Despite knowing that college is an outdated rip off, I am still stuck on the idea that my kids will go to college. My kids are young enough that I continue to live in a fantasy land that they will go to one of the small handful of colleges that the majority of powerful people attend.
This is a terrible line of thinking for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I love power (as an ENTJ) but my kids could give a crap about power (they are INTJ and ESFP). So that I’m focused on the schools of the power elite is messed up. And I write these posts to convince myself as much as I want to convince you that college is a waste of time and money for most everyone.
1. Is your kid going to be a STEM major?
The only reason you need to go to college is if you are a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, and math). If you can’t handle one of those majors, you don’t need to go to college. Because all the other stuff you need for your work, you learn on the job. (Note, this does not mean you can have a career in academia—because Science Daily reports that the glut of science academics is totally out of control. But you can work in industry for sure.)
2. Is your kid too stupid to pick up interesting material without being told?
And if you want to read the Iliad because you love to learn, then great, you can do it on your own time. But if you didn’t choose to read the Iliad in your free time when you were fifteen, you probably don’t want to do it when you’re eighteen. And if you didn’t do it as a teenager, when you have no other pressing issue in life except to figure out what you like, then it’s a pretty sure bet you’re not going to read the Iliad when you have a spouse and a mortgage and some kids.
So be honest: Your kid doesn’t care about the Iliad or, probably, the rest of that liberal arts education. Does she care about Elizabethan England? Is the French Revolution rocking her world? If you didn’t learn about it before college, you probably have no drive to learn about it.
What this means is that you can forget taking all those tests that put kids on track to go to college. Talented and Gifted tests, AP tests, PSAT, etc. Because they are all geared toward some mysterious race to college readiness, that is not helping anyone in college. Most kids need to learn what interests them, and they can do that on their own, by picking up a book or a hammer, or a flower, since fifty percent of the world learns by doing rather than reading.
3. Does your child have a trust fund?
Colleges invest more in amenities than academics because amenities are what really attract students and academics are being replaced by MOOCs—courses that enroll thousands of students.
Student debt is destroying the lives of the most recent generation of college graduates and meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor (and Gawker!) reports that nearly half the jobs in our economy don’t even require a college degree.
The best bang for your buck is community college, where the focus is on getting you a job. Or online colleges, that absolutely understand the value of bucking the system. The idea that kids should take out loans so they can get a liberal arts degree is leftover from the days when college was something parents paid for with cash. There is not rational decision-making process that tells you to take out $100K in loans to have four years where you are reading books that will not help you get a job.
4. Did you deprive your child of critical-thinking opportunities by sending him to grade school?
And parents look more and more lame justifying the college expense by saying their kids need to be critical thinkers. Because the kids could have already learned critical thinking at home, on their own, because that’s the core skill one develops in self-directed learning.
Parents think they’re getting a bargain sending their kid to state-funded babysitting programs for eighteen years, but at the end of that, the kid does not have critical thinking skills, because the teachers spoon-fed them test-taking material the whole time. That’s why parents have to take out six-figure loans to pay for college to promote critical thinking skills; because the parents wouldn’t let the kids stay home and develop the skills for free, as children.
Tynan suggests you get a hustler’s education instead, and I like the idea. Read a lot, write a lot, learn to play poker, learn to be social, these are things that will open doors for you. These are the skills of the new millennium. Most predictions are that in the next ten years, people will be hired for their curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. You learn this sort of stuff through self-directed learning.
So the more you brush off the trappings of school, the more employable you become. And, done right, this would mean that when it’s time to go to college, you are already prepared for the workforce, so you can jump right in. So what if you’re only making minimum wage? Getting paid to learn workforce skills is a lot better than paying six-figures to learn stuff that doesn’t apply to the job market.
5. Does your child suffer from your outdated, preconceived notions of who should to go to college?
First thing to do: admit when your kid is not college material. Here’s a case study from a writer at Forbes. His brilliant son is not going to college. College is not right for most kids. The Atlantic has been harping on this topic for years, but unfortunately the Atlantic readers self-select for over-educated to the point of absurdity, so the argument goes nowhere with that crowd.
In the world of trust-fund kids and the over-coddled, college will persist: Tthe fraternity parties and football games and late-night library sessions with the sole purpose of migrating to a hot sticky dorm room. Those people can afford to take four years off from life. And it will show up on their resume as a vacation. Everyone else will recognize that college is for the few people who need to be experts in a STEM subject or need to put off adulthood as long as possible.
For everyone else: adulthood is interesting. It’s the extension of an interesting childhood—if your parents were that forward thinking—a childhood where you constantly experiment with work you choose and teams you choose and subjects that naturally interest you.