Why I Went To College And Why You Shouldn’t

In a 1999 survey by the Consumer Federation of America and financial services firm Primerica, 40% of Americans with incomes between $25,000 and $35,000 — and nearly one-half of respondents with an income of $15,000 to $25,000 — thought winning the lottery would give them their retirement nest egg. Overall, 27% of respondents said that their best chance to gain $500,000 in their lifetime is via a sweepstakes or lottery win, the survey said. – MSN Money

I never believed surveys like this, until now…my school loans just went into repayment. Stupidly, I never actually tracked my school loans and was shocked by my total balance when calculating everything, it was quite a bit more than what I estimated during my schooling. Like many kids out there, being granted financial aid was like free money, woohoo! and I just went on with my schooling. Now that school is over, reality is really taking hold and my $50,000+ school loans are like a huge weight that has been dropped on me. I actually contemplated buying lottery tickets, if just for a second or two, in the hopes of winning and lightening my financial load.

The average student loan in the United States in 2009 was close to 25,000 but I know there are people graduating with over 100,000 in loans. Like many of these people, I regret many of the choices I made when deciding on college…

If I were to do it all over again, what would I do?

Honestly, in my mind, there are only a couple reasons to go to college and the choice all depends on what you actually plan to do afterward.

If you plan to go into a particular profession, and the dream of job security is what you aim for, college is where you should be, but you have to choose the right profession that will benefit from a college education and degree. Professions in the dentistry or medical field are two that come to mind that you can’t really pursue without a degree and unless you are completely loaded (in which case, why do you want to work in the first place!) you will be graduating with a boatload of loans.

Another reason to go to college is to network and meet people that will help you pursue your dreams. Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire ever,  is a prime example of this. If you are intelligent and plan on making your mark on the word by coming up with an idea never before thought of and changing the way the world works, college is a perfect place to meet other people with a similar mindset. Certain colleges and degrees are just think tanks for entrepreneurs; the degree is just a trivial part of that goal and the fact that many of the richest and most successful people in the world dropped out of college is an indicator of this. Peter Thiel, another self made billionaire is even offering college kids $200,000 because

As for me? I went to college because I love to learn and was told I couldn’t get anywhere without a degree. These two reasons were a horrible combination for me to go to college, especially an expensive online college. You can and many people certainly do just fine without a degree; the need for one all depends on what you plan on doing for the rest of your life. As for my love of learning, I have learned more in the past two years both in the field my degree is in and in completely unrelated fields, all on my own. These two reasons I went to school were not the best motivators for me to do well in school either. My goals were to get the piece of paper saying I finished, and to learn as much as I could, neither of which required exceptionally good grades…

If I were to do it all over again, I would have gone to a traditional school to be part of a think-tank of like minded people but in reality college is not required to connect with others. I don’t plan on working the rest of my life, and the more people I meet that are like me, the more I realize that I missed out on one of the most important aspects of college, connecting with other people. Instead of going to an online school, I would have enrolled in a traditional community college and gotten to know more people not to mention having less of a financial burden afterward.

What am I going to do now?

That’s simple; I’m going to work like a madman to make as much money as possible in any way that I can to pay these loans off as quickly as I can.

Do you regret college or was it the best move you ever made?

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41 People have left comments on this post

» FB @ FabulouslyBroke.comNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 12:10:20 }

I don’t regret college at all, but I went into exactly what I love to do and happen to make a lot of money doing. So no complaints here. I was in $60,000 of debt for it too, but that number is due mostly to my lack of frugality and financial smarts. It was all education loans, but seeing as I worked the whole time, I should have been smarter about saving and being frugal.

At any rate, I don’t think college is for everyone, but it does get your foot in the door for an interview at least. It seems like no one wants to hire anyone who ISN’T a college grad.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

@FB That’s awesome! I thought I knew what I wanted to do… 🙂 I worked full time through College too but already had started my family, bought a house and don’t make a lot of money so we never paid a penny towards my schooling. I agree that the job market is tough and requirements are very strict now though so if that’s what you want to do, a degree is a must. I also don’t think I did everything I could to avoid having this huge debt but what’s done is done!

