The Benefits and Tradeoffs of College
When you stop and think about how much colleges control our lives and actions, it is pretty remarkable to think how a couple of rankings and brand names drive a lot of our decision-making. High schoolers, and even sometimes middle schoolers, grind to make that perfect resume for college. There is this obsession over “what is the ideal candidate” by parents and children all across the world.
After you get into college, the next four years consists of you paying to be tested over and over again. Since I go to a public university, I realized anyone can walk into a class and attend lecture, so by that logic you are only paying to get tested and get the degree. So this means whenever a person tells you they are paying over $200,000+ to learn, that is total bullsh*t.
What is the true value of a degree and is it even worth getting one these days? The answer is never black and white. For such a controversial topic, there are very solid answers on both sides. My hope with this article is to provide context and add depth to a very important conversation. I have my own goals and perspectives (which may inadvertently seep into the article), but the real answers(for you) are very subjective and individualistic. The truth is that many students and parents give very surface level answers to this question, which makes it very scary that people make such big decisions with so little thinking.
After asking tons of high achievers at UVA, almost all of them say they put in the work in order to get a job. The next stepping stone of life. Some say that this is the only way to get a good job. Others say this is the only path that they know. Students say it is the only way for someone to take you seriously in the corporate/real world. For some students, they are right. Nothing is ever black and white. So, if you truly want to become a banker, doctor, or lawyer, then getting a degree helps out a lot. But, for others, getting a degree can be a waste of money and more importantly, time. There are many examples of this. Even if you look at it from the lens of getting a job, many of the top technology companies’ highest paid developers are high school or college dropouts. Many others didn’t have good GPAs in college. There are a plethora of entrepreneurs that drop out of college to pursue their dream. Many immigrants come to the United States and make it big without going to college because they find out what their “niche” is or what they are good at. So why are these people more successful than 99% of people who go to college. The common theme around all of these people is that they found what they are passionate about and what they are good at. They take their ambition and focus all of it onto the things they love most. There are a couple of things that everyone should do to understand if college is actually worth it.
Constantly Analyze What You Want To Do With Your Life
Most people pursuing those jobs I listed above don’t ever give relevant reasons to why they want to do them. Some of the things I hear are: “I want a challenge, and <insert job here> seems like a challenge”, “I am doing it for the clout”, “Exit opportunities bro”, and the best one, “I don’t really know what else to do”. I feel like I have heard those 4 or 5 reasons at least 1000 times in the past year. Honestly, no decision should be that surface level, let alone on something you give up a considerable amount of your life on.
To the people that say they don’t know what else to do, you aren’t trying hard enough to understand yourself. Most college students expect their passion and calling to just plop in front of them on a silver platter with some gold spoons. Your “passion” and goals are not just going to magically come to you, but they come through a lot of introspection and analysis of who you are as a person right now and who you want to become in the future. Many people view college as some sort of safety net to getting prestigious jobs. But there are also so many people with college degrees that work as cashiers and brick and mortar sales assistants.
“Exploration” to most students is taking different classes that interest them. This may be awesome and you may find your niche, but most just stop the exploration there. It doesn’t work like that at all. You need to push yourself to find yourself. Research online on what is out there. There is so much more than medicine, law, and banking that students don’t even tap into because they don’t even know about it. EVEN IF you are actually into those subjects, having a 4.0 doesn’t differentiate you from everyone else that also has a 4.0. So, what is the lesson here? Be bold and try something new. What is trying something new? Make a true difference in the world because you want to, not just for some lines on the resume. Start a non-profit, company, or initiative to solve a prominent problem in the world that you may care about. Even if you are scared of doing those things, you could also visit impoverished places and help improve quality of life there. Just think that there are hundreds, thousands of ways to differentiate yourself because everyone else is doing the same thing. Med Schools, Banks, and Law firms all see that and give it much more weight than someone who took a traditional path and did well in it.
I know so many individuals that love the work they do, whether it is in banking, medicine, or music. Those people took the time to really understand themselves and integrated it with what society has to offer. The answer doesn’t come from college, it comes from you.
There is a large caveat to that. College is a time to learn about new perspectives and grow personally and socially. College is a great forum for those things, but it is not the only way/place to get those things. You can attend mastermind groups, read books, and meet new people at almost 1/10th the cost very easily in our technologically advanced era. But, college is in fact the only place where you can meet people your age and create a network of people that will be successful in the future.
Social Aspects of College
This is probably the most unique thing that college has to offer. There is no other time in your life where most of your friends will be within a 2 mile radius. From wild frat parties to insane night life, there will always be a move on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Apart from the heinous nights, this is the only time you can hit up literally any friend to get lunch or say hi on your way to class. This all culminates to the social experience of college, which has a chance to amplify and augment anyone’s life. I can say this because my first year at UVA has been completely different from my second year. I spent my first year all about that 4.0 and getting the clout extracurriculars, but ended up being stuck in my room grinding while my hallmates were in the lounge getting to know each other better. I met people to further myself, not get to know about another person’s life and make friends.
My second year has been filled with parties, meeting awesome people, and a focus on working smart rather than hard. I recognize that I have my entire life “to make it”, but only one chance to experience how beautiful it is to kindle friendships and create new, lasting relationships. The only hard part is to balance your social life with all the other things you have to do.
College Does Sometimes Provide Very Stimulating Classes
There have been very stimulating classes that I have taken, which have changed my perspective on a lot of things. I took a class on social psychology and I still use a lot of the stuff I learned in that class on a daily basis. However, most classes (around 75–80% of them) involve straight memorization and regurgitation of information that your professor says. If you decide to go to college, it is your job to navigate through the “class maze” and figure out where the gold nuggets lie in your school.
Online Education and EdTech Startups Are Taking Over
Lets say someone actually makes the wrong decision to go to college to learn something. A lot of colleges are public, so you are legally able to walk into any classroom if you want to “learn” something. Look at all the opportunities that are almost 1% of the cost of college!! In my time at UVA, I have taken 12 online courses on a variety of subjects ranging from web development, data science, blockchain/cryptocurrency, ecommerce, and marketing/advertising. All for less than a semester of college. I have retained and learned more information from those than all my classes combined.
The argument is that college provides very intelligent professors that you can learn from that you don’t get anywhere else. This is fundamentally incorrect. I have met some ridiculously smart people teaching the courses online who are at the apex of their respective fields, not at the apex of academia. This can be done by anyone who literally puts their mind to actually learning a subject on their own and not learning it because someone else is telling you to learn it (…oof).
The truth is those prestigious jobs want these types of people, not ones that follow the crowd. Intangibles like creativity, strategic intuition, unwavering focus, and empathy are more important for a firm’s success. These firms are starting to recognize that and are hiring based on those changing metrics. So instead of that 4.0, get a f*cking B or C and grind on the things that matter.
College Gives You A Chance to Explore, But Most Don’t Do It Right
Give yourself the opportunity to try new things and fail. It is probably the best thing you can do to your future self.