Unless something goes terribly wrong in the course of my life, I can confidently say that paying for a college degree will be my biggest regret. I loved my college experience, I met some amazing people, made some truly idiotic mistakes and became a better person for all of it during those 4 (and a half) years.
But I’m willing to bet that between the ages of 18 and 22, I would have done that anyway. I probably didn’t need to be paying a major university to give me a piece of paper. I’m not even sure where it is at this point. In a box somewhere?
I don’t want any of this to sound ungrateful. I know I’m in a very privileged position to have been able to go to college and have it paid for through scholarships. I’m thankful that college was an option for me.
What I do want to say, though, is I wouldn’t recommend college to anyone who was on the fence. And I would absolutely discourage anyone who is unsure about it or can’t pay for it without student loans from going until they’re absolutely sure.
Like I talked about in the article about apprenticeship, mentorship is the only valuable education. You have to do the thing you’re trying to be good at. You have to be practical instead of theoretical. And college, at least for most majors, is theoretical.
Think about the projects you did in college where you had to apply the theories you learned in a textbook. What was your motivation? What were the stakes for you?
I’m going to guess you were looking for the best grade you could get. That’s how school works.
But in real life, the stakes are infinitely higher. Professional decisions affect your bank account, relationships and, in a lot of cases, your self-esteem.
Do you know how many dumb decisions people make because of their ego or their concern with money? I don’t either, but it’s a lot.
In a classroom exercise, you can’t know what you would do if the product launch you planned completely fails. You have no idea what decisions you’d make when you were uninspired or angry or in need of cash for rent. You may know what choice you hope to make when faced with a moral dilemma, but the truth is you have no idea. And no one can teach you.
The only thing anyone can do is tell you what they’ve done in that exact situation, explain why and let you form your own opinion. They can try to prepare you for what you might see, but they’ll have a hard time teaching you how to think clearly when your back’s against the wall and you’re upset.
And really, could anything be more important?
Sure, there are industry standards you’ll need to learn in any career path, but you can learn those in a book on your own. You don’t need a professor to teach you what’s in a textbook.
But what you really need to know is how to make clear-headed decisions. How to pick the right team. When to pay attention to analytics and when to be the expert. Those only come through practice. You can only become better by doing.
The most successful people prioritize learning over education. And that is a lifelong effort that you should start immediately. Don’t expect the foundation of your career to be built in 4 years in college. And if you get the opportunity for real world experience, always skip class.