Thursday, August 12, 2010

Piece of Advice #64: Don't go to college

Did that get your attention?  Good.  Because higher education is a huge racket in this country.  We are creating whole generations of debt slaves one student loan at a time.

I'll get this out of the way - I went to college.  6 years of college, in fact.  And, for the most part, it was a good experience.  I had some boring, pointless, agenda driven classes, but I also was required to take courses outside of my area of interest which proved to be both interesting and educational.  Economics, political science, and sociology would fall into this category.  When I graduated from college with my BA, there was a recession going on, and I had a hard time finding a decent job, so eventually I went back to school and got my Masters in Library Science, and this helped me get a job that paid at least a living wage. I'm grateful to have this degree and the subsequent experience in my skill set for future use or in case of  emergency.

I am not against college or women going to college, but before you even think about going to college, you need to run the numbers.  Look up what the average wage a graduate with your degree can expect to make both starting out and over a lifetime, then see if the industry you're planning to enter is planning to or has already outsourced all the jobs in your field to, say, India (accounting, IT).  Or if your career requires you to continuously update your education while not continuously updating your salary (teaching).

Many college students take on student loan debt without blinking at the numbers, but those numbers will be staring back at you for a lifetime if your field does not pay generously.  Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court either.   They are yours forever.  Here's a real life example: a young woman goes to a good private college and over the course of four years racks up $70,000 in student loan debt.  She graduates with a degree in education and finds she can't get a job unless she moves out of state and takes a job paying $25,000 a year.  The cost of living is higher in her new state, though.  How long will it take her to pay back $70K on her current salary? Answer: a lifetime.  And because she is a teacher, she is required to take more courses in order to keep the same low paying job, courses she cannot afford to take because the coursework she originally took to get this job was so expensive and the job she landed pays so little.  This real life example's job just cut back on wages and benefits too, and finding she could not live on what remained, she quit her job, moved back in with her parents, and is now looking for something else.  She'll have to keep paying on the $70K, though.  The company store always gets paid.

Remember that.  The company store always gets paid.

When I went to college, it was not so catastrophically expensive as it is now.  My parents paid for my undergrad, and I got a scholarship for graduate school, so I got through it all with minimal debt.  If I had been more financially strapped, I would have done two years at community college and then two years at a local state school.  This is a viable option, but I still would advise you to proceed only if you can pay for it out of pocket now and if you are going into a job-laden field that pays.  Think nursing.  Think occupational therapy.  If you graduate from college with more than $10,000 in student loans, you have signed off your twenties and now work for the company store getting whatever work you can get to keep the store happy.  Big debt will affect your ability to marry, to have kids, to decide whether or not to stay home with them, to buy a house or take a different job if you find you don't like the jobs in the field your degree is in.

If you want to go, go.  But pay as you go, and choose wisely.  Higher education is a trap for many.  They get out and learn the jobs that are available don't pay and aren't interesting or fulfilling, but the loans still need to be paid back.  It's quite a comedown after four years of being encouraged to follow your dreams and find a career that fits your needs.


  1. I agree with what you are saying, but am kind of surprised that a teaching job only paid $25k. I am a teacher and did not know that that was possible. My parents made me go to BYU because we are Mormon and I didn't want to go at the time, but I am glad that I did because it was so cheap.

    This is what I see as the problem. I live in New York and know many people who are pursuing really expensive graduate degrees in liberal arts. Not only do they study fields that do not easily result in a job, but they take out massive loans to support a upper class New York life style. They go on frequent vacations, live in expensive neighborhoods and eat out for every meal.

    At the end they find themselves with an Islamic Literature degree and $100,000 in the hole. I stopped being friends with a loan girl because her financially self destructive behavior was too stressful for me to watch.

  2. Excellent advice. Steve Sailer has written about how a degree is essentially how people get around the prohibition against testing for intelligence. A large part of the value of the degree is the fact that it means that you qualified to go to that school in the first place.

    On student loans specifically, my first job out of college was mortgage lending. When you do lending you see everyone's income and debt. I was amazed at how long after graduation people still had these. I don't recall ever seeing one that had been paid off (it would have been on the credit report). These were for the most part successful people, but the loans were still there a decade or two after they graduated.