» Jeff @ Sustainable Life BlogNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 12:10:37 }

As a recent graduate (07) and current (ish) masters student, I really am not sure if I’d do it all over again. I had fun in college, I was able to meet great people and learn a lot, I took interesting (if occasionally irrelevant) classes and got a degree in a solid field. I was able to get out of undergrad with minimal amounts of loans. Looking back on it, I probably should have stopped there. Going to grad school was a great learning experience and I was able to do much better grade wise (took fewer classes) and I gained valuable experience working in the “real-world” (part time). Unfortunately, I had to pay for a portion of my tuition with loans, and it was quite a bit. As of right now, I’m not done with my degree, I don’t want to finish it because I won’t be employable in the field with it any time soon (field shrinking, its a government position), and I’m soured on higher education as a whole because of this experience. I’d rather be a plumber or an electrician (or go into an extraction-type job).

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

It’s so interesting that people are overqualified more often than not in today’s market. No one wants to hire someone with a PHD if they think they will jump ship when something better comes along, which puts a lot of educated people out of work. I have friends that just did trade school and are very happy with what they are doing now, with far fewer costs.

» Invest It WiselyNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 01:10:42 }

I don’t regret university/college, but due to our dual college/university system, I do feel that I wasted too much time (I could have gotten out in 5.5 years instead of 7.5 by doing a 2-year pre-university program instead of a 4-year technical program at the college level — what a freakin’ waste of time, except for meeting my girlfriend there. Maybe that makes the 4 years worth it ;)). I did enjoy many of the things I learned and did in my 3.5 years of university and feel it was the most useful. College on the other hand was basically like a continuation of high school and the main point of it was to keep us off the job market, it seems. 😉

I was gonna mention the Money Funk post, but I see you already linked to it!

IMO, Education is important, but education comprises a much bigger set than simply a college degree. For many careers, the college degree is basically just a status signal that you can study and apply yourself. It can be valuable but it is not always required, especially if you want to be an entrepreneur. There is more than one path to an education.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


I didn’t realize that education in different countries was so different! I always forget you are from Canada too, sorry 🙂 7.5 years of school though! Ouch. I burnt out after 2 of college and just did what I had to to finish. I had so many other things on my mind and taking up my time, that were making money, where school at that point was just a burden 😉

» EvanNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 03:10:13 }

Would I do it all over again? 1,000%.

But to the bigger question of whether I would direct someone to College? I don’t believe college is necessary for everyone, but there only a few jobs where you aren’t competing with those that did go to college so it would make it difficult to hire the non-college educated applicant.

If I am going to hire an employee and I have 2 IT guys, 2 Secretarys, 2 of anything to choose from who do you pick? Is college everything? Nope, but it is a great starting point to look to.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


That’s exactly my point, college isn’t for everyone, even though the general public makes it out to be in most cases. The choice all depends on where you plan to be in the future.

» Car Negotiation CoachNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 10:10:29 }

I’d definitely do college again…loved it and prepared me for the real world.

However, with rising tuition, I don’t know how anyone will afford college in another 20 years. I think we’re in for a major shift in US education. Either the goverment is gonna have to go into major subsidy mode or….the more likely scenario is that they’ll be a shift to more trade schools, associates degrees, or vocational training in high school.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


The cost is ridiculous especially for private schools and I agree, there will inevitably have to be a change in order for people to continue to go to school.

» YanaNo Gravatar said: { Oct 21, 2010 - 11:10:51 }

I don’t regret college, but taking out a student loan is my biggest regret as far as personal finance. I should have gotten grants only. But the reason I’m commenting is that while reading my feeds, I came across this and thought I’d share it with you –


Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


Thanks for sharing that with us, that was pretty interesting. I kind of agree with both sides though. There is no guarantee that a college education will grant you success; on the other hand, the perception of college is just the opposite.

