You’re standing at the crossroads of a major decision. You’ve graduated high school, or you’re about to, and you’re trying to decide what’s next.
Should you follow your friends to college? Get a job? Take a gap year? Start a business?
You want to do what’s best for your future, but you’re just not sure what that looks like. To make matters worse, you may be facing some pressure from the people in your life to go to college.
You’ve probably heard variations of arguments like “people who have college degrees earn more money,” or even “you’ll never get a decent job if you don’t go to college.”
For a long time, the conventional wisdom has been that going to college increases your chances of getting a job, boosts your earning potential, and all that jazz.
The thing is, college doesn’t guarantee higher earning potential or a better job (more on this below). In fact, college isn’t even the best way to get an education and build the skills you need to succeed in your dream job.
College isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Everyone’s path looks different, and everyone needs to decide for themselves whether college is the right route for them.
Below, we’ll unpack some of the reasons college is not for everyone – and why that’s absolutely okay – before looking at some of the alternative paths to college.
Smart Reasons College Isn’t For Everyone
You’ve probably heard every argument in support of going to college. It’s not every day that someone will tell you that opting out of college is a good decision.
We’re here to tell you just that. We truly believe that not only is college not for everyone – it’s not for most people.
You Can Be Your Own Credential
When you think about why people go to college – why people really go to college – you might come up with a few reasons. “To learn” might be one of them. “The college/social experience or networking might be another. But the truth is, you could move to a college town and sit in all the lectures for free, without registering. You could do online courses and learn just as much, if not more. You could go to all the frat parties and football games and have the same social experience. If it were really about gaining knowledge and networking, you could get the same results without signing up for college and the debt that comes with it.
No, the real thing college is selling is the credential – the stamp of approval that tells future employers that you’re at least as good as the average person who graduated from the institution that gave you the degree. College is a signal.
For a long time, the college stamp of approval was the best signal available for prospective employers that you could be trusted. If you went to Harvard, the university’s reputation signaled that you were worth taking a risk on, in the absence of other information that showed prospective employers who you were and what you were capable of.
But today, we live in a world where you can be your own credential that signals your ability to create value more effectively than a degree. You can now create a body of work and a digital footprint showcasing your skills, worldview, and ability to create value better than any credential could. Whether it’s your website, blog, LinkedIn profile, Github portfolio, social media profiles, podcast, YouTube channel, or any other online activity – you can now provide employers (and customers, if you run your own business) tangible evidence of the projects you’ve worked on, people you’ve worked with, and value you’ve created.
That’s worth far more as a signal than any piece of paper held by thousands of other people – no matter how prestigious the college.
Want to be inspired? Watch Praxis founder Isaac Morehouse talk about this:
College Is Not the Real World, and It’s Not a Good Way to Figure Out What You Want to Do with Your Life
Unless your dream is to go into academia, college won’t prepare you for the reality of whichever career you’re studying towards. The truth is that the college experience – sitting in lectures, memorizing information, taking tests, going to Greek parties – is a sheltered existence that doesn’t really resemble the outside world.
That’s great if you want to postpone real life by four or more years while you grow up a bit, but if you’re ambitious and hungry to start your career, college will only slow you down.
A lot of people think that college is a good place to “find yourself” and explore your interests because it’s a weird kind of in-between space where not much is expected of you beyond keeping your grades up.
And so, a lot of people who don’t really know what they want from life take up a general degree like business administration or liberal arts in the hopes that they’ll have some kind of epiphany about what they want to do with their lives.
The problem is that this is a really expensive way to explore your interests – in terms of both money and time (more on that below) – and you’d be better off taking a gap year (or four, for that matter) to actively experiment with different skills and sample different career paths.
Entry-level jobs, internships, job shadowing, or volunteering would all give you a more accurate idea of what type of career appeals to you, and what kinds of career paths are even available.
The truth is, when graduating high school, most of us can’t even imagine the vast majority of career options available, simply because we’ve only been told about the clear-cut options like doctor, lawyer, accountant, firefighter, police officer, veterinarian, etc.
We’re indoctrinated to believe that fields like art (for instance) don’t make money, because all we can imagine is the starving artist who doesn’t sell any paintings. Never mind the hundreds of high-paying art-driven careers like corporate illustration, graphic design, animation, user experience design, copywriting, creative direction, screenwriting, video editing, and many more. Or the thousands of creatives making tons of money using their skills to create successful online content.
The point is, the more experience you get in the real world (not college), the more aware you’ll become of the millions of opportunities and career options there are beyond the handful of mainstream jobs we grew up knowing about. And the more you know, the more power you have to make the choices that are right for you.
College is Expensive
The financial cost of college has received a lot of attention in recent years, as the national college debt has climbed to reach over $1.6 trillion. But college is expensive in more ways than one. What people talk about less is the tremendous opportunity cost of spending four years in college.
College means four years of delaying starting your professional career, launching a business, or gaining valuable work experience – or simply figuring out what it is that makes you come alive and want to get out of bed every morning.
Another way college is expensive is that it teaches you to be risk-averse, to wait for assignments and crave validation instead of taking initiative and simply creating value.
The World of Work is Changing Fast
The workplace is changing before our eyes and the skills needed to succeed in the workplace of the future aren’t being taught in colleges. Most college curricula are sadly outdated and many college educators are out of touch with the latest advances in their industries.
Already, reskilling (training employees to update their skillsets) is a growing necessity as jobs are rapidly transformed by technology.
