When I first wrote this in a column in the Financial Times in 2005 I got a lot of hate mail. People thought I was trying to ruin the younger generation.
Zero people agreed with me.
There was no discussion. People simply thought I was stupid (maybe I am).
Now I think it’s a “discussion”. Student loan debt is higher than $1.5 trillion. That means the head start that college was supposed to give is now a detriment.
But what if it’s free or cheap, many people ask me.
Doesn’t matter. Spend the four years really learning skills that are useful. If you want to learn the great liberal arts alongside those skills there are MANY online courses you can take for cheap or free.
The landscape has changed since a generation ago. The landscape has changed even since five years ago.
But still....most parents want to send their kids to college. Have them waste the four years, and even the money. Get into debt. “It will pay off,” they think, even though the data is that incomes for people ages 18-35 have been going straight down for 25 years.
And kids want to go. Their friends are going. So they will go. It’s hard to get in the middle between an 18 year old and their 50 best friends (believe me, I’m trying).
But...ten years from now it won’t be just a discussion, it will finally be a valid choice. I am sure of this. The direction of everything points to this. Higher debt, declining salaries, the decreasing importance of certification, the increased importance of skills, the alternatives in online education, and finally, less corporations requiring the degree. They all point to one direction: less college, more skills, more real learning.
Today I talk about this with my close friends and one of the best online internet marketers on the planet. Ryan Deiss can land in a desert with no computer and no Internet and still somehow build a hundred million dollar online business.
He’s one of the smartest and nicest guys I know. We both have kids. We’re both worried about education and we’ve done our “homework”.
The old promise is no longer true. But there’s a new promise….
1. MYTH: You’ll figure out what to do with your life
Do you know what you want to do with the rest of your life? Could you?
I don’t. Not at 49. Not at 19.
The subject follows me. I think of it everyday. I feel like there’s some sort of force inside me that’s always telling me I can do more. It believes in me. And has zero confidence in me…all at the same time.
There’s only one way to figure out what to do with your life.
Just look at today. Or do less than that. Just look at this moment.
What sets your heart on fire. What section of the bookstore would you be willing to read every book. What did you LOVE at age 14 and how has that love aged? College won’t teach you what you love. Only experience and trying will teach you.
“If you can afford to send your kids to college, and they want to go so they don’t have to be encumbered by all this debt, and they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, an astronaut, one of these things where you do need a degree, then great,” Ryan said. “But to go to college because you’re still trying to figure out who you want to be...that’s a terrible place to figure that out and insanely expensive.”
I offered my daughter “The Altucher Fellowship:” There are just two rules. 1. skip college (or a do a gap year). I’ll pay her to do whatever she wants for just a year. 2. She has to publish a book of essays (because I think she’s a good writer with potential).
She said “no.”
I told Ryan. He said I’m screwed.
“The reality is you were screwed from the beginning because it’s your daughter, so she’s going to be smart. All kids are going to rebel at 18. They can’t help but take the opposing position to their parents...Just accept the fact that you’re screwed.”
2. MYTH: It’s an investment in your future
Ryan said, “I think, as a parent, you’ve got to help your children not just make good education decisions…but also help them make good financial decisions.”
“It’s not a great financial decision for an 18-year-old, who really doesn’t know what they want to do when they grow up, to enter into six-figures worth of debt on something that may or may not ROI.”
There are other options. Every job requires skills training. Even if you have a college degree, you still need training.
I went to college for computer science. Then my masters. And when I got a job, they didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t up to date. I had to go to remedial school.
And it’s the same for today.
Look at Facebook. If you take social media marketing 101 today, by the time you graduate, everything you learned is outdated. They just changed the algorithm a few weeks ago. And they’ll probably change it again.
That’s a viable investment.
3. MYTH: College Degree = Success
“A college degree is not a prerequisite to success or happiness in life,” Ryan said.
And he’s right. Many of the most successful people I know didn’t go to college.
It’s hard to stop believing something that was told you to all your life. That’s why people got upset when Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore.
Beliefs are ideas. And ideas are the currency of the future. So if you’re ideas are based around an old way of thinking, your ideas will be that too…old.
“The promise that was made to millennials—the same one that was made to me, and probably the same one that was made to you—“Go to college. You’ll get a good job,” simply isn’t true anymore.”
If you want to be successful you need to spend at least 1% of your day doing what you love. And then combine that with something else you love. And soon you’ll be the best and most successful person at that intersection.
I thought this was going to be a “three myth” post.
But there’s a fourth.
MYTH #4: College teaches the liberal arts.
Nobody is going to read a book they don’t want to read.
I started reading after I was thrown out of graduate school. And I haven’t stopped. I started writing then as well. And I haven’t stopped.
Everything I do now. Everything I’ve ever succeeded at, every network I’ve built, every friend I have, I’ve gained through the things I learned after my formal education stopped.
These are all myths. But they are the truths that are pointing us to the future.
James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated. Join the 136,000 readers getting a dose of my best and controversial content. Join here.