» FB @ FabulouslyBroke.comNo Gravatar said: { Oct 24, 2010 - 07:10:46 }

P.S. I am posting this on my blog on Nov 3 as part of another post. Hope it sends some traffic your way!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


Thanks! I really appreciate that 🙂

» The Saved QuarterNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 01:10:00 }

I am a current college student in a major that statistically has high wage earning potential, at a real life college with a good reputation in my major. I wish I’d gone when I was young and didn’t have my current responsibilities – husband, kids, household – but I’m really glad that I’m there now! I think that being older and possibly wiser, I have no illusion that loans are “free money” and I have been very judicious about how I’m financing my education – largely through grants and paying myself. I should be able to graduate from a well-respected private college without debt because I’ve done my lower division work at community college, am diligent about getting good grades and focus on my schoolwork so I’m not having to take extra time to finish, and am applying for every grant, scholarship, and program I can find to help me pay for it! I’m also taking an accelerated course load so that I will graduate sooner, giving up summer vacation and leisurely pace for a quicker entry into the workplace and fewer semesters in which to rack up dept.

I agree that the online schooling doesn’t give you as much of an advantage as real brick-and-mortar college if only because you don’t come out of it with the built in networking community. Mark Zuckerberg is a good example of that community, but I’m aware that in the Silicon Valley, where I live, networking is important and coming from a local college with other alumni in hiring positions will certainly help!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

@Saved Quarter

More power to you Penny! I wish I had been wiser about my financing decisions as the loan wouldn’t have soured my perception on higher education as a whole. Maybe that is the biggest problem with college: financial education beforehand so that you are aware of what college costs and how to pay for it.

» MoneyconeNo Gravatar said: { Nov 4, 2010 - 06:11:13 }

I’m in a field where my college education has nothing to do with what I do! Yes, definitely regret going to college – was a waste of money and time. ‘Course I won’t impose this on others including my kids!

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Nov 5, 2010 - 11:11:34 }


It all depends on where you are headed I guess!

» David NYCNo Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2010 - 12:11:57 }

well it’s your fault for getting all those loans in the first place. It took me nearly 9yrs to get my bachelors and I don’t regret it much. Why, because I paid for it ALL out of my pocket with no loans or any financial aid of any sort. Oh and did I mention that I also paid double tuition because I paid out of state tuition too. I had 2 jobs at a time and still carried on regular course loads, so stop whining that you live in a country that affords you the opportunity to get a first rate education and you weren’t smart enough to figure out that FREE money is never free!

College isn’t for everyone and it seems that it definitely wasn’t for you. How can you not know or realize how much loans you’re incurring?

People need to have practical skills in addition to a college education. I have a Business degree but what feeds me is what I do with computers and my technical skills with them. Especially in this climate where the financial/business sector is in ruins, I would starve if I was holding out for that wall street job. Along the way, I acquired computer and networking skills which augment what I learned in college. Yes, not everyone NEEDS a college degree in the strict sense but some sort of tertiary education is a plus, be it a technical school or trade school, they count.

» casketsalesmanNo Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2010 - 12:11:54 }

I have a degree, and have been bounced from tech job to tech job when outsourcing became cheaper for the companies. I haven’t lasted in any job for more than 2 years, and it’s all because of “costs” associated with outsourcing. Now, I have been unemployed for 14 months and haven’t even been able to land anything. Most jobs tell me I’m over qualified or simply don’t call me back. I’m in debt to a school, and I have little to no income…and up to this point NO one has asked me whether or not I actually went to college. It’s not worth it. I wouldn’t advice ever going to college, unless you’re hellbent on becoming a public school teacher or something along those lines.

» S. BryanNo Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2010 - 01:11:05 }

You get a degree because of what it says about you that not having can never say.

