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You don’t have to go to college

10 Aug

It’s almost time for another mass matriculation, the time when students enter doe-eyed and blissfully unaware of the realities of life during and after college. Most teenagers enter college with no idea of the financial, psychological, and other costs of attending school. I’m certainly not advocating not bettering oneself and pursing some form of education but I do advocate other non-traditional means of doing so.

Here’s a fact, or one that I have personally observed – not everyone is meant to go to college and not everyone will benefit from having done so. I don’t mean to blaspheme in our three-college town, however; speaking from an HR standpoint, knowing that you obtained a college degree often simply means that you completed classes. It does little to show me your real aptitude and ability as a person and potential employee. The fact is, you may be better suited for a technical or trade school. And that’s not a knock on those institutions of higher learning.

With few exceptions I can tell you that with the five degrees in my possession there were but a mere handful of classes that I felt were worth the time, cost and energy and that sparked my interest to make it worth it. Oftentimes individuals enter college with a vague idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives, they are still finding out who they are as a person.

Discovering the person you will become often begins to truly develop in your traditional college years. So, to even attempt to make a decision that early in life regarding a relationship let alone a career is a bit silly and unrealistic. By the time you reach your first mid-life crisis you’ll likely hate what you’re doing with that degree or may not even be working in the field you got the degree in.

It is not uncommon for students to enter college with one degree in mind and exit with another. And even less uncommon is to end up working in a field where having the degree was merely a prerequisite. Sure, it’s a college degree but what did you ultimately get out of it? You likely got saddled with an enormous amount of student loan debt. My student loan debt is more than the cost of my house! This is also not uncommon either.

The American dream of a college degree/education has done little in the way of educating us about practical work skills but it has certainly educated us in what the real American life is, debt-filled.

In a recent CNN Money article, My degree isn’t worth the debt!, it featured a number of individuals from all walks of life sharing the true cost of their dream. From a Master’s graduate with $72,800 of student loan debt making $7.25 per hour to a Bachelor’s graduate with $140,000 in student loan debt, one must really think about the motivation in going to college. Yes, it can often be that required check in the box to get you in the door for some jobs, but it is all too easy to fall into the pitfalls of massive student loan debt.

With the state of our country’s economic future even more uncertain, the last thing one needs is the fruit of their labor to be a massive student loan debt awaiting them once they get the over-priced sheet of frameable paper.

I find it hard to be patient. When going for my Master’s degree I rashly decided to do two at the same time. I was motivated by a need to overachieve and despite knowing better I gave little consideration to the then ‘free money’ that I received. Sure, I had some grants, and sure, though it would’ve been uncomfortable, I could’ve paid for the expense out of my own pocket. However, I foolishly decided that the stress of school in itself was enough and that the quick and easy money was easier than some short-term financial discomfort. Having all these degrees meant I’d be more marketable and make more money, right? Wrong. Sure, it’s a great conversation starter, much more than ‘I have five degrees and I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.’

The thing is, at the end of the day fulfillment in ones’ life has little to do with the degrees and accolades on their walls, it’s what it is that they get out of their life experiences.

While I often think of librarianship as being a trade I often wonder what it would’ve been like to go into a traditional one like becoming an electrician, barber, or even a paralegal. And when I think of craftsmen and other trades that seem to be less and less pursued and mastered by individuals, I can’t help but to think as I fork out the massive per hour labor charge of their bills, did I get into the right business? It’s not all about the money but it’s also really nice knowing that there are still people interested in doing specialized fields that are still very important and necessary.

Just take the time to really think about what you want to do with your life and realize that there are other educational options that can be equally fulfilling and that aren’t earned in the traditional classroom. And even if you want to go to school, don’t, as Dave Ramsey says, be a slave of the lender. You don’t want to spend what could be the rest of your working life repaying on a student loan that was supposed to have aided you in making a better life for yourself.

This article appeared on page 5A in the 8/10/11 issue of The Union-Recorder.

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