I must be very pro college because, between us, my wife and I have four degrees. But I sometimes wonder if they are for everyone. We were lucky and used our respective degrees in our chosen fields. Yet we amassed a combined student loan debt of nearly $100,000 along the way. And that wasn’t the entire cost of the college experience. I lived on campus, and then on my own, incurring dorm and food expenses along with student fees and books. It was a constant struggle to keep up with the ceaseless costs. However, I could always justify the money because I saw it as an investment in my future.
My mother was of the old world belief that a young man without college would be relegated to saying, “Do you want fries with that?” or pumping gas, for the rest of his life. Although we were poor, she pushed me forward to go on with high school college curriculum. Later, I would apply for grants and scholarships for the needy. I managed to get several and still required a National Defense Student Loan to complete my four years bachelors because I chose a pricey college, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I could have gone with a cheaper school, but I decided that the more prestigious university would gain me entry into a better paying job.
So how did that work out, you ask? Well, I was hired by a small New Jersey advertising agency as an artist intern assisting the art director in the summer of my junior year. For all they knew, I could have gotten my làm bằng đại học uy tín from a mail order ‘learn-to-draw’ school. They only chose me based on my portfolio. So, was the ‘Pratt’ name important and did it open any doors? That’s highly unlikely. Later, I was the art director for Fedders, ran my own ad agency in Phoenix, Arizona, and finally was employed as a Yellow Page consultant by the Bell System. While college gave me a good head start, the on-the-job training was far more crucial. If I had to do it again, would I? That’s a terrific question and I’m glad you were astute enough to ask it.
Suppose I had gone to that ad agency with my high school portfolio, instead. I’m not sure they would have given me the chance, but they might have. And Fedders? Probably not. But I could have learned enough at the agency to get a better job and still eventually open my own agency. Also, I would have started with $50,000 more: the loan amount I borrowed from the government. Which brings me to a larger issue. How much is it really worth to get that diploma?
You always hear the tales of Bill Gates (left Harvard in his junior year) and Steve Jobs (left Reed college after one semester) who founded Microsoft and Apple Computers, by working out of their garages. There are hundreds of billionaires and multi-millionaires that never set foot inside a university. But, what about the average Joe or Joanne? Can they do well in the business world without that degree and what about the total college experience? On thing at a time, please.
If someone has no idea what career path to take they have three options: (1) get a business degree, (2) try for a technical skills school offering courses like computer programming, electrical repair, or auto mechanics, or (3) got to work for a large company, starting at the bottom. With choice (3), they have the opportunity to receive benefits and work their way upward. Of course this doesn’t garner the young adult the ‘college experience,’ which I sometimes think is overrated. Even though I enjoyed mine immensely, my wife went to college from home and worked full-time. Is she any less well-rounded or fulfilled than myself? I doubt it and therefore here’s a final thought.
Suppose the family has the college money saved, but junior isn’t sure what to do with his life and has no particular skills or direction. If the parents then took junior’s college fund and financed him into a family business that they could help run and lend advice to, would that be so bad? It’s still an investment in his future, right? It’s an option I’m sure that the average person doesn’t often consider. But keep an open mind and weigh the pros and cons of the college expense. If they choose to be an entrepreneur, they can always decide to go to college later on. If you’re a parent with a college-age son or daughter, this is a tough decision, but allow them to have input. Who knows? They may be the next business super star. By the way, do you have an empty space in your garage? Need a college degree? Myth busted!