When an potential employer asks about a degree they are not asking what you have studied but IF you have studied; psychology, history, philosophy or basket weaving.

It says you can read and write at a certain level, synthesize new information from what you have been given and that you have a level of maturity.

A degree will not guarantee you a job but it will give you a leg up when applying for one.

» JonNo Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2010 - 01:11:32 }

It’s somewhat debatable if a person should go for a degree or not, but in most all cases it’s better than not going if you live in America. Hear me out, this is long. Sometimes the problem is that we don’t value education here in America enough because we’ve been blessed with so much already. If you simply want to make the most money possible, and you don’t care what you do, there isn’t a reason to go to college unless you want to be a specialist(dentist, doctor, vet, therapist). You can make more money over the long term finding factory/union/government/military/trade work by starting out right after High School and not having college debt of any kind while also earning a livable wage right after High School. Plumbers, welders, auto workers, mechanics all earn more than most college graduates and you can start working as one usually in your first year out of High School or with 2 years of education which will be a fraction of the cost of any liberal arts degree. Even to become a nurse only takes a 2 year degree and they earn more than most 4 year graduates across the country. Of course you may hate this type of work and the status associated with trade jobs. You will also break your body down over time and have to work in varying conditions that those holding a degree will never have to work in. On the other hand, you can go for a specific profession if you love it and 7 years of college and grad school will earn you a solid income, status, and a career you enjoy. The medical field is a prime point, and there is something to be said for the enjoyment you get working in a field that requires more intellectual and emotional input. You vest very little other than time, physical effort, and a small degree of concentration working as a contractor or welder. It’s simply doesn’t require the aptitudes needed by a dentist.

In the future the money earned by non-degree holding citizens will be much less than those with degrees as companies starting to cut pensions further and lower hourly wages in physical labor jobs.

One of the secrets of getting a degree, is that any good sales or bank job will require you to have a degree to even sit for an interview. Sales positions can be some of the highest paid in America, and companies won’t give you an interview unless you have a degree, and any degree works.

It’s just a matter of fact that for the rest of time someone with a degree will be looked upon by society as a higher class of citizen and more learned than someone without a degree. Even if the degree’d person’s job pays less which it sometimes will, if they have a degree they will always be held in higher esteem than a plumber even though the plumber or auto-mechanic may earn double their income. A degree helps you develop yourself more fully in most cases socially, economically, emotionally, and especially mentally.

And there is no reason why anyone with a degree in America should be out of work unless they live in an area that is a variable when compared to the rest of the Country. If they are willing to accept any decent job, even working fast food to start, that degree will give them preference over the person without one, that degree says management material, promotion worthy, etc. and that’s just a fact among Corporate America. Unless you can invent something, are an entrepreneur, or want to work a trade, you better earn that degree if you want to get anywhere in life, even if it takes you 7 years and $50,000.

Chen BaishunNo Gravatar Reply:

For people earning PhDs, if they don’t finish, or if they do finish but don’t get tenured work and are denied tenure (fired), they are in their mid-to-late 30s and are considered overqualified. That makes them worse off

» Dr. DogNo Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2010 - 02:11:21 }

A few observations if I may. I have two bachelor degress, and a Masters and am considering going for a second. I am a semiretired professional with 30+ years experience in the IT field.

* If you want to get into the IT field upon graduating HS, go for the following certs FIRST — CCNA, MSCE, LPI. They will do more for you landing a job than any piece of paper from an engineering school. Go for the degree if you want it after you have the certs in hand and landed a job in the field.

* If what you are majoring in ends with the word ‘studies’ in its name you might as well be flushing thousand dollar bills down the loo. The demand for these types of degree are marginal except in academia and they are full up with applicants at the moment.

* Not everyone should go to a 4yr institution. When you consider that plumbers in many locales are making income equivalent to someone with a degree one should not scoff at considering trade schools as alternatives.