What’s more, an estimated 85 percent of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.
It’s hard to imagine how college can prepare you for a job that doesn’t even exist yet. What’s worse, employers say that today’s graduates aren’t ready for the workplace either.
Interestingly, it’s not just hard skills that the average college graduate lacks. Surveyed employers across the board say that soft skills like communication, leadership, proactive thinking, adaptability, and resilience are underdeveloped.
These are skills that are gained through real-world work experience. What better way to develop your communication and leadership skills than by collaborating on business projects? What better way to develop proactive thinking, adaptability, and resilience than building your own business from the ground up?
Most Careers Don’t Legally Require a College Education
The truth is that unless the career you want to pursue legally requires a college qualification, college probably isn’t the best use of your time (and money – so much money).
In fact, even if you feel absolutely certain that you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant (or anything else that requires college), we recommend that you invest time in validating your assumptions about your career of choice before you spend four or more years in college preparing for it.
What do we mean by that?
Simply this: make sure that this is something you really enjoy enough to invest at least four months of your life – and a significant amount of money or debt. Read up and talk to as many people as you can in that field about what the job’s really like. What do they love and hate about it? Would they do something different if they could go back and choose again?
Do an internship or job shadow or volunteer to get some real-world experience of the industry you’re signing up for.
You owe it to yourself to make sure that you know what you’re signing up for so you can make a truly informed decision.
College Takes A One-Size-Fits-All Approach
One of the biggest drawbacks of college is that it takes a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that doesn’t take different learning styles and capabilities into account. The concept of standardized tests is outdated, given what we know about neurodiversity. Everyone learns in different ways and at different paces, and college simply doesn’t tailor the educational experience to the individual.
College courses also tend to have a fairly narrow focus that doesn’t cater to individual interests and passions. It can be easy to get so caught up in your course load that you don’t take time to explore different topics to broaden your learning and make sure you get a holistic, rounded education.
You Can Learn Independently, Cheaper, Faster, and More Effectively
With all the educational resources available today, it’s possible to create your own curriculum and learn just about anything without going to college. Whether you use free online resources like YouTube, blogs, podcasts, webinars, and free courses or do internships, job shadow, volunteer, or participate in bootcamps, certification programs, or other training programs – or a combination of all of the above, you can design your own self-directed learning plan that’s tailored to your interests, priorities, goals, and learning preferences.
Employers care far more about skills, experience, and evidence of the value you can create than formal qualifications. The key is to actively practice what you’re learning so that you can build a body of work that demonstrates your capabilities while accelerating your learning.
Alternative Paths to College
A lot of people choose college because they think it’s the safe route to a respectable job that pays well. That’s no way to live.
Don’t just aim for a job that’s safe. Don’t just aim for a job that pays well. Don’t just aim for a job that’s respectable.
Aim higher: aim for a job you truly enjoy, that makes you excited to go to work and leaves you feeling engaged and challenged.
To do that, you need to explore and experiment and try on different roles and skills to find out what gets you fired up and makes you forget that time is passing, and what bores you senseless and makes you count the minutes until the weekend.
Don’t worry if you don’t figure out what you want to do immediately. We’re the job-hopping generation. Most of us are likely to change careers 5-7 times in our lifetimes, and about 30 percent of the workforce is expected to change jobs or careers every 12 months.
To figure out which career you find personally fulfilling, you’ll need a variety of work experience.
To get hired, you’ll need some demonstrable skills. How do you get those skills? There are a few ways:
- Job shadowing is a great way to get a glimpse of what the day-to-day reality of a specific career path looks like.
- Internships expose you to a variety of different roles and responsibilities. Doing a number of internships at different companies will teach you a lot about how different businesses operate, what they have in common, and what they do differently – and more importantly, what works and what doesn’t.
- Apprenticeships are an effective way to quickly gain skills in a specific field by working under the guidance of someone with experience in that industry.
- Working for free may seem like a crazy idea, but compared to the cost of college, it’s an excellent way to get your foot in the door, gain experience and skills, and build your network.
- Working “gap” jobs while you make a plan is nothing to be ashamed of. Be sure to use your free time to build up skills and a portfolio that showcases your abilities, or to work on developing your business idea.
- Online education is a game-changer for self-driven education. Make use of the resources available to teach yourself a marketable skill.
- Do courses and bootcamps to fast-track your learning. While curating your own curriculum is an effective way to learn, sometimes a curriculum created by experts can offer a lot of insight and motivation and accelerate your learning.
- Building your network is an important part of paving the way to a successful career. When you consider that estimates put the number of jobs filled through professional networks at between 70 and 85 percent, it’s a no-brainer.
- Create projects and build a portfoliothat showcases your ability to create value. Whether it’s a blog, a personal website, a YouTube channel, or a portfolio of projects you’ve completed, this will be invaluable in landing jobs or clients.
- Join learning communities to share your learning experience with others on the same journey and gain access to answers to your questions, advice, encouragement, and resources to help you learn faster. This is also a great way to build your network.
- Apply for Praxis to accelerate your personal and professional development. Praxis is a 12-month program designed to put you in the driver’s seat of your education and career. Praxis will help you develop your skills, build a professional network, and help you to find a full-time job. Hit us up in the chat for more information or to answer any questions you have about the program.
Still on the fence about whether college is the right choice for you? Read our recent post, Should I Go to College for a comprehensive checklist of questions to ask yourself before making this big decision.