Challenging Conventional Wisdom on Education

Why go to college? Most young folks rarely challenge conventional wisdom regarding education.

Whenever I read a piece from Ramit Sethi I leave feeling sort of stupid. I love it when someone challenges conventional wisdom. It just sucks because the reality is that the truth can piss you off sometimes. Fortunately I’m very open-minded and love viewing common topics from a different angle.

Ramit highlighted four pieces of conventional wisdom on education that are wrong in a post on saving money on education. I want to just highlight two of these points quickly.

“Elite” colleges are simply for rich kids whose daddies got them in, and they coast until they get their 6-figure job
Do anything possible to graduate without debt! Better to go to that state school than the expensive school!

This got me thinking because these are thoughts that I believed at some point in time. That was while I was still confined to the college environment and nothing else. I’m going to move away from these myths as Sethi has done an amazing job himself with crushing them. I want to get into what the guest author had to say about alternative methods for success in the  business world that doesn’t come from a higher education.

The guest author in the same piece goes on to share his advice on gaining real world skills and replacing knowledge acquired from college. The advice is similar to what I’ve preached here before:

Read great books.

Take business courses from practitioners.

Start your own business.

What’s the point of sharing this? I’m sharing this with you guys for a reason. Many of you reading this are debating between higher education and what to do after college. I want you to make the best decision possible by using all available resources. The nuggets mentioned above can help you with making your decision as to what to do next in life a little easier for a few reasons:

Shift your mindset.

College is not some job making factory. Just because you earned a degree in one field it doesn’t mean that you have to spend the rest of your life working in that field. College also doesn’t guarantee riches or even a job for that matter. When I was in high school and someone told me what program they were applying to I would ask, “what job will that be?” I just didn’t know better.

It’s also important that you shift your mindset when it comes to attending graduate school. If you hate your current job or if you feel bored with your current situation, more education is not always the best option. You can try one of the three ideas from above: read different books, take practical courses, or start some sort of a business on your own.

There’s more to college than just  the classroom.

You shouldn’t be afraid of putting the books down and leaving your dorm in college. You do need to do well in your courses and it helps to understand the material thoroughly. Once you take control of the academic side, it’s wise to get out there and meet some people. If you don’t take the time to use college for the networking opportunities that come your way, then you might struggle once you’re out of the college environment.

Focus on self-education.

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” — Jim Rohn

Just because you have this piece of paper it doesn’t mean that your work is done. You can learn so much on your own that no textbook can every teach you. Through reading personal finance books and trial-and-error I learned more about money management than any of my finance courses ever thought me.

I always love when someone challenges conventional wisdom, especially when it comes to education. What conventional wisdom would you like to challenge about college?

4 thoughts on “Challenging Conventional Wisdom on Education”

  1. Could not agree more! This “blinders” mentality extends down into secondary schools as well. I actually teach for a living and the common message that many (most?) teachers send their students is, “Memorize these few disconnected facts not because it will make you a smarter person, but because they are the key to doing well on the test, the test is the key for getting into university, and university is the key to making money.” It’s ridiculous. I am given a lot of leeway to run my business course how I want and lets just say it looks a lot different than other business courses out there.

    I want kids to come out of my classes and school in general, with the tools necessary to succeed in a quickly changing world. Stuff like critical thinking, and actually applying knowledge/problem solving skills to a situation. This is what ultimately makes successful adults, not memorization techniques (whether it’s in post-secondary, or anywhere else)

  2. Amen and amen! I’m about to graduate (in May) and these are precisely the lessons I’ve learned. I find that the smartest, brightest, most intelligent people in (and out) of college are those who teach themselves to a great extent (as Mark Twain famous said, “I never let school interfere with my education”). That Jim Rohn quote is a jewel.

    Also, you’re absolutely right that college is not a job-factory. This is especially true nowadays. I’m a history major. People make fun of me because apparently I’m “going to have trouble putting bread on the table with that major.” But it’s not just history or art or philosophy majors: those who major in engineering, nursing, or whatever other practical major are going to be hard-pressed to find a job during the Great Recession (with over 10% unemployment). This is why starting a small-business is absolutely critical. This is the entrepreneur’s moment, especially in the realm of tech.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. @ Josh: What people continually fail to realise is that the vast majority of learning in your life will be done outside of school. So teaching people how to learn is much more important than specific facts.

    @MD: I am given leeway because I teach in rural school division where there is still some common sense in the world. I also have a very hands off principal who figures that as long as the kids are learning something and have some life-skill knowledge thrown in, that it’s probably ok. For example I often show Dragon’s Den in class (gr.10 business) students have to figure out what they think of the valuations etc. For an end of year project I am getting a group of teachers (dragons) together and the students will have to create a theoretical business plan explaining how they intend to make money, what their business model is etc.

  4. Although I disagree with some things Sethi says (he hates real estate for example) many things are good and he is very good at motivation. But instead of just saying “Yeah, I agree” I’ll offer a bit of a counterpoint.

    Starting a business, book learning, and hanging out with Ramit’s 1K program will help you learn about small businesses. Big business and small business are two totally different things. Ramit teaches small business, blogging for bucks is small business, drawing logos in the evenings is a small business, even Tim Ferriss and Ramit are small businesses themselves. Do you know how much Ramit makes? I’m guessing that he makes around $1M per year revenues although some years are probably more than that, like the year he launches a book. A little independent haircut or nail place with 6 or 7 stylists can bring in a million a year. A little supermarket brings in many times more than that. Those are small. A factory brings in tens of millions to hundreds of millions. Now we’re getting into medium businesses and these need dedicated sales, managers, many employees. Big businesses are packages of multiple factories, marketing, optimized distribution, sophisticated financial management etc. At my last company, a major railway, the tax guys could earn the company millions of dollars just by changing the way they filled the tax forms.

    If you want to be in small business then it is possible to learn a lot by yourself or from Ramit. If you want to be in big business then you need more formal education and a different kind of experience. It is easier to be a leader in small business, but the business can usually not get very large until you team up.

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