I wanted to write this post after having a very brief conversation with my Dad the other night. We were talking about my new born nephew, his grandson, and happily imagined what he would become when he becomes a man. My dad was happily imagining his grandson becoming a successful corporate professional, not before he becomes a straight A studious academic in his academic career. (how typical of my Chinese father)
I on the other hand was thinking more along the lines of hoping baby Miles will grow up responsible, dependable and hardworking. There’s a fundamental difference in the way my father and I think. I don’t think it’s essential to go to University, while my dad thinks it’s a basic life milestone to achieve.
Note: College and University will be used interchangeably throughout this post because it basically means the same thing depending on where you’re from.
So who is correct?
We both are. Depending on the situation.
If you asked me whether my 3 year Bachelors of Science degree program in UK, that cost me the equivalent of 78,000 USD was worth it or not…I would confidently say no.
I didn’t do a liberal arts degree or something obscured with no market value. I studied BSc International Business and graduated within the top 5% of my program with honours. It sounds great, but does any of that really matter if I had no intentions of going into corporate?
The answer is no. Of course, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I would have the guts to start my own business right out of college, and thought I should get the degree as a backup plan.
But let’s be real…a backup plan that cost me 78,000 USD is a bit pricey for a backup plan.
A wiser backup plan to secure my financial stability as an adult, would have been to learn a skill or trade instead. A lot cheaper and just as equally good of an option if all I’m thinking about is potential earning possibilities.
So why didn’t I do that? The truth sucks, but the truth is the truth, and the truth is I wasn’t confident enough.
I always knew I was interested in starting my own business but wasn’t confident in my ability to make it work. Corporate seemed like the safe option. The worse case scenario would be to live my life looking forward to the weekend and dreading Mondays. How bad can that be when countless others already live like that, right?
Plus, isn’t going to college the only option after high school if you want to avoid working at McDonalds?
I now know all of that isn’t true, but I didn’t at the time and I hope you keep reading this so you don’t make the same mistake I did.
Should I go to College?
If college is expensive for you then go for these reasons only:
You’re looking to get into a profession that requires a degree
Don’t be like me. I got a degree and instantly started my online business after graduation. I didn’t start a tech savvy startup or something highly specialised. My degree wasn’t needed and I have yet to actually put it to practical use.
If you want to be a lawyer, an accountant, an architect, an engineer, a doctor, a nurse, a teacher or any other profession that requires a university level qualification, then go get it. It makes perfect sense to go to University and pay for tuition you know 100% will help you.
You know exactly what career you want and a degree will get you there faster
Not all careers and professions need a degree. You don’t have to have a degree to work in marketing if you’re willing to put in the years of being the coffee boy and interning for free. You don’t have to have a degree to do studio production if you’re willing to start from the bottom and learn from mentors.
But having a relevant degree definitely helps you get the career you want, faster.
If you’re sure about what you want, then go for it. But if you’re not sure and you’re still testing the waters thinking you’ll figure it out while doing your degree, then you’re wasting your time and money.
Even if college isn’t expensive or it’s completely free, you still don’t want to go without knowing why you’re going and what for. The key to making college worth your time and money is to know why you’re attending and for what.
Let’s be honest, getting higher education is no longer ONLY for intellectuals wishing to do highly technical professions or help expand existing knowledge to new depths. College has become a commodity, education has become a business. No one can dare argue with that when a University in UK provides a Harry Potter module and another College in USA provides one on vampires.
(I’m not joking, those modules existed once upon a time to attract more students to sign up and cough up their cash)
And because the whole affair has become so commercialised, students should view it as such as well. Understand the value you will get and at what cost.
The most basic way to see it, is how long it will take you to graduate (time) plus the amount it will cost to get you through your program (price) and compare that to what you hope to gain. This means your hopeful starting salary you’ll be getting after graduation and the intrinsic value of having the “college experience”.
