age is a few interesting projects, the time to explore them as fully as possible, and the freedom to travel and learn. We can give those benefits to our kids easily, without encumbering them with massive debts at the beginning of their independent lives.

    • Well, I actually do care about this and I am 17 right now. I agree with the fact that I shouldn’t go into any kind of debt. However, thank God and thank philanthropists I am able to get a full scholarship as an international student in Harvard, Yale, Princeton and in the other top colleges I plan to get into. However, this post can be helpful for some teens out there who are not into studying so that they can put things into perspective. We know people like Mark Zuckerberg got to where they are without getting a college degree.
      Still, I think that studying at an Ivy can help you network and can open doors you might not otherwise had been able to open. Besides, I believe that the simple fact of being surrounded by all these bright and super intelligent people can condition you positively and encourage you to give your full potential.
      I say this because, living in a country (Argentina) where the education is about 190 times worse than in the US, I see no reason why I shouldn’t invest 4 years of my life getting an excelent US education basically for free while also trying out new projects and learning on the side.
      I think both things can be done at the same time and see no reason why you would not study at Stanford if you are really into studying and into intellectual curiosity. I believe it’s always better to “add” things into your life, not take things away from it.

  4. College regularly frustrated me: I went to learn, and graduated with a 2.8 GPA but learned a lot; while numerous classmates went for the 4.0 but couldn’t synthesize the material worth squat. Now I’ve been working in the real-world for over a decade and find the same problems when interviewing potential employees: I see folks with 4.0 GPAs from prestigious schools or long strings of MCSE/Cisco/A+/etc industry certifications, but they can’t code their way out of a paper-bag. If it wasn’t on the magic exam, they only return blank stares. Give me a competent employee with a podunk school bachelors & real-world experience over a non-thinker with an ivy-league scrap on the wall. Any day.

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I tend to have the same beliefs when it comes to making your way in the post-college world, especially as it relates to investing. You don’t need to spend weeks and months of your life getting a certain education when there are simple things that you can be doing right now to improve your situation.

  6. Dave Sanderson Link to this comment

    GREAT concise advice, Josh …truth well told!
    My 35-year career in Marketing / Advertising / Product Innovation was done on an associate degree in Psychology = the quickest way OUT of college with “a credential” of some sort to prove I graduated. Since then, it’s been only about delivering SUPERB RESULTS for me, my employers, and my clients. Since my first ‘corporate’ marketing gig 3+ decades ago nobody has ever asked me about my degree / education; they’ve ONLY asked for references to / proof of the RESULTS I have delivered. Now I’m comfortably semi-retired (stil take some contract gigs if its fun and pays well) and teaching Marketing (part-time) at our local college. By coincidence YOUR MESSAGE, Josh, is the message I weave into my classes at every opportunity … if only the credentialling educrats knew! Keep up your great work!

  7. “Debts make it difficult to change course, even if you find you don’t like your new life as much as you thought you would.”

    So true.

  8. [...] Josh Kaufmann writes: Twenty five years ago, college was less expensive by a factor of ten, even after adjusting for inflation. You could pay most of your costs by working for minimum wage part time and full time over the summer, and the degree opened enough doors to make a credential a pretty good investment. (…) [...]

  9. I bought Josh’s book yesterday, because I am tired of working for “the Man”. I have had my own LLC set up for the past 6 years, but I have been afraid to venture past it being a hobby, as I need the money from my full-time job to make ends meet. However, as of late, I am more and more unhappy with the norm, and no longer feel challenged. Hopefully the Personal MBA will set me on my course and make me feel confident about not necessarily receiving a steady paycheck with health benefits, but being more fulfilled instead.

  10. As a recently accepted grad student, I am looking for every possible scholarship or grant to help pay for the degree. You mentioned applying to everything, Josh/Ramit, do you have any good websites that help search for scholarships and grants? The few I have found sound like marketing crap that make me enter a scholarship lottery and then will just spam the hell out of me once they get my email and phone number.
    Thanks

    • Matt you should check your specific school finaid office. See if there are scholarships etc offered directly by the school. Or go in and directly talk with someone. They should have reps who can help you. Be upfront and tell them you dont want student loans.

      You dont mention what field you are in, but instead of googling or however are searching for any scholarship search with you field as one of the key words. Check out organizations you would want to work for, see if they offer or are connected to any kind of scholarship funding.

      Good Luck.

    • I’d also like to learn a bit more about that. Although I’m about to graduate (won’t help much). If you haven’t covered this I think it would make a great tactical post Ramit.

      I was so clueless when I started college and had no idea such opportunities were available for scholarships.

      Peace,
      Alex Hajicek

    • Ramit has written in depth about scholarships. Try google. I just dug up this one quickly http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/the-1-day-iwillteachyoutoberich-entrepreneurship-boot-camp/

      :-)

  11. This was a fantastic post. I’ve been trying to beat this into my friends’ heads for years who talk about getting a higher education without even understanding what that will really mean for their career and debt.

    There are so many implications to how in debt we’re going into over a country club vacation from delaying buying property to cars to investments. It’s impacting the financial world as a whole, not just a students pocket.

    My Dad was able to pay his way through school with 3 part-time jobs, it wasn’t easy, but he left debt free. I couldn’t fathom them or me paying for $40,00+ for my school, so picked a reputable university with a remarkably low tuition and lived at home off and on. I wanted to study English and Film, so I knew I needed a quality program, but one that would not require much of a long-term investment.

    I paid for my last year of school myself and was able to pay off my loan within 2 years, even though I was making 25k while living in NYC. Most of my friends at 34 are still 5 figures into debt. My husband and I are one of the few people I know who aren’t swimming in loans.

    Thanks for such a fantastic article.

  12. Great article, but I wanted to offer another factor to consider in this account.

    I’m one of the people you mention facing a crushingly bad job market after getting a PhD in the humanities (a job market that bottomed out in 2008 and then actually managed to get worse during the next two years). Luckily, I’ve been able to stay debt free thanks to a combination of getting a free ride as an undergraduate and having a reasonably generous salary as a graduate TA. My experience suggests, however, that there are other debts you incur in credentialing, other than the monetary ones focused on in this article. For instance, I have spent 6 years getting my PhD (I graduate in May) and am now facing the serious prospect of unemployment. As I’ve said, I’m very lucky to be facing this debt-free, but I’m almost 30 years old and have to face the prospect of more training in order to get another job. At this point, I’m really behind the power curve in terms of starting out as a new employee in a new field and it’s pretty scary (I felt like, after entering graduate school, I was ready for more school; now, I really want to start working and am done with school, but anything I’d want to do would potentially involve more training).