* I have met many a Wharton MBA grad who could crunch numbers like a madman but could not tell me specifically the best scenarios for the investment. Odd no? My point is MIT, Wharton, NorthWestern are not always the best, just well recognized. Anyone aware that Ball State has more graduates for its size sitting in the board room than many big name institutions? Do you homework.

* Don’t limit yourself to the US. There are many international schools online that are very good. Nor do many charge international rates like we do here in the US. Many are also less expensive. Just keep your eye on the exchange rates.

* The idea of connecting with others in pursuit of a start up situation is an interesting one. However I have run thru 2 start ups in my career. I learned a lot at both of them, but it was my next employer that benefited not the current one. Start ups are only a notch higher than playing the ponies that is only slightly higher in returns that playing the lottery. If you are young and can afford the risk do it. But do so for the experience; your likelihood of riches are 1:1000. (I can do better 4 fold in the stock market.)

* If you want to go to college so as to have a profession but learn no more; sorry they don’t exist any longer. CPA’s, MD’s, CE’s, etc all require continuing education to maintain their qualifications lest their license be revoked. But you can maximize your effort by considering professions that require ‘touch’ or ‘place’ in order for the value add to occur. An RN’s position is more secure than a CPA’s. The RN must affect their efforts in a physical situation. The CPA efforts can be shipped to India and results sent back over the Internet.

Good luck, and I hope this was helpful to someone.

» AmandaNo Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2010 - 10:11:24 }

I pretty much completely regret going to college. The first year really helped me to grow up and figure things out, but after that I was wasting money. I’ve been out for 5 years and I’m just now starting to figure out what to do with my life.
College is marketed to anyone, who gets even semi decent grades in high school as the only option. The classes are a joke. You don’t really learn the things you’ll need in any given profession that you couldn’t have learned by just reading a few books on your own(law and medicine aside) and you end up paying for a bunch of classes that have absolutely nothing to do with anything you need to know.
What a waste of $40,000.

» JohnNo Gravatar said: { Nov 8, 2010 - 12:11:49 }

#1 Go to a public State University.

#2 Get a degree in Business (Or IT).

Students that major in language arts or “cinema” are fools. Employers won’t care what your GPA was but they will care if your major is a joke. A 4yr Business degree is a good bet.

Many high paying jobs require a 4yr degree in business or related field.

I just accepted a new position that pays $75,000 plus a bonus of up to $10,000 a yr. If not for my 4yr degree I wouldn’t have met the minimum requirements to apply for the position.

I will say that private Universities are not worth it.

» HeatherNo Gravatar said: { Nov 8, 2010 - 10:11:15 }

I dropped out of college the first time around, but do I regret it? Nope. I met my husband there, and staying home to take care of our children became a priority. I went back (through an online program at my 1st school) a few years ago and got my degree last December. I didn’t really need the degree or the education, honestly. I just needed to prove I could do it.

I didn’t like leaving that unfinished degree out there and being known in my family as the girl who dropped out of college to have babies. That’s never who I was, and it’s still not – we just adjust our priorities to best fit our family in any given circumstance. Now, I have the degree so when I tell my girls it’s important to study hard and not give up, it carries more weight.

» Credit Cards CanadaNo Gravatar said: { Nov 8, 2010 - 10:11:20 }

The problem isn’t the going to college. The problem is the “free money, woohoo!” part. A student loan should be backup if a) you can’t find part-time work to pay your way or b) you can’t earn enough to pay your way. Ah, youth…we don’t always think that way.

Then, as soon as we get out of college, to pay off our student loans ASAP – just like a credit card balance. We don’t always think that way.

As for loving to learn…that is an awesome reason to go to college. Don’t regret that decision.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Yep, stupid youth 😉 I wish I had been educated in finance before getting my loans and I would have certainly taken them less lightly.

and I’ll never regret the knowledge I have gained due to my love of learning. Thanks for joining in the conversation, your insight has been helpful.