    When my wife went back to school to finish up her bachelors degree (she already had completed a semester or two), we made it a point to pay as we went. It was a pretty reasonable state school, and we didn't have the extra expenses most students have of separate housing, meals etc. We had to tighten our belts a bit but we did it without going into any debt (loans or credit card). Her folks helped by buying the books, but aside from that we paid for everything out of pocket. This is something we both are very proud of.

  3. What's wrong with plumbers, automobile mechanics, and electricians? They directly impact my life, and I've paid a lot for them.

    It seems to me that you shouldn't have to go to Hallmark to get a vocational education and pay through the nose (talk about debt) for it. Whatever happened to vocational training in high school?

  4. There are a few points being missed her. A college degree or skilled training ARE entry level for most people who want a middle class life,and by that I don't mean getting everything or doing every thing you want or feel like doing. On the job training or a liberal arts degree do not guarantee you anything although they once did.
    There are things to consider:
    1.Figure out what you are good at as well as interested in as early as you can.
    2.Plan how to get the training you need for the least expense. You do not have to go to an Ivy League school to be considered trained, and parents should not mortgage their homes or retirements so you can.
    3.Be willing to take the longer route if neccesary. Lengthen the time you need to finish so you can pay for as much as possible as you go.
    Be flexible.
    4. If you don't have a fairly good idea of what you want to do, wait. Work, maybe at a lower paying job. It will help you figure out what you want out of life.
    Parents: you have a responsibility for directing your children to the realities of life from an early age. You will not teach them how to live if you don't make them participants in decision making and working for goals - early.
    I believe education is the way up but not if you shackle yourself.

  5. Grerp, better update on nursing as a career. In the last few months something significant happened in health care, sarcasm intended, and those graduating from nursing school are not easily finding entry jobs. Among other things older nurses are postponing retirement, and payments are down, so nursing has been cut back.

    I communicate with a recent nursing graduate, and he is going back as an EMT.

  6. Sorry I'm getting to the comments late - the electricity was out in the AM and we were traveling in the afternoon.

    Welcome, Jill! Watching someone spend herself into oblivion would stress me out too. Regarding the $25K - some private schools pay very, very little. Do are you a private or a public school teacher?

    dalrock - thanks for weighing in with your loan experience. I think even $20K takes forever to pay off. People do not do the math on what they are paying to not pay something off. I think you have every right to be proud of your pay-as- you-go strategy with your wife's degree.

    Karen - vocational trades are a great opportunity for people with the right natural skills and abilities. I know we have a skills center locally. I would encourage young people to check this out. Plumbers cannot be outsourced.

    Anonymous - you make some very good points, for both young people and their parents. I think living at home, if that is a possibility - is also good because it saves money and bypasses some of a young woman's exposure to the irresponsible hedonism of current college campuses.

    piegrande - good point about nursing (and all medical fields) that I hadn't thought through. I suppose we will have to see how thoroughly Obamacare ruins the medical professions.

  7. Frosted Truth No.26
    To make money, don’t follow your passions; instead, leverage your talents.

    I’m passionate about having gorgeous women pay me to have sex with them, but in the real world that would never happen. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you can earn a living at it. It’s better to use what talents you have (speaking, writing, mathematical ability, finagling a deal, good looks, etc) to get ahead than to follow your passions. The more money you make, the more you’ll be able to afford those little hobbies you’re so passionate about.

    Daily, I see this “follow your passion” mantra extolled to sell seminars, books, and TV commercials. With this economy, you’re going to see a lot more of this selling dreams bulls**t. Unless it's truly something brilliant or you have an inside track, don't do it. Be realistic.

    Don’t misunderstand me, if you can get by with your passion then do it. Congratulations! The other 99% of population isn’t so lucky. Luck, like hope, isn’t a strategy.

  8. piegrande makes a good point. Obamacare is ruining the medical profession (besides the economic crisis). That is why when I complete my 4 to 7 years of studying in the US (achieving a nursing degree) and if everything is still bad I'm going back home. In my native country the medical profession is booming and very much in need though it does have it's own problems (occasional lack of proper materials, etc).

  9. I was accepted to a few private schools around the country but opted for my state school as I wasn't 100% certain what I wanted to do in college and wasn't going to spend that much money figuring it out. I've put off going to grad school as again I don't know what I want to do. I had anthropology professors try to get me to do that in grad school but I know I won't get a job with it.