    So, I think it’s really important to keep in mind the time commitments as well as the financial commitments involved in seeking new credentials.

    • Another one who doesnt mention any specifics.. but what is your PhD in? Are you sure you will have to start all over and that there is nothing in your field? Have you talked with people, who have jobs, who have your same PhD or less. Read Ramits post again on negative scripts… you might just be telling yourself a lie. http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/earn-money-case-studies-hustle-scripts/

    • This is a brilliant response. My colleague (who has two Ph.Ds) always tells me the same thing. Consider the time commitment and the financial commitment against the ROI. For him, he says that he was lucky to do his Ph.Ds when the Kenyan market was not so “credential-driven”. Now, the market has all these people with Ph.D who cannot even begin to apply the knowledge, several million shillings later.

  13. Just to add on to the point Josh makes comparing a prestigious college education to a luxury car (paying a lot of money for a depreciating asset whose value declines within five years of purchase), if you do not get a top-notch gig within a few years of graduating, your potential employer will wonder what the heck is wrong with you. How come this person has not been in the specific industry workforce yet? Excellent post and really emphasizes the importance of knowing what you want to do for a living before saying “I do” to a possible large pile of debt.

  14. Just skimming this, but the law school thing is dead on. I know someone (many “someones” actually) that finished law school with – no exaggeration here – $150K worth of student loans and no job.

    The most fascinating part about it is that, though some of these people felt law school (and other graduate degrees for that matter) were a scam, there were a select few who thought it was worth it.

    $150k in debt. No job. But it’s worth it for the right to say “I’m an attorney” or “I have a master’s in XXX.” Baffling.

    To take this further, I’ve spoken to a few corporate attorneys – the kind that make $160k/yr a couple years out of law school – who have said that they are expecting to get layed off in April. Firms are doing this a lot now so they can hire fresh-out-of-law-school kids and pay them $40-$60k less. Even they are saying law school isn’t worth it.

    It’s very interesting to see that some people with advanced degrees feel as if the time and debt was worth it even if they don’t have a job because they still have the prestige thing.

    With all that said, I – like Carlos – would have not taken this seriously at 17/18. It wasn’t until after I failed out of college twice (the education system, the way it’s set up, was totally pointless to me) and worked full time in my field that I realized how much of a joke the system is. I’m a freelance writer working mainly with business owners on print and web marketing copy, and when I say none of my clients have ever asked about my college education, I mean NOT ONE. I have to learn the hard way, and I did.

    Really great topic Ramit; I look forward to reading this more thoroughly.

  15. Was this a guest article or a chapter from the book? :-)

    Thanks for the contribution Josh, very insightful and some great things to think about not just for pre-college students but also ideas for life and ways to continuously grow. I just searched your book on Amazon and am happy to see that it is available on the Kindle, will pick that up as soon as I am finished with Seth Godin’s “Poke the Box”.

  16. Thank you so very much,

    I’ve been on the fence for a while now about getting more secondary education and I’m finally convinced.

    You put up a strong case, but it’s not just you. Through my own personal life I’ve noticed most of the rich and successful people I’ve met don’t have graduate degrees or sometimes even a bachelors degree. (I.E Real Success isn’t just reserved to breakout people like Bill Gates.)

    For example my own father, continue to run and operate our families company (http://www.metrommp.com/), which has over 40 employees and millions of dollars in revenue and he didn’t even graduate HIGHSCHOOL (dropped out in 8th grade).

    Also being passionate about film, he WORKED FOR FREE (You’re right on the money Ramit), apprenticed and worked into the film industry (Produced Monster Quest for History Channel)

    Again no schooling or accredited, just learning from people, books, and working experiences.

    My friends father, owns over 30 residential properties and just built an apartment complex that alone cash flows over 15,000 grand a month. Again no college degree, he started out as a realtor and slowly acquired properties.

    A friend of my mothers, who we bought our house from, retired as a millionaire, and he again didn’t have a college degree but ending up building up a contractor business.

    Which brings up another point that’s is elegantly shown in the book, Millionaire Next Door. Most people that are successful and rich don’t go the route people expect. Paying excessive fees, getting more and more schooling, to become a big shot MBA.

    Real success is dirty, its hard work, and it takes time.

    “Do you want to be sexy or do you want to be rich?” – Ramit Sethi

    So thank you for presenting such clear and concise arguments, saving me the money, which I will use to actually invest in something real (rental properties) but more importantly giving me the courage to say ENOUGH.

    MORE IMPORTANTLY thank you for saving 2 years of my life.

    Time, the most important commodity of all.

    Peace,
    Alex Hajicek

    • Mercy likes this. Thumbs up!
      This post has also saved me time, money, many moments of frustration and headache in the future,

  17. MBA grad here! I loved this article for both Ramit’s view as well as Josh’s. I think both sides have very valuable points.

    Josh is dead on when he says many people are trying to get certificates that they can then exchange for jobs just like at an arcade (do they even have arcades anymore?). Ramit is dead on when he points out that all of these things are well and good, but are you as an 18 year old going to strategically learn a framework to explore what a meaningful career looks like to you and an optimal learning path to get there while avoiding heavy debt loads? Oh and by the way the kids from across the hall are going out to get pizza again and that cute girl from the 2nd floor is going…

    *As a young person* It can be hard to just function and keep your homework straight, let alone prepare to face the big world and everything you need to do in it. Oh, and also you have no experience in ‘the real world’ but you should somehow know all of this stuff about debt and education vs. certifications and how to get a real job ahead of time.

