Maybe You Should Not Go to College

In 2013 I wrote the post below about thinking about if college was the right choice.

It is now 2022 and I was surprised to see this mainstream television piece now talking about the same issues.

From May 15, 2013

I hear all the arguments about the value of a college education. And I agree with much of that. But the fact is not everyone who goes to college and takes on student loan debt graduates or even graduates into a field that pays enough to service the student loan debt.

About 75 percent of people with student loan debt never finish and earn their degree. Instead, all they got was some massively nasty debt, some youthful transgressions, and a bit of life experience.

If you can afford to pay for school in cash with your parent’s money and they are willing to pay, stop reading and go for it. But if not, read the rest of this slowly and let it sink in.

With the exploding levels of student loan debt, we now have to break free of those conventional assumptions student loan debt is “good debt” and the norm.

For more and more people who graduate, the level of college debt is pretty much life-crushing. Sometimes, they get out of school with $150,000 or more of student loan debt and can’t scratch out enough of a living to make ends meet and pay the student loans. Don’t believe me, click here and read the stories for yourself.

Student loan debt robs people of all sorts of life quality and options. It saddles the graduate from exploring their field of study and just trying to get a job, any job, and sometimes two jobs.

For example, there are so many lawyers who graduate so buried in debt they will never get ahead.

Average Lawyer Salary

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The average education debt for law grads at private schools [in 2011] was nearly $125,000, while the average for grads of public law schools was more than $75,700, according to new figures released by the ABA. – Source

And the cost of law school doesn’t even include the undergraduate debt.

Two-thirds (66%) of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 for those with loans. The five percent increase in average debt at the national level is similar to the average annual increase over the past few years. Also similar to previous years, about one-fifth of graduates’ debt is comprised of private loans.. – Source

Forbearance and deferment of student loan payments, especially private student loans, is yet an even bigger trap. We allow people who can’t make their student loan payments today the option

This subject was also the focus of a recent NPR radio show about Who Benefits From College and Why.

For years the mantra has been: get a college degree if you possibly can. Indeed, the benefits of a college degree generally outweigh the costs, but given the price, many students and their families are taking a closer look. Authors of a new report from the Brookings Institution conclude that college may not be the best investment for certain schools, specific fields of study, occupations, and individuals. Those who start but don’t finish college seem to pay a particularly high price. The value of a bachelor’s degree and its alternatives for the 21st century’s labor market.

The college industry is set up to convince people that from an early age, college is the goal. Well-intentioned parents, high school counselors, friends, peers, and almost everyone else says that you need college to succeed. It’s the common assumption of the land.

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Sounds great, right?

But then you roll up to the doors of the college that you feel made a wise decision to let you in and attend and what you assume is helpful advice might not be so.

Do You Have a Question You'd Like Help With? Contact Debt Coach Damon Day. Click here to reach Damon.

The advisors and counselors at for-profit colleges and some non-profit schools are financially rewarded for putting butts in seats. The financial aid offices are not trying to talk you out of attending because you’ll never be able to earn enough to feed your student loans.

Instead, they are there to help streamline getting you all the student loans you can qualify for so the school can earn money from tuition, room, and board. And then there is the profit-making book store. Does anyone want some $100 textbooks from the 1980s?

There is no cog in the “You Need to Go to College” wheel that tells you to stop and rationally consider the financial burden you are about to undertake.

And then you graduate and realize everything I just shared with you is correct. You can’t unwind the clock. Out of desperation, some people contact me who can’t pay their student loans and seriously contemplate ending their lives or leaving the United States for good to get out from under their massive and crushing student loan debt.

If you are heading back to college as an adult, maybe that’s even worse for your financial future. You graduate and can’t earn enough additional money to continue retirement investing and servicing your student loans; you are setting yourself up to retire poorer. I hear the grommet dog food tastes better.

The bottom line here is just for you to think or help others ask if the cost/benefit equation here will make sense and if you are going to follow a profession that requires you to have a college degree or specialized education.

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If you can’t afford to pay cash for school and you will not be a nuclear scientist, maybe it’s worth exploring less expensive avenues like community college, internships, work experience, or even specialized trade education.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach
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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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