I can only think of a few scenarios in which a traditional 4 year (usually more) college is a good idea for most 18-year-olds.
Scenario #1: A student earns a full athletic or academic scholarship to attend for all 4 years. Though, I think a person a few years out of high school is a better investment, for some reason, these type of scholarships are usually only awarded to kids right out of high school.
“What about a partial scholarship?” you ask.
ANSWER: Depends on how much the student has to pay or borrow.
Scenario #2: A student who has known her intended path from an early age and that path requires an undergraduate degree. I’m not going to argue with a kid who’s clearly destined to be a neurosurgeon, engineer, nurse, physical therapist, etc. Even in this case, I would encourage parents to help the student understand the impact of debt on her lifestyle (if she has to borrow) once the education is complete.
Scenario #3: Parent works at the university or college and tuition is free or insanely cheap. Even in this scenario, four years at a school could result in opportunity costs to the student depending on what he or she plans to do. But more likely, the kid has no idea what he wants to do, so this would be dumb to pass up.
Scenario #4: A 529 or other fund set aside for college will pay the tuition the student will owe. Even in this case, I believe the money is better spent when the student is more mature and experienced than most 18-year-olds but that’s just my opinion and I have no desire to tell other people what to do with their money.
Scenario #5: (I know, 5 is technically more than a “few”). Generally, there are some kids I know who are “this close” to figuring out what they want to do after high school, their parents desire and can afford to send them to college and they don’t have unique skills or interests that are marketable-yet. So, I would agree that college in this scenario is probably a better idea than bouncing around the minimum wage world. Though a gap-year plan or a Praxis year might be more productive in this situation.
FOR MY OWN CHILDREN, I can’t think of any other reason to TAKE ON CONSIDERABLE DEBT to go to college-especially right out of high school. Here are my reasons:
- An expensive college is not the place to “figure out” what you want to do. It’s like buying a Corvette to learn how to drive. Except the Corvette is cheaper and you’ll probably actually learn to drive, so the car is the better investment. This doesn’t mean my kids will be buying a car to learn how to drive, clearly that’s stupid. So is going to college to figure out what you want to do and borrowing to do it. Life and work experience will be a much better teacher.
- My children have had jobs but I still wouldn’t want them to choose a career with the limited experience they have had.In Hannah’s case, she’s had a variety of jobs and a variety of skills and interests. No way do I want to force her to “pick” which one of those to “major” in to fit into a box. Instead, I subscribe to the idea of developing many areas of interest (multipotentialities), cultivating a “Portfolio Lifestyle” (it worked for DaVinci) and agree that creating multiple streams of income is a better option than a job, which has the perception of offering security but really doesn’t.
- Most people aren’t happy with their career choice. Figures vary from 13% job satisfaction to around 20% among American workers, neither of which is very high.
Anecdotally, this is also true for people in my age group. Many people my age tell me they can’t believe they wasted 25 years of their life doing what they do. Teachers, lawyers, accountants, mortgage brokers (well, that’s understandable) it doesn’t matter.
My sample is small, to be sure, but the most professionally content people I know are my friends who didn’t go to college and either started their own business or worked predictable hours for a good company. Also, the doctors I know are pretty engaged and content with their career choice.
This begs the question, why are we expecting 18-year-olds to choose then go into debt for a path that might make them miserable? Doesn’t it make more sense to explore options and opportunities outside the confines of an over-priced institution?
I would advocate work, hate some jobs, love other jobs, learn about people, travel, be lazy, get tired of your lazy self and living with your parents and take action, whatever that action has to be. That makes more sense to me.
- There are so many legitimate, sensible alternatives to an expensive, traditional four-year degree that are just as likely, if not more, to lead to satisfying work. Vocational education, community college, online programs, college overseas, entrepreneurial and apprenticeship opportunities are just a few examples. These options simply didn’t exist when I graduated from high school and are attractive based on cost (low or none) and outcomes (experience and marketable skill procurement).
I know people think my views about college are weird and maybe they’ll prove me right if my kids still live with us when they’re 30. Thing is, I know plenty of college graduates approaching their 30s who still live with their parents.