    As a point I haven’t seen made yet… I think there is an undersold value in prestigous degrees. The pedigree is certainly just a certification…. BUT PEOPLE RESPOND TO THAT and that means it can have value to you. Sure some people go to Harvard B. School and get an MBA and hope someone hands them a 6 figure job just for the sake that it’s HBS. Other people go to Harvard learn a lot and meet some amazing people and learn how others thing by studying cases from different points of view. Then they get 6 figure jobs that they want and they leverage the fact that they went to Harvard to help them get ahead BECAUSE IT SOUNDS IMPRESSIVE. This helps them. Sure some people sound snooty when they mention they went to harvard every other sentance; I’m not talking about those people who are just posers. You are more likely to meet someone who mentions they graduated from HBS right before they founded their successful startup which is about to IPO than you are to meet someone who got their online MBA from University of Phoenix and is doing the same. Not that you can’t learn from UoP… just that it seems that they are all about selling a certificate, not an education. Even if the same number of people from HBS and UoP found startups that IPO, I bet you hear more about the founder that graduated from HBS.

    Case in Point: I bet you know where Ramit went to B School. For him it’s a positive selling point for why you can trust him.

    I went to a top 25 B School (I say top 25 because it’s not in the top 10, or else i would have said that!). I learned a ton and even figured out the exact kind of job I wanted to get. I had a blast with my classmates, I met C-Level execs left and right and really rounded out my educated in some very interesting areas. I even got a 6 figure salary doing what I love (communicating between technical people and the businesses they support). In job interviews, I beat the snot out of kids from HBS, MIT, Tuck, and other top schools. I absolutely know I can go toe-to-toe with any of them, my education rivals what their school offers and I understand the difference betwen what my MBA program offers and what theirs does. I feel that I am a ‘success story’ for why getting an MBA can be great.

    But I would argue that the pedigree/name of their top ten B. school can be a very very valuable thing when used correctly. Can I compete? Sure! But people favor name brand recognition. Even if everything else is equal, would you take me, a guy who’s program was 21st when he graduated? Or a guy from HBS? Why wouldn’t you choose the HBS guy? Isn’t it harder to get in there?

  18. I do not have a college degree. I was on advanced placement/college prep tracks throughout school, but by the time I was in my last couple of years of high school, I realized that the *last* thing I wanted to do was to go sit through four more years of school. My parents didn’t have the money to pay my tuition, so I decided that for something I didn’t care about and didn’t explicitly need, it would be a huge waste of time and money, certainly not worth going into debt over.

    I did go to a well-regarded but non-accredited art school that was effectively a trade school, where working professionals kept their skills honed alongside the starry-eyed newbies like me. I paid for it partly out of savings, partly by taking day jobs, and partly by bartering at the school to clean studios or serve as a teacher’s assistant in exchange for classes. It was a fabulous experience, one that I treasure. My education there was very self-directed and very practical, and I met lots of people and immersed myself in that professional community.

    Ultimately I went into business administration, usually within my arts field. My lack of a degree has never been held against me in an interview process, and I very rarely have trouble getting hired at all. The experience I got by working right out of high school (and even in high school) demonstrates enough value that employers were always impressed. I’ve been promoted in jobs where they’d be asking for a degree if they were filling my new position. I always take advantage of employer-funded classes and other professional development opportunities to continue to build skills and value.

    I work freelance on the side, primarily writing, and there again my skills and work ethic are what gets me jobs, not my education credential or lack thereof.

    It helped a lot that I was a pretty driven and independent kid, so I was the type to go out and try audacious things and get great experience and work hard no matter what I did. I consider myself extremely well-educated, and I view continuing education to be a welcome fact of my life. I’ve never regretted not going to college. At this point, I’d only choose to get a degree if I found myself wanting to do something that legally required one. I think if I’d seen this article when I was 17, I’d have been beside myself with joy to have adult evidence to thrust in the faces of all the people who kept telling me I was ruining my life by not going to college!

  19. This is a great post, and I have to say that I agree more and more with those that advocate this way of thinking. I went to a community college my first 2 years and paid as I went. I finished up my last two years at a private college, ending with a total of 22,000 in loans. I consider myself pretty lucky because if I were to try that same thing today, I’m sure that my student loans would be significantly higher (probably more than double).

    I graduated in business because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. After college I stumbled into the world of software and I’ve been working as a software developer since graduating. Except for the Photoshop class that I took for fun that got me my first gig as a web designer, I have rarely used what I learned in college on the job. I also meet lots of other developers that either went to college in something else, or didn’t even go to college.

    James Altucher has a great post on basically the same idea. He gives some great ideas on what to do instead: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/01/8-alternatives-to-college/

    Honestly, I wish that I had just followed my original impulse of moving to Europe or California and becoming a musician. Even if I had failed I still would not have that regret sitting in the back of my mind.

  20. Dear Ramit, you did it again.
    Honestly I been having this conversation with my girlfriend (for 1-2 years now) who thinks I should go back to school for a masters in IT (I have a bachelors in Communications) but I am interested in IT. This article is pretty much my thought process. I do not want unnecessary debt for a field that 1) i may lose interest and 2) is very popular. I currently work in a financial call center (so much for my degree lol) and I do not want to be in the same position 4 years from now with $30-50 more student debt.

    My biggest argument is that I am not using the skills, knowledge and resources from my previous degree and life in general to get where I want to go. I do not think that a masters degree would be beneficial to me at this time. I am not saying it is worthless but any degree is never a one-stop shop from school to job. If I am not using my current skills and information to the fullest, another degree or 2 will not help because I will not use THAT information to the fullest.

    Surprisingly, no one believes this and generally agrees that I need MORE schooling.

    To paraphrase a very important section to me out of the books I am currently reading (4HB/4HWW/IWTYTBR),
    “More and more information will not lead to better results, only action.”

    Thanks Ramit, I am buying Josh’s book. It better be on Kindle.

  21. interesting. i agree with much of what he says, but he is missing the value of technical schools. he makes brief mention of computer science and then mentions a web app.. well, webapps are not really the domain of computer science. true computer science is about building efficient systems, and there’s a lot of theory around that.

    with this in mind, only about 10% of computer scientists actually use this type of skill. most of them add checkboxes to guis, so practically, he’s not too far off.

    but there are other technical degrees that have similar levels of complexity where the university system is a great way to learn. medicine, chemistry, physics, aeornautics, etc. these are fields where college is a great way to learn.

    sounds like the writer is focused on soft degrees, which probably could be learned through a little seed money and the process of entrepreneurship. there’s actually a charity out there that tries to pay kids to start a business instead of going to top schools– the name escapes me.

    anyway, good stuff. definitely worth a thought. to put it another way: if your kid wants to go to school and it’s going to cost you $350,000 2011 dollars to send him.. i think that kid would be better off with a $350,000 investment in travel and networking and informal education in his desired field than 4 years of very expensive booze. it may come to that, but i think we’ll need to be creative with how to “replace” college since there is no formal system out there. if i just give an 18yo $350k, he will blow it. he’ll need a mentor to help him figure out how to spend the money, and he’ll need some guidance from people with experience to help him learn.

    i think apprenticeships may be coming back. maybe shine them up, but at the end of the day, the “natural” process for learning may be better than the process ew have today. the natural process was elders teach you and then you take on an apprenticeship. who knows.

