College Conundrum

Lately I’ve been thinking about what the purpose of college is. For me, it was all about getting a job…

My daughter is in the first grade and at the front of her school, there is a sign that proudly proclaims “College Starts at Kindergarten.” The first time I saw the sign, I thought it was pretty cool; this place takes its academics seriously. When we visited the school, I noticed similar signs all pointing to the same goal; college. Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking about those signs and I’m not so crazy about them anymore. First though, a little bit about me.

Why I went to College

I am good with money because my parent's weren't.

I am good with money because my parent’s weren’t.

My parents always struggled with money. Some of the time, my dad had a decent job, but even then, lack of money management skills* resulted in horrible, horrible decisions. Money, or lack of it, was usually a source of angst and worry.

I hated it. The struggle with money terrified me, even as a small child: Would we have enough to eat? Would we always have a house? To this day, I cling to money. Now you know why I’m such a saver.

From a young age, I decided that college was a way to escape money struggles. No-one in my family had ever gone, but I was sure that going would lead to a better job. So, my goal wasn’t really to go to college, but to have a good life after.

My Issue with my First Grader’s School

willyI think that my child’s school is doing a great job of educating her. She is 6 and has the continents memorized. The other day, she told me about Mesopotamia and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. I was learning none of this when I was 6.

However, the laser focus on college rubs me the wrong way. There is life after college and the school doesn’t seem to care so much about that.

Preparing for college is great and perhaps the core goal, but I wish they would do a little more to prepare her for life. I know what you may be thinking, she’s only in the first grade. Well, her kindergarten (different school) brought in folks from Junior Achievement (JA) who discussed topics like saving money and jobs. They did a great job of presenting it too; my 6 year old really enjoyed it. In case you have no idea what JA is, it’s a non-profit organization that educates children:

Junior Achievement works with local businesses and organizations to deliver experiential programs on the topics of financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to students in kindergarten through high school.

My feelings towards college are that most people should go, but it isn’t the end game. College should be a step in a path towards life as an adult and college choices should be made with consideration of what happens afterwards.

I do believe that parents who are hell bent on getting their kids into a top tier school are making a mistake. After all, I do remember learning about Mesopotamia, but I’ve never been asked about it during a job interview.

 

*Sometime, I’ll tell you about the time my parents plowed through a 400K inheritance in a couple years with absolutely nothing to show for it.

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36 Responses to College Conundrum

  1. Rory says:

    For me college was all about getting a job. Especially as I found out I was going to be a father at 20, I couldn’t graduate soon enough. To that end, college succeeded.

    Certainly the most important part of life is after college. I personally caution against an ‘echo-chamber’ effect of the blogosphere, as there seems to be a near-consensus that college is not too important (and become less important as time goes on).

    I disagree with this consensus. There isn’t a single job I have held in the financial field that I would have even been interviewed for without my degree. It’s ironic that many of my superiors hold only HS diplomas and have 25+ years on the job. But as they leave they are being replaced my MBAs.

    That said, I think finance is a poor field to go into. And I’m sure that there are plenty of trades like IT where you can get your foot in the door without an advanced degree. But not mine.
    Rory recently posted…Case Study: What if the Unthinkable Happens?My Profile

    • 1500 says:

      College is important and if you can, go. However, go for a reason, not just because you think you have to go to college. It really isn’t for everyone.

  2. I like your post and I agree that college should be about enabling yourself to get a decent job upon graduation. Unfortunately, for most kids, it seems college is about partying. They come out with a nebulous degree that won’t land them a job anywhere and did nothing but party for 4-6 years. And many of these kids are doing that at outrageously priced private schools. It seems to be a sense of entitlement – to spend mom and dad’s money to party for 5 years and finish college and still not be able to support him/herself. I went to one of the best public schools in New York (the SUNY public college system), SUNY Geneseo, where I had an incredible amount of fun, met some of my best friends who are still my best friends 13 years later and got a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. I had a job set up 6 months before I graduated and I also had very little student loan debt compared to some of my peers at colleges with fancier names. To me, people paying triple the price for private schools is the same as women buying $200 purses and jeans.
    Laura @ RichmondSavers.com recently posted…Take Your Family to Disney World For Free: Step-by-Step InstructionsMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      “To me, people paying triple the price for private schools is the same as women buying $200 purses and jeans.”

      I think you’re right 99% of the time. I can only think of one exception at the moment and that would be going to Stanford for computer science. If you can get into that program and successfully graduate, the opportunities are endless.

      I went to a lowly state school (Northern Illinois University), but worked my butt off and scored in the top 10% on my PCAT (pharmacy entrance exam). School (and life) are what you make out of it. Hard work is everything.

      • B d says:

        Hey 1500

        I just thought I have to shout out when I saw that you went to NIU too. I went there for a computer science degree and just now stumble upon your blog. Nice to know somebody from school who’s doing well right now. Kudo to you!

