The average college graduate holds at least $35,200 of debt and has spent four years out of the workforce, where he or she would be otherwise gaining experience. All this for a piece of paper that by no means guarantees a job. The question that potential and current college students need to ask is: Do the financial costs, opportunity costs, and other factors justify the cost of college? For a select few, the answer may be yes. For a surprising number of people, it will be no.
Does the financial cost justify going to college? It depends on what you want to do in life. If you want to go into medicine (average debt of $170,000, average salary $150,000-$200,000+), law (average debt of $100,433 , average salary $113,310), or engineering (average debt of $52,596 , average salary $91,810) the answer will be yes. This is for two reasons. First, today you cannot work in those fields without a college degree. Second, the average income of those professions quickly pays off debt (assuming you can get the job).
But what about individuals who want to go into art, business, music, humanities, languages, or other fields? The answer will most likely be no. There are alternative options that can prove to be far more useful and financially wiser.
Business students who want to start their own businesses would be far better off leaving the theory back in the classroom and diving in head-first into real-life experience. Most of what an entrepreneur needs to learn can be learned from reading books, taking advantage of free online educational resources like Khan Academy and TED talks, and joining college alternative programs like Praxis. I’ve opened two businesses and I learn more from the few months of work I put into them than all the “professional” education I’ve received from my business classes combined.
Real life is the best teacher there is. The average cost of a specialized music school (one most likely to get students a job) can be $81,000. The average salaries of their graduates is around $29,222. Instead getting of a music degree (and tons of debt along with it), students passionate in music should make their own music and post it on YouTube and sell their music on iTunes or other sites. People like Christina Grimmie and Lindsey Stirling have proven the model works, without college.
For learning music, a personal tutor or teaching yourself by using online tools can be just as effective as paying for a college degree. Instead of spending tens of thousands for a degree in philosophy, history or political science, go to Amazon.com and buy a dozen books for a hundred or so dollars and join an online book club to discuss what you read and learn. Or, write a blog or join a forum site to have conversations with other interested individuals. Go other sites like iTunes U if you want to hear lectures from experts for free!
There are cheap and free alternatives to learning the same things you would earn if you went to college and spent tens of thousands on and went into debt for. And this way you can pick exactly what you want to study, study at your own pace and not waste time on pointless projects.
What about the other benefits of going to college, the networking, the friends, the “college experience” and getting a degree to get a job? This may be the best justification for going to college, but it’s still not that strong. Most people who graduate from college get a job not because they have a degree, but because they met someone who was able to get them in the door at a company for an interview. But you can meet people at networking events that are held all over the country!
Go to trade shows or industry conferences and network with people there to get a job. Employers are dying for employees with real life experience (I know I am for my businesses). If you can prove that you can do the real life work, they will over look the absent piece of paper. Most people end up working in fields they don’t major in. This is because employers don’t care about your major, but care about what you can do.
If you feel “the college experience” is worth massive debt, go for it. If you want to save money, go further in your profession, and start your life early, then rethink going to college. There are so many alternatives that are offered thanks to the freedom of the internet it’s a shame not to take advantage of them. Degrees don’t make you standout anymore, experience does. Get out of the classroom and get started on your real life.