    • My background is computer engineering / computer science / information systems, actually. The theory is useful, but putting the theory into practice is what people actually *pay* for.

      I think the best thing a 17-18 year old can have is an ambitious project that interests them, plus a bit of guidance and support as they explore it on their own. Travel is also a great use of time at that age, since they’re as free from day-to-day concerns as they’ll ever be.

      I agree on the value of apprenticeships – working directly with a practitioner plus reading great books is the best way to learn useful skills.

  22. My husband and I are living this in several different forms. I graduated high school and immediately went to a small private liberal arts college for an education degree. My parents paid for everything that my scholarships didn’t cover, for which I will truly be eternally grateful, especially since I went into teaching (a historically low-paying field) and would have owed more in loans than I would make in several years of teaching. After getting my first job (which REQUIRED the teaching certificate/degree) I haven’t needed it since- experience has been enough since I am no longer working in a school setting. What I keep thinking is that most of my education courses could have fit into 2 or maybe 3 years of school. The rest was “electives”, or courses outside of my major. In working towards a degree in special education I took courses in music theory, Russian literature and philosophy. While these were all good and interesting classes and I enjoyed them, I shudder to think of the price tag.

    My husband on the other hand graduated high school, spent 2 years at a state school, realized he didn’t really want to do what he thought he wanted and about 4 years off and on at 2 different community colleges before he realized that those weren’t it either. Now he is in culinary school nearly finished with an Associate’s at a well-regarded but affordable community college in a city where people go to a big-name Culinary Institute and graduate with a Bachelor’s and 60+K in student loans and STILL end up making $9/hour as a line cook somewhere. That’s an industry where once you have A degree you are competing based on skill and experience. The school offers job placement services and has lots of connections in the field He is planning to start a small-scale in-home catering/personal chef business after he graduates in addition to working in a restaurant.

  23. Great post Ramit! You nailed it on the head, I have a few friends and family members in school right now that could definitely use this information. Thanks!

  24. Very insightful post,
    I completely agree with the comment that you get a lot of life experience in college but the education can be minimal. ( At least not very applicable for ”real”-life)

    Best Regards,

    Nisch

  25. Josh,

    I have been implementing your “Earn An Accredited Undergradute Degree For $4,000″ strategy for the last 4 months. I owe you a permanent debt of gratitude for opening my eyes to that possibility.

    I had spent several years in traditional colleges and earned most of the needed credits. Having started a business in the last year, continuing to attend was very stressful – but I still want the credential. Call it old-fashioned, but emotionally, earning someone which no one can strip me of is important to me.

    Since then I’ve passed three exams. Five more to go and I’ll have my degree before summer (compared to the literally TWO YEARS it might have taken if I waited for a normal school to offer the classes I needed.)

    Thanks again!

  26. BTW, in response to Ramit’s earlier comment: I would’ve *absolutely* devoured this knowledge when I was 17/18.

    Looking for a better way is foundational to my entire worldview. My parents would’ve hated the idea of testing out of a degree, for example, but I would’ve seen the ROI argument and the fit with my lifestyle and unflinchingly done it.

    I just turned 24 (yes, admittedly, a more mature age than 17) and immediately started the moment I read Josh’s article in December.

    Perhaps I’m not typical, but I think more inquisitive 17/18 year olds than you realize would be open to this mindset.

  27. Going, or in some cases, gone are the days in which employment automatically follows getting a degree. Our global marketplace is too competitive. When I was in college I learned a very valuable lesson from the university president. He said that the most important 2 things that you walk away with are: 1)That you learn how to learn. 2)You learn to love to learn. He went on to say that things are changing so fast that by the time you get out of school, much of what you will have learned will not be as relevant as intended. You have to take with you the knowledge of how to continue to educate yourself and a deep desire to do so or you will quickly become obsolete. I believe that opportunity comes with education, but all too often we see education as an event, rather than the start of a lifelong process.

  28. [...] today, I read something that puts this whole issue into long-overdue perspective. It’s written by Josh Kaufman as a guest post on Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich blog. I strongly recommend reading the whole [...]

  29. I could not agree more with the drawbacks of focusing exclusively on classes. I am currenty in an MBA program, and the dean of the graduate school works tirelessly to provide us with opportunities for networking, which no one but myself takes advantage of because they are focusing on completing the coursework. Last week I attended a “young professionals” event where I made several good contacts, one of which I am having lunch with next week. I was the only person from my program to attend because we had an exam the next morning. I relaxed, met a lot of interesting people, and made a 98 while my classmates have little to no contacts and did poorly on the test from over-stressing.

    • Great observation and experience Emma. A great business mentor said that all through school she would get in trouble for talking in the halls. Looking back on her successful career, she relates that none of it came from what she learned in the classes but from her ‘talking in the halls’ or networking with other people. I would assess that you are focusing on the things that will actually make you money and a career (identity of trust and value).

  30. Hey Josh,

    Just wanted to drop by with a quick thank-you note.

    I came across your book summaries while attempting to not get buried in some personal crises – and landed on the one for “Strengths Finder 2.0″. Your summary was short-and-sweet enough to convince me to buy a copy and take the assessment—not for the productivity benefits, but rather, to help me recognize that I had strengths to strengthen in the first place. (Suffice it to say it was quite the rough patch.)

    In any case, I got a good boost out of the whole experience, and have been reaching (for) higher personal goals. I’ve also gotten better at working for others (read: no longer pissing off supervisors like I was my first few jobs post-college), and am actually entertaining the idea of working for myself.

    Many thanks! All the best!

  31. I am 19 years old, and am figuring out what to do about college. This article was incredibly enlightening and matches several personal experiences I have had talking with people. Don’t stop writing stuff like this, at least one 19 year old is checking it out.