    I think one of biggest disservices we've done in our society is say that people need a college education to get on in life. k-12 is paid for by the government because, in theory, that is all you need. Anything else is extra.

    Out of the people I graduated high school with the one doing the best dropped out of college after a semester. She went to medical transcription school and now owns a very nice house with her husband. She is making more than I think I'll be able to expect for a few years and has already paid off all her debt from that semester in school.

  10. That's because most dumb bitches get degrees in History and education. Seriously, I don't understand why people become teachers, and go to at least four years of school to make at most 40 k a year.

    On the other hand, I'm double majoring in biology and chemistry and I plan on becoming a doctor. Expensive, you might say. Except I'm at one of the best universities in the nation and the world with a full scholarship. Fuck yeah, I'm the best.

    All the same, I don't think you should say that it's pointless for someone to go to college. Because even those careers that don't pay that much, require people with college degrees. If you don't have a college degree, you need tons of experience. The way I see it is, on average, college graduates make more. Yes, the loans suck, and maybe that cancels out the benefits. But there aren't that many careers for young, inexperienced people without college degrees. They'll be taking out loans just to live anyway. Might as well spend a few years away from the real world and hopefully build something of a resume. Or just be really smart like me and get scholarships so you don't have to take out loans.

  11. History is not a degree for dumb people, or at least it was not at my alma mater. The history dept at my alma mater required some social science statistics classes and historiography training, which wasn't for wimps by any stretch.

    The really dumbass majors at my school were and still are the ones that end with the word "Studies". And even among the "Studies" majors, some at least required the mastering of a second language. At my alma mater, Asian studies and Latin American studies required some mastery of Chinese or Japanese and Spanish, respectively, which could be considered marketable. Becoming fluent in Arabic as part of Middle Eastern Studies or in Russian as part of Russian Studies in a college setting could certainly pay off as well, I think. Even better would be to major outright in the language and to drop the "Studies" part.

    On the other hand, Women's Studies, American Studies, and African-American studies didn't and don't prepare you for anything except for a life as a professional whiner and cultivator of anger at the heteronormative oppressive white Western patriarchal culture.

    I stopped being a college interviewer for my college alma mater when I started beliving it highly unethical to convince kids to take on so much debt for a liberal arts degree. I started seeing myself as a snake oil saleswoman of sorts. I graduated with $12K in debt only a couple years after grerp did, and that is nothing compared to what grads of my alma mater are leaving with now.

    However, I wouldn't completely tell kids to shy away from college, or even to take on some loans. As someone else pointed out, it is still the gateway to a middle class lifestyle. There are some degrees such as economics, computer science, statistics, engineering that do pay off. What I would encourage highly is to spend your first 2-3 yrs in community college and to work part-time to save up money for your last two years. I've taken some post bac courses in math and computer sci at my local community college that absolutely put some of my highly expensive alma mater's classes to shame.

    Grerp, I like your blog a great deal. At age 37 and rapidly hurtling toward 38, I've come to many of the same conclusions you have regarding feminism and the utterly stupid things it teaches young women. For the most part, I think you give great real-world advice to your readers.

    That being said, I definitely more "feminist" in my current thinking than you are. I'm a centrist atheist who campaigned for Obama and supports abortion rights, and who is married and childfree. But still, I believe our thinking is more alike than different, particularly on gender issues.

    One small nitpick I have of your blog is that I think you overemphasize the importance of women's youth and beauty in landing a life partner just a *tad* too much. Despite being fat, I met (at age 27) and eventually married (at age 35) a WONDERFUL man who is six years younger than myself. I'll acknowledge that I beat the odds in at least a few ways. But, I was also willing to get together with a man whom most women would never have considered prime relationship material when I met him. He was a barely 21-yr-old college dropout working as a bank teller. I convinced him to go back to college, but it took him 6 years to finish while working part-time, and I also partly supported him for about four of those years. He made me wait 8 yrs before he felt independent enough to be ready for marriage. But now we are married, happy, and he's gainfully employed and steadily rising up the middle-class career ladder. Some of my female friends who let me know subtly that they wouldn't have touched him with a ten-foot pole when he and I got together are still unhappily single and getting increasingly desperate as their fertility window closes.

