The Hundred-Thousand Dollar Question: Do I Need to Go to College?

Going to college is often perceived as a “given” in today’s society for those who have the means to do so. Especially if it was the route your parents took! But many students upon graduation of high school reflect on their goals and ask themselves “do I need to go to college?”

No, you don’t! While college is the right choice for many, it’s not something you must do – it’s not an essential ingredient of success.

Why College Isn’t Right for Everyone

For many careers, college is the best, and often only, choice for you. Doctors, lawyers and several other high-profile paths require advanced education with years of additional, focused study. But that’s not true of thousands of professions out there in the world.

If your passion doesn’t require college, you may be one of the many who would benefit from choosing a different route through life. Here are some of the reasons to consider moving straight into your career instead of pursuing a four-year degree. 

Delayed Start to Your Career

Time has a definite value, both for your personal life and your professional one. College is a significant time investment. While you may think an undergraduate degree is only four years, that’s often not the case.

A majority of college-attending students don’t graduate in four years. It can take up to six or more years! While college can be major life experience, this means you’re likely to spend over half a decade before you can really start on your career.

Even if you finish your degree on schedule, don’t forget that four years is a long time. That’s four years you could have been getting direct experience on a job, learning new skills and advancing up the ladder

Jobs Don’t Always Pay Better

It’s commonly assumed that going to college will open the doors to a job that pays better than the alternatives. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! While there are plenty of careers that require degrees and pay quite well, these high-paying careers are few and far between.

The salary or hourly wage you earn for your job is dependent on many things – and a college degree often doesn’t make much of a difference on your bottom line. Location, demand, competition and more all go into factoring your pay for work done well.

Blue-collar careers operate largely on self-determination. If you have the discipline and drive to do your job well, you can out-earn almost anyone you know. Especially when, after years of learning and improving, you finally make the leap to become your own boss.

Jobs Don’t Come Easier, Either

With all the outsourcing, telecommuting and other ways that desk jobs can be moved out of your reach, college degrees aren’t as reliable for getting you work as they used to be! On the contrary, the tidal wave of Americans opting for college, often solely due to the expectation that they should go to college, has left blue-collar entrepreneurs in desperate need of new employees.

If you look around your city, you’re likely to find dozens of local contractors looking for entry-level workers and apprentices. And if you’re willing to move around outside of your county or state, your opportunities are endless.

The world always needs electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople who keep the gears of modern society running smoothly. That means there’s always a job opening somewhere for these fields, compared to the limited and often competitive nature of high-profile careers that require undergraduate degrees or more.

Digging into Debt

Everyone knows college is expensive. Few people in the United States can attend without taking out loans. For those just leaving high school who are left to make such a big decision, it can often be impossible to appreciate how this debt affects your life.

While a delayed start impacts where you are when you complete college, debt can follow you for years afterward. Even if you land a high-paying job, the cost of paying back your college loans impact your monthly income for upwards of a decade or more. Those repayments should be factored into your net income to really compare what your career paths could bring. 

What Other Options Are There?

Because college is such a heavily-pushed path nowadays, many people don’t know about the other options they have

Learn a Trade

One of the best paths you can go down in today’s job economy is that of learning a trade. There is a shortage of upcoming talent in almost any trade you can think of. Because you learn trades as you work in them, they not only start you off earning a wage right away, but you can choose just about any field!

Do you like working with wires and electricity? Do you love to work with people? Are you generally handy around the home? Any of these skills or passions translate quickly into a trade – and chances are, someone nearby is looking for help right now! 

Enter the Workforce

For many stepping out of school, the idea of choosing a lifetime career is paralyzing. You don’t need to! While it’s important to get started, you don’t need to plan out the other 80 years of your life right now. Get out there and look for entry-level positions where you can learn skills and experience different types of jobs.

In the same way that early childhood slowly introduces you to new concepts and allows you to find ones that you excel at, working will let you identify your marketable skills. Unlike college, however, you’ll be learning these skills and about yourself while earning money full-time and gaining job experience. 

Start Your Own Business

It’s actually quite simple: do you have a skill for which other people would be willing to spend money? Then you could start your path to entrepreneurship. Given, it’s a bold leap to start a business with little to no work experience yourself, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Additionally, every entrepreneur experiences successes and failures as they make their way, which will help engrain important skills or lessons into you. These shape your future and make you more likely to succeed as you travel your path.

But Do I Need to Go to College to “Make It?”

No. It’s another popular college myth that you need a degree to flourish and succeed. While it’s certainly a great avenue for many, it’s absolutely not a necessity.

What success means to you is different from anyone else. You need to look at your short-term and long-term goals and see what makes sense. If having a degree and a job that goes along with it is a long-term goal, then it’s something you should plan for.

But if your long-term goals are simply to find a career that you enjoy which provides for you, your family and your personal interests, you can forge another path. Millions do every day across the country!

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Ken Rusk is a blue-collar entrepreneur who has started several successful endeavors and mentored hundreds of young people in their pursuit of a satisfying career and fulfilling life.Discover how Ken’s approach to life and work can help you set and achieve your goals – all while avoiding the nearly inescapable trap of college debt. Pre-order his new book, Blue Collar Cool: How to Earn Without the College Burn today!