General Education

Can You Afford to Skip College?

Can You Afford to Skip College?
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Jean Fan profile
Jean Fan February 8, 2019

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When I tell people that I’m no longer in university, that I’ve dropped out in order to work and learn on the job, I frequently get told: “You’re so brave!” This used to baffle me. Then a good friend pointed out that I perceive risk very differently than other people. Only then did it start to make sense: most college students rely on a system that supposedly ensures their success; I, on the other hand, could never bring myself do this. After all, relying on a system for my success is far riskier than relying on myself.

This is particularly true when it comes to finances. Is it the case that that if I trust the system, that if I make it my goal to do well in school, that I’ll be financially stable? Maybe. Maybe not. Certainly some college graduates (88.1%) these days get jobs. But many don’t. Many students struggle for years to find work. It’s far too often that you hear about college graduates who are perpetually un- or underemployed. What’s going on?

In terms of making money, a college degree can help. It’s not, however, enough to land a good job — or any job, for that matter. It’s not nearly enough. So what is enough? What is the answer? The answer is that, at the end of the day, the thing an employer (or a customer, if you’re starting a business) cares about is not where or if you went to school. They care about this: Who are you and what can you do?

This is true of good employers, anyways. The good employer (and remember: not everyone who will hire you is someone you want to work with) will care about your formal education only in that it may indicate you have certain positive qualities. Of course, whether you do in fact have these qualities, just because you went to college, is up in the air. And of course, if you do in fact have these qualities, it will be or become obvious.

So far we’ve addressed a commonly perceived risk of foregoing university: whether or not you’ll be able to get a job. There is another fear that is worth addressing. Perhaps you’re not worried about whether you can land a job, but rather whether you’ll be able to move up in those jobs. This concern is legitimate — in corporate settings, the lack of a degree can in fact block you from being promoted to certain positions. At least, this is true on paper. But if we look, we can easily see that reality is much more malleable.

Consider this scenario: you and your colleague-nemesis, Dave, are competing for the same management position. Dave has a B.S. from Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious business school. If it seems to you that Dave obviously has a better shot than you of landing the job, you’re probably forgetting to take into account other critical factors. Between you and Dave, who is more well-liked and respected at your company? Who is more diligent and willing to work? Who has greater expertise, expertise that will allow them to more effectively direct people? You should aim to get to a point, regardless of how you get your education, to make sure that you are actually the better person for the job (and you want to make sure that you convey this). And if you still don’t get the job? Then you know that the problem is not you — it’s the company you’re working for.

I’ll be blunt. You cannot afford to skip college, IF you do not plan to rigorously educate yourself; IF you do not plan to become good enough that you can succeed without it; IF you do not want to actually become a much better person, a person who has the ability to do (or learn how to do) what is needed. But why wouldn’t you plan for that? Regardless of what path you choose, these are things that you need to succeed.


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