  32. I am living this right now! I went to a very good state school for free and got a degree in French, English, and psychology, and thought that I was going to go into sales. I quickly changed my mind, and now I’m preparing to take tests and become an actuary–even though I haven’t taken a math class since high school. Instead of spending two or three more years at school, I’ve found a tutor. I believe I’ll be able to learn at least four times faster and spend much much less money getting a better, personalized education. Fortunately, companies who hire actuaries don’t care much about degrees–they care about the skills you have.

    PS Ramit, my tutor is Indian, and he has a PhD, works full-time, and still wants to be a tutor in the evenings and weekends. Thank God that some cultures value practical sciences and hard work.

  33. I owe about 30k on student loans from grad school, work paid about another 30k. Going back, I wish I would’ve paid more of my tuition myself. I remember hearing stories about people taking out student loans to fund a down payment on a house…and now my mortgage rate is lower than my student loan rate! That just seems crazy to me, as student loan debt always seemed to be the more understandable type of debt…in a way it is, but we are letting them get out of hand today.

    http://www.moneyistheroot.com

  34. Student loans are such a burden. I’m working twice as hard to pay them down and hopefully paid off within the next year. This is a fantastic article on other options than borrowing money for a “piece of paper”.

  35. As a 19 year old who recently made the choice to stop going to college and start his own business, flipping burgers to fund it and spending at least 6 hours in the local book store per week; I appreciate this article. As the other people whom have commented have already stated, social status is huge for someone my age and everyone is still competing to maintain coolness and get approval from one another. This makes it extremely difficult for someone like myself to try and branch out (pressure from parents, friends, family to go to school, etc.). If any of you have any additional information or recommendations for a young guy like myself, I would appreciate it.

  36. Educated and scared Link to this comment

    Hmmm; yes we could all just live in our parent’s basements and pontificate as if we know as much as those who have actually pursued an education. The arrogance is astounding. I am smarter than any professor; school is waste of money. Oh hold on, I must go play a video game while my mother does my laundry! Get your heads out of your arses people- an educated populace is an objective one; one capable of advancing society, not just criticizing it blindly. Open your mind, get an education- not to get Job A or B, but for the sake of learning. Move out of your parent’s house and stop believing that you know everything- because frankly- you do not and your close-minded arrogance is down right frightening.

  37. Brian- I find your decision interesting. Deciding to not get formal education is a choice that must align with your objectives. If your goal is to be an engineer or doctor, obviously that won’t work, but all too often education is defined by the world as that which you only receive at a university. Education can and should be sought with great fervor always in everything you do. You have to be very intentional and self-driven because many don’t go to school under the guise that they are self educating but in reality they don’t have the self-discipline and they end up flipping burgers continually talking about the business they are going to start. Don’t do that. If you’re going to educate yourself, get after it at a great velocity and intensity than you would if you were in school. And don’t be afraid to learn in action–meaning start something, and be very aware of what you need to learn and then go learn it.

    I did get a 4-year degree but one thing that I noticed is that if I was not very intentional, a formal education was teaching me to be an employee and not an entrepreneur. At the beginning of the semester and during each class we would receive specific instructions on what to learn and do and then return and report, whereas the life of an entrepreneur is creating a new path, new solutions and you won’t necessarily have someone structuring your learning. You have to observe what you need to learn and go find networks and resources that can teach you–very different from a formal education experience.

    • You are spot on when you say ”a formal education was teaching me to be an employee and not an entrepreneur’.

      I did a four year degree and actually realized one year after graduation it had actually held me back! I was thinking like and employee and had the employee mentality. This was not what I wanted so decided to work for a startup firm opposed to going down the “safer” corporate route. This gave me better exposure to the business and developed my sales skills, marketing ability as well as general business administration. In fact I pretty much did everything and the skills I learnt working for this small startup were more valuable than my four years at university! Unfortunately higher education is being sold to those that don’t necessarily want it or need it but almost out of fear they feel they need to obtain that bachelor or masters degree because otherwise they cannot compete in the job market. I feel sad that society has reached this point. The big corporate firms in my opinion wrongly place too much emphasis on degree’s and not the ability and most importantly the drive of the individual. If I recruit on behalf of my company I look for those individuals that made a difference, often those that have the ability to create opportunity out of nothing. I don’t care if they have a degree or what university they come from since this in itself has little relevance. It seems to me that many young people get hung up on this “prestige” thing.. Forget that! just get out there and do your own thing. What’s more prestigious? working for a top law firm or bank having come from an ivy league university or creating your own company from scratch or working for a startup that’s now worth hundred million or more knowing you actually played part in that? I know the person I would rather have a conversation with!

  38. I agree 100% with this post. I just wish I had read it before I graduated high school, though my family would have talked me into going to school anyway. Now I’ve got a worthless English degree (yes, Ramit, they really are worthless; I’ve checked), $40-60,000 in student loan debt, and a job that barely pays the bills I could have gotten without the degree. I’m going to print out this article and save it for my daughter to read when she’s old enough to start thinking about such things. Thanks for posting this.

  39. [...] post is definitely controversial with some of you but I thought it was too relevant not to link up: Paying for College and Grad School: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don…. This DIY bow belt is adorbs and looks pretty simple to make, although it does take a little bit of [...]

  40. Wow this was such a great article! I admit as a 18-year-old high school senior, that most of the things on this page made little sense to me. I don’t think I quite understand what things meant, but still, the article got me thinking. And with college acceptances coming left and right, I think that I’ll put a lot of thought into where I choose to go, considering this article and the cost of each university.

    I totally agree with the reasoning for #2 which is why I am now hesitant about deciding where to go since I know that it will affect my future. I hope that the major I chose will prove to be helpful after I graduate, and not be some worthless degree/credential that’ll just leave me with a big debt on my shoulders. My dad also constantly asks me about what I’m going to do after I graduate, how I am going to earn money to pay off all that debt, and how my major will hep me achieve the latter. With him grilling me weekly, the issue haunts me daily.

    Thank you Ramit and Josh for posting and writing this article. When I have more time I shall come back and read it more thoroughly instead of just skimming it, and I shall also read all the comments to get more insight [:

  41. The DIY startup and Masters of Internet Entrepreneurship degrees are really popular in the NYC area right now. Probably not as finance-heavy besides startup equity and venture finance, but alot of technical web skill emphasis.