  3. Agreed, on all counts. I went to private, expensive, crazy-about-academics schools that pushed the college mantra. When I decided to go to a lesser-known school on a scholarship because it meant coming out debt-free, a lot of folks told me I was making a mistake.

    They we’re wrong.

    I’ve debt free. I’ve been gainfully employed since graduating college and I’ve had opportunities at lots of “name brand” companies.

    But, I also recognize that college isn’t the right path for everyone. While, yes, I would want any future children I had to attend college, I wouldn’t consider deciding against it a crushing blow to their futures. As long as they had a plan and were able to financially support themselves.

    I too wish they’d teach more practical skills in school too, especially about money.
    Broke Millennial recently posted…6 Ways I Embrace My Desire to SplurgeMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      Yeah, practical skills are severely missing. I think that every grade, starting with kindergarten should teach life skills.

  4. I think Rory above makes a good point. To some degree (no pun intended) your ability to complete a college is more of a door opener than the reason you get the job. Unless you have a personal connection, getting past the initial “eye test” in a job requires you to have a resume that stands out, degree included. All that being said, ultimately a college degree, in the right discipline, is a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

    With that being said, we also have the unending need for skilled/trade labor, which gets lost in the college/life after college conversation. A smart and motivated mechanic, plumber, and others can easily earn more than many traditional white collared employees by owning or operating their own shop. To be honest, if I could go back, I would marry my love for all things business and financial with a trade. Nothing more satisfy than working with your hands (and brain)!
    writing2reality recently posted…Lending Club – May 2013 UpdateMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      Good point about skilled trades. Have you ever hired a plumber? Oh man, those guys charge ridiculous rates.

      “To be honest, if I could go back, I would marry my love for all things business and financial with a trade. Nothing more satisfy than working with your hands (and brain)!”

      Completely agree. I love building things. Nothing like stepping back after a good project and admiring your work.

  5. Mr PoP’s parents were both college professors, so for them, getting their children a college education was basically a non-negotiable part of child rearing. Trouble is, that didn’t really mesh with what their kids felt.

    One of Mr PoP’s brothers went to the military before coming back and going to college, another had a bad car accident and only finished some, and another took a very winding route, but finally finished college when he was 26 or 27 – but what he really wants to do right now is be a cook, which requires no college education. Mr PoP took one of the straightest paths through and even he took a year off in the middle to travel, work, and prove his own self sufficiency to himself before returning and finishing college (mostly because he promised his parents he would).

    So perhaps talking about college all the time doesn’t make children more likely to actually go?
    Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted…The Imagined Life of Shoeless JoeMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      Interesting thought. Human nature says that we want what we can’t have. Perhaps the fact that college came to them so easy made them appreciate it a little less? For me, college was this lofty thing up on a pedestal.

  6. Oh, man. Your comment about the inheritance made my stomach drop.

    I completely agree with your sentiments on college. I think the correlates with higher salaries make a college degree too attractive to ignore. But it’s only one slice of a bigger pie. Not nearly enough thought goes into decisions about the kind of (or length of) career you really want to have or what kind of day to day life you might want. College doesn’t address the larger picture in a lot of cases.
    Done by Forty recently posted…Do It Now!My Profile

  7. That inheritance comment hits so close to home. Not my parents, but my fiancé. Before I met him, he inherited over 100k. He has absolutely nothing to show for it seven years later (though it was gone within a year and a half). He says he has learned from it, but I’d question that very harshly if another similar chunk of change fell in his lap.

    I went to university because that is what you did after high school. and then after my undergrad, I just kept going. I went to grad school because I didn’t want to get a job and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

    My brother took a bunch of time off between high school and getting a trade. He was very happy with his decision.

    I think I am happy with mine.
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted…Thanksgiving weekend update.My Profile

    • 1500 says:

      I find the human ability to blow massive quantities of money amazing! The inheritance stories are bad enough. I have a couple friends who top it though. Both have made 6 figures for a decade and live in cheap homes, but barely get by. Crazy, isn’t it?!?

  8. E.M. says:

    Sounds like we had a similar childhood – “I am good with money because my parent’s were’t” describes me perfectly. My parents did not go to college, but my two older cousins did, so I figured it was the natural path I was expected to take. Such an early emphasis on college may pressure some children. My parents never told me I absolutely had to get straight A’s, but I put the pressure on myself. I went to college because I figured it would help me have more job opportunities. Both of my parents were kind of stuck in their jobs and lack of education did hold them back. However, I don’t think college will make or break people necessarily. Lots of people can gain experience outside of traditional education and do just fine for themselves.
    E.M. recently posted…Being Grateful – Second EditionMy Profile

  9. My parents weren’t necessarily irresponsible with money, but were really just ignorant. I come from a low income family, so college was always the path towards success. Honestly, for first generation kids, college is a great way to get started. I just don’t think people really tackle the questions about how you’re going to live life afterwards. For my parents there is no freedom afterwards. Just the same grind every day.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted…How to Be SuccessfulMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      Dah, that is a bit sad about your parents. Whenever I think of people like that, I wonder what their lives could have been if the circumstances were different? Perhaps one would have been a doctor or scientist or professor?

