Over the last couple of years as The Learning Consultants has focused more intensely on college counseling for our Connecticut clients, we have increasingly been asked: “is college worth the money?”
Let me start with a paradox. College is horribly over-priced – for most and worth every penny – for most. I always add “for most” because there are plenty of exceptions that preclude making blanket rules.
In addition to suffering with our college counseling clients – even those from the affluent suburbs of Fairfield County and Shoreline, Connecticut – about the high price of college, I’m a father of three, one currently attending a $70,000 a year school (where we have no aid whatsoever), and two on the way. So, I get it from both a professional college counseling perspective and as a parent footing the college bill. College is horribly over-priced.
But here is where I have a fundamentally different understanding of college than some of the entrepreneurial pundits who claim that they college can be avoided altogether. THERE ARE NO GREAT OPTIONS FOR MOST 18 YEAR OLDS. This emphasis is needed because those who say otherwise do not work with high school juniors and seniors.
Peter Thiel (PayPal) and Seth Godin (Purple Cow) are among those who vociferously argue that they could have skipped college. Genius is an overused word. But my guess is that on any test measurement both would be in the very highest percentage. Yet, they both completely miss elements in their analysis. They both also went to Stanford. At the very least, a large part of their success stemmed from the connections that Stanford provided and the doors that having “Stanford” on their resume opened. In other words, even if they didn’t learn a single iota at Stanford, each would not be as successful as they are had they not attended an elite school. Moreover, their modesty apparently makes them miss the mark. They are both not only incredibly smart analytically but also exceptionally mature, hard-working, and creative. Both gained admission to Stanford through merit (not legacy/special talent/VIP status) and thus were already in the 1% of talent for their age prior to heading to college.
That’s not the biggest issue. Both now live in a bubble of super-smart, super high achieving types who could have potentially created businesses without college, although I doubt it.
Having worked with thousands of high school juniors and seniors through the years, I can say that most everyone would have floundered without the structure of college.
The work world is not kind to 18-22 year olds. Indeed, the work world is not kind to those without college degrees. 99% would not be able to start a profitable business, get a career building job (outside the trades or the military, which almost no one from the affluent Connecticut suburbs wants to head toward, despite my urging), or have a job that could pay sufficiently to live on their own. Instead, those I know what have dropped out of college or didn’t attend college are floundering and in danger of failing to launch. That has life-long implications. So, yes, college is worth every penny.