    I just finished my MBA and got out with minimal debt through Associate Programs and internships, but realized that I didn’t learn anything about what I am doing now in the startup scene. All B-school students should try to start their own business at some point.

  42. I think that advocating to not go to the university can be dangerous, especially if you are accepted to a top school. The value of an education is not just in the skills you learn but the community you are part of, and the name of the school. You associate your name to a top school and that will be an advantage to any circle you want to enter later in life. I think that what needs to happen is for tuition inflation to be curved, but people still need to go through formal education, I think. The credential is a signal, but a very strong signal in our society. I think that the person that doesn’t have a degree is always seen as lacking something in the eyes of those who do possess the credential. So the reality is that the signal matters, whether it is fair or not.

  43. [...] one of the best articles I’ve ever found on the topic of going to university or not. It was a guest post on Ramit Sethi’s blog “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, and the author Josh Kaufman discussed [...]

  44. Awesome article. I have 5 kids and I have been thinking a lot about this very issue, especially what 5 college educations will cost. This article gave me a lot of food for thought. Thanks!

  45. great. poor black girl with no one to show her any ROPES of financial, personal and academic health followed all the scripts and is now 80G in debt. great. now i want to f’ing kill myself. my grandmother was a sharecropper and now so am i. i am trying so hard to reverse the trend. i shouldn’t have tried this way. now, like he said, i’ve ruined my life.

    • This post is just too funny. Well, little sharecropper, you’re in the same boat as the rest of us. Hang on and don’t fall over the edge! Your grandmother doesn’t have the degrees that YOU stand for. You may be poor, but you graduated and that will follow you for the rest of your life.

  46. [...] Paying for College and Grad School: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don… [...]

  47. [...] Paying for College and Grad School: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don… [...]

  48. [...] Paying for College and Grad School: How to Avoid Spending $100,000 (or more) on a Credential You Don… interesting discourse by a guest at I Will Teach You to be Rich [...]

  49. Just for some background, I went to a really good 4 year school for an engineering degree. However, I have definitely been thinking about this icollege stuff for my kids (when I have them + 18 years from then when they start college….)

    Granted, things may change in the next 20 years, but the way colleges and financial aid work now are insane. You spend 100,000 getting a degree in…. Food Science? Huh?

    Some careers require specialized training- doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc.

    But for internet marketers, photographers, event planners, etc., I think they’re probably better off just starting their own business or working with a company for a few years then doing your own thing. 2/3 of millionaires own their own business, but didn’t necessarily need a college degree to start that business.

    Instead they learned real, applicable skills like how to build a business and be a salesman, and with a little hard work things fell into place.

  50. I agree for the most part of this article, however I would disagree if it applies to undergrads as you almost do need a college degree to get a job these days, or at least a decent one. I do agree that you don’t necessarily need an MBA to be successful in business, but it is a great networking tool. The other degrees like law and md you need, but you should be weighing the decision greatly and be educated about the facts and job outlooks before you make your decision. You don’t necessarily need a degree for most art related jobs, all that employers usually care about it is your portfolio, I agree. But you sometimes need the networking and teaching to give you the basics at least.
    Most high school kids aren’t going to be able to go out and start a business, that is crazy talk. No one is going to hire them to do that sort of work either, or partner with them. No one is going to hire them either to do that work, they would have to work from the bottom up which is a lot harder than it was 20 years ago. If you want to do something that doesn’t require a degree or you don’t think you would be able to succeed in getting a degree ( simply not smart or driven enough) then you should think twice. However, for all things you need some form of education, whether that is college or not. Paying 100 grand for a degree(bachelors) that you don’t need is senseless, but so is thinking you can be an accountant, or management without it.

  51. I went to 2 different colleges and i really get the feeling that all the money that i spent was wasted. I work in a job now that is completely outside of my degree, and i really feel like i didn’t learn anything that helped me.
    I think that trade schools or education that will lead you directly into a job, is a good way to get into a certain field. But, you can always get an internship and skip all of that.
    I think college is just a place for kids to learn who they are and what they want to do.

  52. I wish I had been able to read this post when I was 17 and just starting the process of applying for schools. I was fortunate to attend an inexpensive University in Canada and had my tuition covered for the duration of the degree, but was stupid in choosing theatre as a major. I’m doing much better now that I picked a different career path five years ago and starting my own business, but the damage was already done. May not have been set back financially, but I was set back with a lack of transferrable skills.

  53. Great post – I am a proud graduate of a state school that was unthinkably cheap at the time I attended, and I was lucky enough, in a sense, to land a job right afterward with a company that placed little value on advanced degrees. I paid as little as possible for a pretty good finance degree, hit the business world running, and 20 years later, my career progress has always been strong enough that I’ve never had the need or time to devote to an advanced degree. I can’t imagine having paid over $150,000 for that credential at this point.

    One thing…the post comes very close to, but does not explicitly assert, that people might be better off skipping college entirely and instead gaining interesting and less expensive life experience during that time. If that is the implication, I don’t agree with it. The value of the alternative life experience may indeed be high. But, in this business environment, not holding a higher education degree AT ALL carries an untenable stigma in the business world and eliminates pretty much every professional option except sales and self employment. While I agree that the source of the degree is not critical, I do encourage every high school student to attend college.

    Thanks for the thoughtful writing.

    • Will – you’re assuming sales and self-employment are sub-par starting options for young businesspeople. They’re actually great places to start: you have a lot of responsibility and freedom to experiment from the very beginning, and you’ll learn a lot in a very short time.

      That said, it’s true that many hiring managers are (for better or worse) biased when it comes to undergrad degrees. That’s why I recommend looking for ways to obtain a degree quickly, with as little debt as possible. See: http://personalmba.com/hacking-higher-education-clep/

      Protip for hiring managers: setting up a formal apprenticeship program is a great way to attract promising employees before anyone else looks at them. All it takes is setting up a paid apprenticeship program that’s *better* than the perceived risks of skipping undergrad.

    • Will- ” But, in this business environment, not holding a higher education degree AT ALL carries an untenable stigma in the business world and eliminates pretty much every professional option except sales and self employment.”

      As the guy said in the movie “Independence Day” said -”Uh…excuse me, Mr. President. That’s not entirely accurate.”

      We live in a world where kids are making six-seven figure incomes on YouTube (same kids, being courted quite heavily by BIG business) and self taught inventors like Dean Kamen are bringing products to market and a young lady named Amanda Hocking ( both college drop outs) who by the way, sold more books than 95% of all authors last year , with no publisher or publicist , all are doing quite well in the business world.

