So you’re questioning whether or not you should go to college, huh? Good for you. Don’t stop questioning the status quo. That’s a basic rule of thumb at Successful Dropout.
Unsurprisingly, this is the question I get the most from our audience. For most of us, we’ve had parents, teachers and other authorities telling us our whole lives that you need to do well in elementary school, middle school, and high school so that you can get into a good college so that you can get a good job.
Now you may be finding yourself at a crossroads, and you have a decision to make. Below I’ve outlined everything I can think of to help you make the decision.
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First, know yourself
Before you can know what the best decision is here, you need to know yourself. Nobody will ever be able to know you better than you do yourself. Understanding yourself is one of the most important things you can continue to learn as you progress through life.
The best way to do this is to be introspective, to examine yourself, and the most practical way to do this is journaling. Not necessarily dear diary journaling, but journaling on the things you decide are important to you like your purpose, habits you want to develop, things you want to learn, relationships that are important to you etc.
Whenever I have important decisions I’m trying to make, I get out in nature with no distractions and I think and journal. In fact, I did this when I was making the decision on whether or not to go to college too.
For a systematic framework for journaling, see my personal journal here.
The Pros and cons of going to college
Whenever you’re trying to make a decision, one helpful system is to list out the pros and cons, or the advantages and disadvantages. I’ve done it for you below. Make sure and let me know if you think something else should be added, or feel free to make your own list and add it yourself.
PROS (kind of)
It’s an opportunity to start building your professional network
It’s not uncommon for you to end up working with your classmates or other people you meet while at college. But keep in mind, college is not the only place you can network. In fact, there are arguably better systems for networking out there.
You have access to resources
There will be many different classes, materials, clubs, and professors that can help you explore and develop your curiosities. Once again though, you can easily find most of these resources outside of college, and for free.
A college degree will help advance your career and earning potential in the STEM fields.
This one is an actual advantage. If you want a career in STEM, or if you want to be an academic professional, then having a 4-year degree is still valuable. For almost all other career tracks, a degree isn’t absolutely necessary.
You could go into debt
Unless you have a full-ride scholarship or another way to pay for college, you’ll be racking up student loan debt. Don’t take that lightly just because it’s a common thing to do. You DO NOT want to accrue student loan debt unless it’s absolutely necessary (i.e. to have a career in STEM)
You will lose 4 years that you could be spending building your career
If you already have a good idea of what you want to do for a career and it doesn’t require a degree, you can get a 4-year head start by opting out of college. 4 years is a long time – I started 3 businesses in 4 years. By the time your peers graduate college, you could have a successful business or a leadership position at your job.
You’ll likely stay part of the status quo
I’m not saying it’s impossible to stand out in college, but it’s very difficult. If you stay a part of the system, it’s more likely that you will be the average of your peers because there will be so much pressure to adhere to the norm. Remember, you are the average of the 5 people you hang around the most.
If you’ve read to this point, you’ll notice that really the only pure advantage of going to college is so that you can have a career in STEM, since degrees are mostly still required. Every other advantage of going to college can be met outside of college as well.
You should ONLY go to college if:
- You know what you want to do
- The worst thing you can do is attend college and rack up student loans while not knowing what you actually want to do with your life. Some might tell you that college is the place to explore your options, but that’s BS. There are plenty of resources to explore your curiosities outside of college, and most of them are free.
- If you can afford it
- You should only attend college if you have the means to pay for it and not go into debt. Debt should be avoided at all costs (pun unintended).
You DON’T have to go to college if:
- You’re self-driven
- If you are a self-motivated person, and you don’t constantly need authority figures pushing you to level-up, then you will likely do well without a college degree.
- You’re an auto-didact
- If you are a voracious learner and you constantly identify new things you need to understand and execute on a learning plan, then you don’t need college. Pretty much anything you ever need to know is at your fingertips. Google awaits.
- You know how to set goals & create a plan of action to reach those goals
- You know what you want, you know how to create an end goal and then break that down into smaller steps so you know what must be done today in order to reach a goal a year or more from now.
NOTE: if you don’t want to go to college, but none of the above describes you, then I would advise you to go to college. Dropping out/opting out and forging your own path is not easy. It requires self motivation, continual learning, and the ability to set and accomplish goals. If you aren’t a self-motivated person, you probably need a structure like college, and that’s ok. But I wouldn’t advise that you drop out.
What to do if you are not going to college:
If you decide to drop out or opt-out, here’s a list of things you can do instead.
- There are plenty of internship opportunities out there, and it can be a really good way to get exposure to some different career paths. The downside is you likely won’t get paid.
- Similar to interning, volunteering at a place of interest can be a great way to get some quick exposure to something you might want to pursue more seriously.
- More and more apprenticeship programs are popping up every year. Apprenticeships are a level up from internships, as they are usually paid and lead to a full-time position.
- I cannot recommend traveling enough. Go live in a new country, learn a new language, and expose yourself to a new culture. It will give you a completely new perspective in life, and new perspectives lead to new discoveries.
- Get a job
- If you need to earn money sooner rather than later, then getting a job might be the best move. Ideally, it’s work that is challenging and interesting and that gives you valuable skills for later on in your career.
- Start a business or side hustle
- You can go straight to being your own boss and build your own business. There are dozens of businesses you can start and ways to make money on your own, although it may take some time to be able to pay yourself.
At the end of the day college is a path someone else has set up for you. If you can set up that path yourself, then you don’t need college.