  12. PuffsPlus - welcome and thanks for reading, despite our areas of divergence. I think you add some important points about college to the discussion as well. I titled this post provocatively on purpose. I do think that college can be a step up, but you have to tread carefully since the cost is so high. On the other hand, college is not for everyone and it's rather a crime we are roping in the unsuspecting with that lie. We've made high school into 8 years by saying everyone should go to college and it's the only way to succeed. One of the most financially successful young women I know had 1 year of beauty school. She now owns her own spa in the Washington DC area.

    Thanks for your comment. If we disagree in a number of areas and still agree in this one, that's saying something, I think.

  13. PuffsPlus- the community college idea is brilliant. One of my sorority sisters did that, and now she's going to get an Ivy League degree with significantly less debt than the average Ivy League student.

    I know that a lot of people have bad experiences with college and trying to find a job after college. And I do firmly believe that college is not for everyone. My father is a college dropout. He regrets it and said his life has been harder because of it, but he's done well for himself. He still makes more than teachers because he does everything engineers do. He'd just be making six figures if he had the degree.

    Also, yes, while history might not be easy, it's easy to say that engineering and science majors are harder. And always will be. And history majors aren't going to make as much money. That's the problem with college. Why spend all your time on a degree you're not going to make money on?

    Also, Puffsplus, congrats on your marriage. You're very lucky. Most of those situations end with the man divorcing the woman who turned him from nothing to something by the time she hits the wall, then marrying a 20 year old.

    Good job on finding a man who's good to you, good for you, and appreciates what you have done for him.

  14. What about law school? There's a profession that everyone thinks pays very well, when it actually doesn't for most. The mean salary is somewhat high (though probably not much better than engineers), but the median salary is quite a bit lower (I think around $70,000 for all attorneys, but only in the $45,000 range for first year associates). What's going on is that there are some very prestigious firms that pay $140,000 - $160,000 to first year associates, thus driving up the mean salaries, but only about 5% of all law school grads actually land these jobs.

    I have one friend who believed all the hype and figured law school would be a good investment. He graduated last year and couldn't find any sort of employment in the legal field. He lived with his parents and made pizzas for close to year before finally finding a job in a state's attorney's office. He now makes about $40,000 a year and is facing about $200,000 in student loans. He still lives at home and is on an income sensitive repayment plan. At the rate he's going he'll be in his 60s before they are paid off.

    Now, he made a bad decision in taking on so much debt, but I empathize with him. Law schools publish extremely misleading numbers regarding the employment situations of their graduates.

    When you see a statistic (published by the school and republished in national magazines) that says the 25th percentile of income of a school's graduating class was $90,000 and the 75th percentile was $120,000, with 98% of the class employed at graduation, it's easy to think taking on six figures of debt could still be a good investment. What they don't tell you is that those numbers are based on self-reported information. Basically, the school sends out an email to all of their graduating students asking them if they are employed, and if so, what their starting salary is. Surprise, surprise! Only about 15% of the class responds, since all the ones with no job or low-paying jobs are too embarrassed or too bitter to reply. Then, the statistics they report the next year show that once again 98% of their graduates are employed at graduation and making boatloads of cash. It's a scam (verging on fraud) and even a lot of very intelligent people are taken in by it.

  15. To the person who couldn't understand why someone would major in education or history:

    Teaching may not be highly paid, but it is a worthwhile profession. Who else is going to teach all those biology and chemistry students?

  16. Call me a dumb b all you want, but I haven't worked since June and I am still getting paid every two weeks. And when I am working, I am really happy and love my job.

    Teaching is feasible if you make good decisions about where you work and what you teach. The salary cap is not $40k, by the way. In many states (Illinois and New York off the top of my head), the starting salary is around or more than that. Just go to and put in a common name like Smith and you will see some examples. The people with lower salaries are usually aides or administrative assistants. If you don't have student debt, you earn plenty for a single person to live on.

    I don't think that teaching is the best job for every person, but I don't understand blanket statements about how it is a terrible career option.

  17. Yes, I agree with you! Taking occupational therapy course is good especially that this job is becoming more in demand. High school graduates should consider taking this course.