      Depending on who you are, WHAT you know can trump who you know, this is a great time to be alive. The internet has made everything up for grabs to those that are prepared. I think we all agree education is critical to success, the great divide is the source of that education.

      I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here in Atlanta if you have the proper skills, you can obtain any job that does not require a degree, with a heavy emphasis on the word SKILLS. I don’t have a degree, but I did start five business ( that failed) with the skill sets I got from the belly of failure. I never had to look for a job after my first corporate gig, they found me!

      I think what is lost on many people is the value of “truly learning how to do something well” really educating yourself about any subject deeply and with passion, this intense pursuit will produce incalculable dividends. That type of education is INVALUABLE and the people who pull this off in an unexploited niche are making more money in months than many make in a lifetime.

      As for college there are many people who are not prepared, geared, nor will ever do well in that environment, especially a segment of boys. However, with the right education ( what ever that may be for the individual) will do wonderful in life, professional and otherwise.

      I think the real method is to educate yourself as proficiently as you can, formal or otherwise. People that are effective , get things done and are highly self directed never have to look for jobs.

      I think anyone whether college is part of the life mix or not needs to look at the big picture, truly weighing out all of the costs. I think there are some 17-18 year kids who will fully appreciate this post, based on the number of kids posting their high level of disenchantment of the college experience on Youtube.

      Josh did not say it, but I will, there are several people who will be better off never going to college, self education, vocational or trade school will be more apt for these folks. Many educators know this, but with everyone in the country drinking from the fountain of ” The No Child Left Behind Act” that is not a cool thing to say in public.

      Regardless of the fact if you agree with the core premise of this article or not, the facts are just that-FACTS- many well educated, high GPA , college graduates do not have jobs and the jobs they can obtain, is not going to service that student loan debt and this is not going to change anytime soon, linear thinking would dictate that is a losing proposition. This is one of the best posts on this subject I have seen online.

  54. Very very cool article….couldn’t read the whole thing…but very immpressive
    Its true i am using very little of what i learned in my degrees.
    I love the extension back-door….even though i knew this…i have never taken advantage of it….almost did a few years ago but decided i had different goals and location of the univ was too far from my work.
    Regardless an awesome contribution Josh!

  55. Josh, where are the GWU alumni that were supposed to come in and comment like you promised?

    “(Reading this article is instructive – reading the comments from GWU alumni is even more so. Watch what happens when people believe their social status – which they’ve paid for – is in jeopardy.)”

    I was looking forward to some entertainment, but now after reading through all the comments and finding nothing I feel let down :(

  56. Fascinating article. Absolutely some stellar points. As the benefactor of a college education I didn’t have to pay for it’s easy for me to espouse the benefits of a college education. I certainly got a lot out of it, but I will absolutely agree that the most learning I did was outside the classroom. As Mark Twain said, don’t let school get in the way of your education.”

    As with anything, I feel like it greatly matters on the individual, but clearly there needs to be a broader discussion around the myth that college is the only way to go. With college graduation rates hovering around 50%, we’re doing about as well with getting people *through* college as we are on marriage. Remind me again what grade in school a 50% is…?

  57. Another really great post, wow, kudos! Such thought and honest-to-goodness wisdom in here… This is something I told myself repeatedly after graduating from college. My first year out alone I learned 10x more about business, success, life, and people through self-education & networking than anything else, literally. I wish more kids would read this article, Ramit you must expose this piece to blogs or people who have audiences that are going to college or in college (better late then never)… but then again, I don’t know the demographics of your audience. Nevertheless, I have definitely forwarded this to many people already (before I even finished reading it). Keep up the great work!

  58. Terrific article. My husband and I both went to private universities as undergrads but it’s a different world now. The costs are astronomical. We have three kids, all of whom — due to the gentle arm-twisting of their parents — are attending in-state public schools. Fortunately we live in NC where there are over a dozen excellent choices and the price is a bargain. Everyone will graduate debt free.

    I’d also like to remind people that some graduate degrees pay for themselves. I have a recently obtained MS in my field, which I needed, and it was almost completely paid for by teaching assistant salary and tuition remission. You don’t have to go to professional school and go into debt. There are other options.

  59. While this article leans toward the entrepreneurship, one thing that isn’t mentioned is having your employer pay for grad school. A lot of my friends are getting MBAs and other grad degrees part time, paid for by their employers. If you get it debt free it takes a lot of the risk out of getting these degrees, especially if you are not going to HBS.

    Another practical path to consider is learning a trade or establishing a decent source of income first, then going to undergrad as a part time student. I know a guy who was an electrician and paid his way through undergrad at University of Maryland part-time thinking he would do something more white collar afterwards. Yet he graduated in 2009 in the thick of the recession, and decided that he’d be better off running his own electrician company. He does quite well now, doing electrical projects for commercial property owners and has multiple employees.

    Just some other practical paths to consider to minimize debt but still get the credential.

  60. Hello Ramit and Josh,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now Ramit, and I usually agree with most of what your views regarding initiative and freelancing, educating yourself and automating your finances and so on. I never felt the need to comment on anything before but I just have to share my experience regarding formal education because of the criticism I’ve been facing lately from my family/friends/social circle.

    I live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and I did my first bachelor’s degree at McGill University (one of the top 10 in the country) in Psychology. Yes it did cost me 15K in student loans, not too much since I was stil working part-time throughout school, and most people would consider that degree a waste of time and money. But one advantage that I got out of attending McGill is that because it is a prestigious and well-funded university, all of my teachers were experts in their fields and successful published authors, and so the “classroom learning” we did was also accentuated by real-life experiences and studies, since most of them actually had their own labs in the university. Now that applies to Sciences only at McGill.

    After that, I did my law degree at a lesser well-known French University, and I just recently graduated in December. I could not get into McGill Law because working and studying didn’t allow me to focus too much on grades and I id not have the required 4.0 GPA. But attending the lesser-ranking French university also gave me an amazing learning experience because, contrary to McGill, the teachers they hired were associates and not professors, meaning that they were ll full-time lawyers in the real-world but they also taught to supplement their income. Once again, I was in a position to learn the theory of law as well as the practice of law since all of these teachers knew what was going on in the real-world, had their own small-sized firms or worked in corporate, and regularly gave students advice and anecdotes that we could use. That school also highly encouraged its students to do internships while in law school, and I managed to get hired for 2 legal internships while doing my law degree, thus giving me a better perspective upon graduation.

