Another year of college has begun. If you've chosen not to attend, the panic may be starting to set in as you watch your friends begin the college experience and you wonder if you've made the right choice.
College is expensive, though, and not everyone attends, or attends right away. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the record high percentage of students that went straight from high school to college was 70.1 percent in 2009. Assuming this year's numbers are similar, you're in good company with about a fourth of your fellow recent high school graduates if you're not in college right now.
It makes sense to question the idea that enrolling in college is a universally good idea. Attaining a college degree is not a guarantee of success. A series of practical individual choices made consistently throughout your life combined with ongoing hard work will be the most instrumental factors in how far you get in life.
A Georgetown study found that “37% of those with a high school diploma make more than the median earnings of workers with some college/no degree” and “40% of people with a Bachelor’s degree earn more than the median of workers with a Master’s degree.” These numbers indicate that a degree does not create a guaranteed advantage. In fact, a significant percentage of people are able to excel in their jobs without spending the time or money on a degree.
There are also a number of career paths whose ticket to entry is a certificate program that can be completed in much less time and at much less expense than a college degree. A Payscale.com article by Michelle Goodman reports that language interpreters, fitness instructors, mechanics, auto insurance appraisers and court reporters have average salaries that range from $37,113 for fitness instructors to $50,165 for auto insurance appraisers. A two-year associate’s degree is another a viable alternative to a bachelor’s degree.
Furthermore, many college majors provide little to no specific preparation for any sort of career other than one in academia. And Time’s “Top 10 College Dropouts” reminds us that super-successful people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, James Cameron, Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga and Tiger Woods all dropped out of college.
So don’t believe everything that your parents, teachers, friends and guidance counselors tell you—the accepted wisdom about college isn’t always true.
For the whole story, see my Financial Edge article for Investopedia, College Education Cliches: Fact or Fiction?