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Article: Is a college degree worth it?

Stojí vysokoškolský diplom za to?

Is a college degree worth it?

Maybe you could be more successful if you dropped out of school…

What do you say to an ambitious 19-year-old when he says he wants to quit his studies?

"After all we've been through, why would you give up an opportunity for an excellent education?"

The value of higher education is declining and the question is asked:

When is it worth dropping out of college?

First we need to find out the following: Why should you go to study?

According to Collegeboard, the following answers are the most popular:

  • Meet new people
  • Get a good education
  • Know yourself
  • Get a good job after graduation

Second, we need to ask: What is your investment?

We have to analyze whether an 18-year-old person needs to spend five years and 100,000 US dollars for the opportunity to meet new people, get to know himself, get a good education and a job.

Let's break it down.

How valuable is meeting people?

Adults will tell you that your network is everything and that it's not what you know, but who you know.

And I agree with that. But is studying the best solution if you want to meet people?

In college, you are surrounded by people of the same age for the only time in your adult life (except in a nursing home). Meeting new people face to face is great and one of the biggest perks of college.

Critics might argue that 18-year-olds can still meet people elsewhere, but let's face it: colleges have a monopoly on young people.

College 1 vs. Drop out of school - 0

How valuable is a "good education"?

With the increase in information available, it has never been easier to learn something new. Can you get an education without college? Scott Young did it.

Scott became famous after earning an unofficial degree in programming from MIT. For $2,000 and 10 months, Scott wrote all the required tests and took the courses that MIT offers online for free. And despite the fact that he did not have an official title, employers still wanted to hire him.

Many prestigious universities, including Yale, Stanford, and Berkeley, also offer their courses for free online. These are high quality courses covering all topics on Lynda, Udemy, Coursera, Codecademy or CreativeLive. Plus, anyone can learn anything by reading books, listening to their podcasts, or connecting with them directly online from the world's greatest experts.

So why do people still think they have to go to college to "get an education"?

A college degree proves that you will survive four or more years following the system to "success". But trying to learn with this college mindset can be inappropriate.

For example, many students have two majors or one major and one minor. If they suddenly fall into another field, but have already spent three years studying psychology, they must stay another two years, change fields and finish their studies. Common sense advises students to persevere and complete their psychology studies even if they do not plan to major in it.

But are you studying for a degree or to develop skills needed in the real world?

People come to college to learn and explore their areas of interest. But employers evaluate recent graduates according to the field of study and where they graduated.

Oddly enough, if you want to ride a bike, you have to spend the first five weeks in a classroom learning how to ride a bike before you actually pedal.

When my dad was teaching me how to ride a bike, he told me to get on it and start pedaling. At the same time, he held the bicycle from behind to go straight. Then out of nowhere he dropped it and I fell. After a few more tries, I was able to ride the bike by myself in 30 minutes. No textbooks, no homework, and no wasted time learning wind theory.

Why don't universities have a similar approach?

Why, instead of focusing on courses, young people prefer not to work on real problems? Why not let teachers provide support (mentoring) and students fail again and again until they succeed (experience)?

In today's world, college is no longer a necessity for anyone to get education and experience from a real environment.

Photo credit: Nottingham Trent University via Compfight cc

College - 1 vs. Drop out of school - 1

What is the value of knowing yourself?

When teenagers enter college, they usually know very little about themselves and their future. They don't know what career path to choose, what major to study or what their passion is.

So when someone is lost and confused, they spend $100,000 and the next five years of their life to find the answer! But can you learn something about yourself without this big investment?

What would you do with $100,000 and five years of your life at a young age?

  • Always wanted to try acting? Go to auditions and meet new people from this field
  • Wanted to learn more about programming? Run to your local library, sign up for Codecademy and learn how to code
  • Are you interested in start-ups? Join a start-up, connect with other entrepreneurs or start your own business!

You might enjoy studying marketing, but unless you actually work for a company's marketing team, how can you be so sure?

Go volunteer in a third world country. Teach English in Japan. Work on a meaningful project. Run for an internship at a company you admire. Learn from your role model. Start your own business.

Why wait five years to discover what interests you when you can do it immediately?

The best way to learn something about yourself is to start doing something.
The most effective preparation for adulthood is doing "adult things" such as going to work, having more responsibility, becoming independent, etc.

Can the university help with this? Definitely. But if we look at the costs of missed opportunities and other alternatives, the return on this investment is debatable today.

College - 1 vs. Drop out of school - 2

How valuable is "getting a good job"?

The right question is: Does college even prepare you for a good job?

If so, why are college graduates 40% of the unemployed in the US? And why are 46% of graduates doing jobs that don't require a college degree?

For some jobs, university studies are necessary. You cannot become a teacher, doctor or lawyer without a degree.

But even in these fields, where college is a legitimate investment, it only works if you want to stay in it for the rest of your life. And how often do you hear stories of people who changed career paths as they got older? Generation Y typically changes careers every four years, so how can you be sure at 18 that you want to do one thing for the rest of your life?

What if you want to do something else?

The job market of the future can be risky for two main reasons:

a) We don't know what our work will look like in 10, 25 or 50 years.

25 years ago we had no idea what the internet was. Who knew back then that web development would be such a great job. Or that social media will be the next big hit?

How could we train students for a job that didn't exist yet?

