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Friday, June 29, 2012

Should you go to college, young person?

This article is going to be controversial, because nowadays it's an article of faith that if you go to college you will be much better off financially than if you don't.

I don't think that everyone benefits by going to college, and I don't believe the statistics that claim to show that going to college makes you earn more money.  It's true that the large group of people who went to college are making more money (per person) than the large group who did not go to college.  But could that be because the people are different?   Could it be that the people who went to college tend to be more willing to study and persevere in a regulated environment than those who did not go?  Could it be that those who went to college had more aptitude for white collar careers than those who did not go? Could it be that many of those who did not go to college would have done poorly in college if they had gone?  Could it be that many of those who went to college would have done well even if they had not gone? All of those things seem likely to me, so my hypothesis is that the difference between those two groups of people is mainly due to differences in their personal characteristics, and not because one group went to college.  Of course I'm speaking statistically, not for every single individual.

So I'm advising you to go to college if you want to train for a white collar career, or because you seek knowledge for it's own sake.  If you were thinking of going to college because your friends are going, or because your parents want you to, think twice.  Do you have any other good options?  Are you prepared to attend classes and do lots of homework for several years?

Now to be better off financially as a result of college, it's not enough that you simply get a higher paying job than you would have otherwise. You will have to earn enough extra money to make up for the 4 to 6 years that you spent in college, the experience or training that you will miss by being in college, and the money that you will have borrowed. For example, if instead of going to college you learn a skilled trade that is in demand, you are likely to be earning good money and be better off than many of your high school friends that went to college.  Of course that's not necessarily true for those that have the dedication and talent necessary to become an engineer, attorney, physician, accountant, or other well-paid white collar careers.  If one of those careers is right for you, then by all means, go for it!


  1. You got that right, Mitchell! I have a sign on my office door at UBC that says, "Going to University to get a degree is like getting married for the marriage license." When kids ask me if Physicists have good job prospects I tell them to do something else if they can stand to. In fact one should ONLY do (as a profession) what one can't stand NOT to do. People who strive to get a degree and then wait for someone to offer them a job have no idea what life is all about. They would starve if we weren't such a "caring, generous, rich society"; instead, we will ALL starve before we give up that particular fantasy.

  2. I read an interesting book on this topic called, "In the basement of the ivory tower". I have wondered about college as a young person and wether or not it was the right thing for me. I figure I can be an educated bum vs. An uneducated bum. ;)
    Loan debts are the reason people need to seriously think about before jumping into college, I make a thousand too much for the Pell grant. Luckily I am smart and get good grades. The crummy thing is they do not offer permaculture as a why am I going to college? I have no idea! Ha ha ha. I guess I figure I will pick up things I may not learn on my own. I have been teaching myself permaculture because the internships I have had involved working outside in AZ heat for free. I hardly learned anything. Paying for a certificate seems through books and other people I am learning a lot. I plan to take soil science classes and various farm/ agriculture classes at the university to aid in my perfect career as a consultant. Maybe a university education will help in making me more money, however because I am interested in a more alternative approach to design and farming, it's unlikely. But at least I will feel good about my choices at the end of the day and will be doing something I feel makes a difference in my community.

  3. My guess is that college is right for you, if you can avoid piling up a mountain of debt. Agriculture is a field with a future, because of growing population and growing appreciation of more diverse food sources.


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