    So I don’t agree that formal education is a waste of time or attending a presitgious university is a waste of money, because obviously, a prestigious uni has things to offer to its students that others cannot, and a less well-known uni could have its advantages as well. I attended both types and each had its advanatages and drawbacks, but I could never have had access to the people in these fields, or had these opportunities to learn things like if I had not attended university. I can, and still do, read books about psychology because the subject does interest me, but I am missing the opinions and viewpoints of the experts as well since that is only something I had access to as a student.

    So even after reading comments about how people have a law degree and are stuck with loads of debt and no jobs, I am still not convinced that it is a waste of time or money since you can not just learn on your own what a lawyer does and even if you did, you need the license number required to practice.

    On another note, being in law school and doing the internships has opened my eyes to the possibility of working for myself, something that I never thought of before law school since I didn’t think I was the entrepreneurial type. So these people that you guys are saying have no jobs after law school, is it only because they are focused on getting that high-paying job in the corporate world? I think so. Because law is such a vast field and there are so many different types of law and so many different settings in which one could practice. I don’t know about situation in the US, but here in Montreal, Canada, most lawyers I know work on their own and are doing extremely well. Yes, it takes dedication and hard work, but they are well-off financially and best of all, they are INDEPENDENT. A law degree is a great way to achieve that independence from the grinding 9 to 5 routine, and if there are too many in one metropolitain area such as Montreal, you can easily move to the suburbs and start a successful practice there. But either way, I do not see why a law graduate still has no work to do after 2 years unless like I said, they are stuck in a specific “get hired in a firm and make 100K+ per year” mindset.

    That’s my 2 cents from Canada :)

    Best of luck to everyone.

    • I don’t know Ramit, but I bet he would say that a $15K student loan investment is not unreasonable for the credential you’ve picked up. The people in the case studies ended up with an order of magnitude more than that, or even more in some cases.

  61. Ramit – you were right, this is the most productive 15 minutes I’ve spent today or even the past week for that matter. My head is exploding because my invisible scripts are really strong (yep, Asian). Really nicely paired with the futility essay since very little can change a person’s mind to pay or not pay.

  62. Fantastic article! I’ve just sent the link to the entire high school girl’s team I coach!

  63. Hi .. for those of us that did not have the benefit of this article’s wisdom and do have a student loan from grad school … what are the best ways to reduce and/or eliminate that student loan?

  64. Hi .. forgot to check the button to be notified of followup comments to my post.

  65. I just finished reading this, after catching up on my emails (I’m so glad I get the IWTY emails). This whole post changed my life…really and I immediately (well after reading Ramit’s intro) ordered Ramit’s and Josh’s books. I think reading them will help me clear up where I want to go in life and who I want to be as I’m deciding on career planning, and which school or programs I can enroll in to best help meet my goals.

    I have to admit all the things Josh advised, about taking the personal MBA course, applying to private universities, understanding the value of the money sunk into education and a degree–whether the input meets the output goals so that I won’t be unhirable or stuck, applying for every single scholarship (making sure to target specific program or career scholarships as well, taking gap years, etc…all those things I’ve thought about but never done. A couple months ago, I think through one of these IWTY emails I was reading something about how attending university isn’t the end all be all but instead I should look at alternatives and one of these solutions as to seek accredited or associates degrees. I thought about that and figured it was similar to the certificate I would recieve from a university program I wanted to enroll in, but many of my friends who have taken that same program haven’t gotten to where they wanted to be or thought they would be. Instead they’re working city jobs or aren’t getting hired into the industry. I don’t want to be stuck like they are, so I decided that I wouldn’t enroll in that program, although I’ve recived automatic acceptances and also scholarships…and it’s not to that one program or school. So I guess I’m fortunate but I’m looking for something a little more specialized than what I want to go into and it’s a hybrid of different educational stands which makes it more difficult because it seems like most schools don’t offer it as an undergrad (unless it’s a certificate) degree but a masters degree program. I’m not a masters degree student. I actually just finished highschool and graduated and it’s been a pain in the posterior to find schools that offer what I need and what I want to focus on as a future career. I’m actually thinking of just giving up but I’m trying to keep positive. I’m just going to apply into some of the larger departments that this branch is focused and used to supplement some of the more traditional science departments. After doing a lot of research, although this technology or subject is more relevant and recognizable in society, I’ve realized that a lot of the education hasn’t trickled down to the populace and that’s why people don’t understand the science andn material knowledge behind the interfaces and application they use. So finding out that schools don’t focus on this subject and that it’s not a priority although some schools have the program I need and are updating their infrastructure, I realized that I need to think big and think outside the box. See I eventually would have come to that realization but I came to it faster because I read Ramit’s blogs. After reading this post I think that getting a couple certificates, associates degrees, etc…can help me patch together the education I need till I can get apply to something like the Master’s program I would ultimately need.

    Thanks you two.

    I better send this before the battery dies. D’oh!

  66. Great article. You’re right, so many people think they need to “get a good education” and the cost isn’t even considered. An education from a great school is terrific even if you pay out-of-state tuition; but if you pay in-state tuition for that same education, you pay a fraction of the cost. Most people can qualify to get in-state tuition with a little help. That’s why we started Tuition Angels: we help students get in-state tuition in the fastest way possible.

  67. I’d like to poke holes in this, but it’s hard. There are surveys showing that college educated people make more money — on average — than those without college degrees but, as he pointed out, we can assume those surveys are using students who graduated years ago, without backbreaking debt.

    I believe the main barrier is that young adults — almost by definition — often don’t know what they really want to do. Yet there’s no social acceptance for taking off a few years to figure that out, without going to college.

    I believe the smartest thing to do is to start your own business, and you don’t need a college education for that. However, despite a huge upsurge in business in the overall culture the past few decades, the young adults I know don’t understand this, or just don’t have the self-image. They may learn better later. But right now, the high schoolers making money online you hear about are still the exception not the rule.

    And the trend toward time in school is up, not down. What used to take four years, now takes many students five. Not many are taught — or manage to learn — ways to improve their memory and read faster, to finish in three years instead of four.