  10. Micro says:

    Part of me likes seeing kids pushed to learn more at a younger age because I like the idea of pushing the potential that our brains have. The other part of me is thinking kids should have some time to be kids. Time to laugh, jump, and play. Not sit and drill into them all that they need to get into their dream school. Because, at the end of the day most companies just care that the degree came from an accredited university. The name of where you got your degree doesn’t matter. It’s all about what you yourself can bring to the table.
    Micro recently posted…Need Halloween costume ideas: 5 household items that can helpMy Profile

  11. My sons are both in university. They are getting degrees in practical careers. No arts or philosophy degrees. I have always encouraged them to get a post-secondary education but I wanted something practical as well.

    My oldest has secured a great job with his degree in economics and graduates this Christmas.

    Canada has colleges and universities. Colleges offer more practical educations such as electricians and accounting diplomas in 2 and 3 year programs. Universities also have accounting and medicine and engineering but they give degrees in women and native studies, philosophy and other things that don’t get you a job after graduation.

    I don’t understand the difference between universities and colleges in the USA. Am I correct in assuming that they are basically the same?
    Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle recently posted…Are Your Finances Prepared For Your Death?My Profile

  12. Interesting point! The focus has to be more towards what you want to do in life and the road to get there may include college. But, maybe it doesn’t. Never thought through that- I would’ve thought the same thing that it was a positive thing to be promoting college at such a young age.
    Janine @ MoneySmartGuides recently posted…The High Price of MaterialismMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      Exactly! College isn’t everything. If anything, I think its role is being diminished. From a financial perspective, in some cases, the costs outweigh the higher income.

  13. I’m big on not all kids getting into college. I wish we would push trade schools as much as college for kids. As a licensed plumber where I live, you can easily make six figures after finishing the 7 year apprenticeship–while lengthy, you’re still earning while you’re aiming for that license and not paying a dime in tuition!

    I wish we’d also push more programs like Americorps before college which give young adults opportunities to learn new things and explore life so they can get closer to figuring out what they want to do and what they don’t want to do.
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted…Getting up and dusting yourself offMy Profile

  14. In today’s economy a lot of people who come out from trade school often make more than college graduates. It depends on what your major is.
    charles@gettingarichlife recently posted…How I Become A Millionaire…In DebtMy Profile

  15. Wow, your upbringing and mine were VERY similar. Can’t wait to get that drink one of these days.
    For me college was something I decided I was doing at a very young age. I was going and that was it. I don’t even know where that mentality came from. I’m still the only person in my nuclear family to have completed college.
    While I do think the modern university system is in dire need of reform, I think it benefited me greatly. Oddly, I think it’s less important than it has ever been from the perspective of getting a decent job but at the same time I think it’s more important than ever in terms of being a productive citizen. It’s amazing to me how many people have no clue how their government works, there is little critical thinking, they’re easily manipulated by the financial industry, etc. If you look at who’s most vulnerable from that perspective, it gets way worse as you go down the education ladder.
    If our public schools were better at younger ages, I think college could become almost unnecessary for most jobs.
    Pretired Nick recently posted…‘OMG, I’m SO BUSY’My Profile

    • 1500 says:

      Nick, you make some great points! This one is my favorite though:

      “there is little critical thinking”

      I see this every day. It seems that people just don’t think things through…

      I can’t wait for that beer too!

  16. I will vehemently agree with one thing, schools should be teaching more life skills and practical skills to children…truth be told, a sizable number in those classes won’t see college despite the incessant push but they could certainly benefit from some life lessons. Even the ones that do make it to college will require those lessons to come out of the other end and do something with their lives.
    Simon @ Modest Money recently posted…How To Choose The Best Online Investment PlatformMy Profile

  17. Julia says:

    The No 1 reason to go college should be you want to learn.There are far better and less expensive ways to get a job (a good job) than to go to college.

    I went to college to learn. I had 3 majors (graduated in 4 years with a semster off), took 21 credits a semester (that was max) and sat in a numerous other class. I was leading discussion groups for a class when the prof. figured out i was not actually enrolled. I did have a job within 2 months from graduating.

    I would take my child out of a school where the emphasis was getting into college and getting a job. Elementary school should have 2 focuses teaching kids to LOVE learning and HOW they individual learn. With those 2 things as a foundation, they can go anywhere.

  18. That’s Right..
    Today , The purpose of college is only think about job. Not any student goes to learn something new , interesting matter . just complete the college course and think about job.
    Prabhat Singh recently posted…About usMy Profile

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