For example: I did a 3 year program in UK that cost me roughly 78,000 USD. If I started my business right out of High school and had not gone to University then I could have easily made 100,000 USD within the same amount of time. (I actually made more than 100,000 the first 3 years of starting my online business)
That makes my total cost 178,000 USD. This is what I’m giving up to get my degree.
What I gained was many memories, friendships and experiences as well as some valuable marketing knowledge that helped me with my business later on. However going to College was not vital to any of the above. So I don’t consider that a potential lost if I didn’t go. Instead, lets think about the potential lost of salary.
Right out of University I got an offer to join the buying team for a Hong Kong supermarket chain. The starting salary was the equivalent of 25,000 USD, if I stayed within the same role and industry, my highest possible earning potential would be 100,000 USD in Hong Kong after several promotions and at least 10 years of hard work.
So obviously from the above example, college honestly doesn’t seem worth it. Why? because you don’t actually need a degree to be a buyer. You just need to get your foot in the door some way, some how and learn how to negotiate with sellers and suppliers.
I think, I could have gotten the job with an associate degree instead and applied for a temp or internship instead of a full time position. Sure the degree helps get you a spot faster, but an associate degree can be half the price of a bachelors degree!
Another offer I had gotten was with a HR head hunting firm to be a headhunter. The starting salary was 30,000 USD. If I stayed within the headhunting industry and worked my way up, my highest earning potential in Hong Kong would be …as much as I want because it tends to pay a fixed rate with commission on top of every successful placement. Or around 100,000 USD if I transfer to working for a HR department within a firm.
For this example, a degree was needed. Headhunters tend to assign you projects according to your degree. I had a business degree than I would have been assigned placement projects regarding business. They wouldn’t suddenly tell me to help a fashion magazine look for an editor.
But even then, college seems too expensive if I’m not passionate about these careers.
Which, I wasn’t.
And that’s the main point of this whole post. College is almost never worth it if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. Otherwise that piece of paper is just a way to earn money, and there’s so many ways to earn money.
College is not the only option
Take more steps, but at a lower cost
As mentioned above, other education programs that cost a lot less and even less time to complete are enough to get your foot in the door and start working your way up. Bachelor degrees aren’t the lowest requirement for many companies to start hiring. Maybe for a graduate role a bachelors is the lowest bar, but definitely not if you just need to get in so you can start impressing the boss.
Sometimes the longer time it takes to get from intern or temp to full time employee is a matter of 1 year. Not a lot if it means you save 10s of thousands of dollars in tuition costs!
Know what you want, and find out all the possible routes to get there. I’m pretty sure a bachelors isn’t your only option.
Corporate isn’t for everyone, some people aren’t meant to sit behind a desk all day. Forget university and learn a trade instead. Depending on where you live, you can learn a trade through an apprenticeship, which means you can get paid while learning. Or you can go to a technical school to learn the skills needed.
Tuition at these schools are a fraction of what a College program would cost. The starting pay of these jobs tend to be equally good, which makes the value for money so much higher.
Start your own business
Forget formal education altogether and start your own business. I’m not talking about Silicon Valley start up or the next industry disruptor like YouTube, Netflix, Uber.
I’m just talking about your humble small business. A lot of people don’t realise that a small business such as a coffee shop near the beach already makes more than any middle level manager in some Fortune 500.
That guy selling hotdogs from a cart in New York near a tourist attraction is most likely making more than the guy wearing a suit eating a hotdog. That lady running a house cleaning service with multiple staff is making just as much as her clients paying her for her service.
A small business that is operating well will make more money than most employees.
And remember if you’re not passionate about a certain career, then you’re just working for financial security and stability. A small business can give you that.
The best part is, starting a business can be as cheap or as expensive as you want. Start an online business for as low as $100 or even an offline business for the same amount. It doesn’t cost too much to start a dog walking business, and it doesn’t cost much to start a Shopify drop shipping store.
It’s been a fews years since I graduated, and in that time I’ve made multiple streams of passive income online. None of them required my degree. (and something tells me I enjoy my life a lot more than many of my fellow graduating class right now)