» PamNo Gravatar said: { Nov 8, 2010 - 12:11:59 }

I don’t regret college but I wish I had gotten into a more substancial field. I did GE at community college and got my BA in Sociology from a state school, with about $10,000 in debt. I didn’t take any loans until my last year when grants and scholarships started to fade, and worked full time all the way through my 4 1/2 years while doing at least 12 units every semester sometimes more. I did this with no parental support, so you can complete without a ton of debt without starting off rolling in cash. It’s hard, it sucks, but it can be done.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to achieve, and sort of fell into Sociology because I loved it. I would discourage people from just picking this type of field unless you are sure what your objective is, If you just need to hurry up and pick a direction, pick a field that earns money. Science, Math, Computer Science, Engineering, Business Administration.

And if you want to live in a certain community take into account which fields will NOT get you work there. I wanted to work doing data analysis for the census, but they don’t do that work in my little town where my husband and I settled close to family. If I had bothered to look into what jobs wanted sociology majors here (none) I would have chosen another path.

My bachelors just made it easier to get a job at a university, although it was not required for my job, it’s rare that they hire someone without. I make 30,000 a year with my bachelors.

» nateNo Gravatar said: { Nov 8, 2010 - 04:11:47 }

got a degree in economics, graduated 6 months ago, i have also been unemployed for 6 months.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I’m sorry to hear that and wish you luck out there. I’m lucky to have been going through school while working and have a pretty stable job. (knock on wood)

» ScottNo Gravatar said: { May 19, 2011 - 02:05:34 }

I could not read all the comments, but if you work hard in anything you do, you will succeed. I know several of my classmates from college are struggling. Why? Well, they were messing around in college and didn’t work hard, or they just knew enough to slip on by. C’s make degrees. The behavior stayed with them.

Even though you have a degree, you still need to work hard.

On the other hand.. I don’t think there is a broad template answer.

Interestingly enough,
A students become researchers.
B students work for the researchers.
C students become millionaires.
Go figure.

» ump67No Gravatar said: { Nov 7, 2012 - 11:11:49 }

To say that Zuckerberg is a good example completely overshadows the fact that he probably would have done well regardless of facebook. The guy was in Harvard, and that is one of the most expensive Universities to attend which then one would have to look at his family wealth and background. The whole go do your own thing and you too can be a Zuckerberg is complete crap. The fact of the matter is that more employers are deliberately screening applicants to see if they meet the requirement of “Bachelor degree.” While I do agree about trade schools being useful, to say that “you too can be a zuckerberg or a Bill Gates” is bull. Look at these people’s financial background. Without the background they had, I doubt that they would have succeeded in the way that they did.

» JohnNo Gravatar said: { Nov 25, 2012 - 08:11:09 }

I went to a university after graduating highschool hoping to eventually get a dr. in psychology and open a private practice. All because I wanted to help people with mental illness( at least that’s what I told myself. Not that I felt pressured by my family/society or anything) . My professor told me that it was not about helping people but making money. I also did not like the majority of the people around me and HATED living in dorms. The three of these things together and my complete lack of coping skills helped lead to me drinking myself to sleep every single night those two semesters. Even though i had scholarships that payed for everything at the end of the year I had accumulated 10,000 in drinking fines and forced hospital trips for liability reasons. I also immediately started working doing landscaping for 8/hr., lived with my parents and after a year paid off the debt. Whooooo! What a load of my mind. I actually found that I loved landscaping and could still fulfill my dream of owning my own business while doing it. Today I am happy as a clam and feel as if I have a real purpose in this world. As much as I like to complain about college it was a stepping stone to where I am today. That debt taught me how to work. The people taught me what I don’t want to be. And all that court ordered AA taught me how to be happy. At least now I’ll never sit around wishing that I’d gone to college and thinking how much better, richer, or smarter I’d be for it. THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE

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