Young people must understand that in the future there will be thousands of new jobs that no one has yet discovered. Maybe virtual reality will take over the world, Bitcoins will become our main currency, and blockchain will eliminate lawyers and accountants.

Some completely new technology may emerge.

We do not know.

And if we don't know, how can we best prepare?

Is the best answer to spend four years learning about business marketing theory when those strategies will be irrelevant by the time you graduate?

Probably not.

The best answer is to develop skills that can be applied to any discipline such as leadership, communication and critical thinking. It is not surprising to see successful businessmen like Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and Paul Graham who all studied philosophy.

b) Employers want people with experience

If you were a company owner, would you want to hire Sarah, who has marketing experience from four businesses? Or you would take Joe, who is a recent marketing graduate from the local university with no work experience.

The answer is simple.

If you hire Sarah, she will be a valuable asset right away. Needless to say, Sarah will step in and really help your company.

You'll have to slow Joe down until you're up to speed. Joe knows some of what Sarah does, but has never done it before, which makes the collaboration extremely slow.

Companies crave people with experience, which is why graduates hate these pesky entry-level job descriptions:

  • You must have 4 or more years of work experience
  • You must have a bachelor's degree

How does this make sense to the average graduate?

It's a vicious cycle because you need work to get experience. And to get a job, you need experience.

So what role does college play in this?

Some say you need a degree to keep your first employer from closing the door on you. But that is strange.

Why didn't students get real work experience after five years of study? Why are students still learning how to ride a bike instead of actually riding it?

Unless you have nothing on your resume, you are expected to get a low-skilled job or an internship to gain relevant experience. The essential thing is that you constantly try to keep yourself in some kind of vehicle: a tricycle, a bicycle with side wheels or something like that.

"But companies won't hire you without a diploma..."

Most companies have not changed their traditions and it is understandable. How could they change something they thought was real for hundreds of years?

After Michael Ellsberg interviewed hundreds of successful people in Education of Millionaires, he saw how bad it is to focus on formal data when looking for a job.

"Much more important is the strength of your network of contacts - the size of the circle of people who believe in you, give you tips about open positions and advocate for you with employers - as well as your demonstrable portfolio of real results."

If you want to work for a company that requires a college degree even though you already have more experience than a fresh graduate, then go get a degree.

I know it's annoying, but that's how the game is played. At least for now.

But why haven't companies changed their minds yet when this isn't a measure of actual work results?

"There's a lot of psychological literature that shows there's little correlation between job performance and school grades," says Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who studies recruiting and the American workplace, in an interview with The Atlantic. "It's remarkable how often companies rely on hiring criteria that have no evidence that they work."

Some companies like Google or Ernst & Young are known for not dealing with titles much anymore. In an interview with the New York Times, head of recruitment Laszlo Bock said:

"When you look at people who don't go to school and make their own way in the world, they are extraordinary human beings. And we should do everything we can to find these people."

Another valid question is why would you want a job that requires a bachelor's degree?

"When part of the hiring decision-making process is that you have the ability to follow the rules of school, I'm not sure that's going to take you down the path you want to go down," says entrepreneur Seth Godin in an interview with Michael Ellsberg.

"We want both and we say: I want to have an innovative, artistic and creative career. But I want a job at a company with 50,000 employees that will interview me on campus. So why are you surprised after you get the job that they treat you like a cog in the system? So many people come to the campus to pick up."

The labor market is changing faster than the education system can keep up with it. More companies are grasping that this is the beginning of a new workforce movement.

Employers are looking for real-world skills and experience that young people are desperate for.

College - 1 vs. Drop out of school - 3

So why are today's young people willing to spend $100,000 and 4+ years going to college?

Because they want structure, support or their friends do.

But as time progresses and this debate continues, students stop and realize their massive student loan debt and the cost of lost opportunities associated with this major life decision.

Graduating isn't as black and white as most people think. Take a risk.

What's the worst that can happen?

If you try to manage your studies yourself for a year and it turns out badly, college will still be here.

What is an alternative to college for people today?

Today you can…

  • Meeting people easier than in the past
  • Learn anything easier than in the past
  • Knowing yourself easier than in the past

If you want to try something like college, but more tailored to your ideas and specific interests, check out these alternatives:

Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, founded the Thiel Fellowship , where he gives young people $100,000 to drop out of school and start something that will change the world.

There are shorter programs like Unschool Adventures , which offer young people a short break to learn independence and responsibility.

Young people can join the organization and teach English abroad in exchange for free accommodation. Or travel alone, get lost in a new country and blend in with a foreign culture.

There are also hidden opportunities to learn from people you admire. In Recession Proof Graduate, Charlie Hoehn got to work with amazing entrepreneurs like Seth Godin, Ramit Sethi, Tucker Max and finally Tim Ferriss by offering them his work for free.

People can manage their studies entirely on their own. You can give yourself assignments and tests from the materials and learn as you go. To learn more, read The Art of Self-Directed Learning by Blake Boles.

James Altucher's book 40 Alternatives to College offers even more options. The point is that there are effective and affordable ways to educate yourself.

Lessons learned

The value of a university degree is constantly being reassessed. Companies are more focused on recruiting candidates who have real experience. There are more affordable alternatives to college, and the Internet has made it possible for anyone to get an education from the comfort of their own home.

If you were 18 in 2016, would you go to college again?

The article is translated from the Czech language from

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