Why College Isn’t a Waste of Time Despite What a Famous Blogger Told You

“My brother’s friend became a social media millionaire. College is a waste of time. Start your own business if you want to get rich.” — every useless success story.

Most people these days have a story like this. We all have an acquaintance who didn’t bother with college or dropped out to start a wildly successful business. The business now generates millions of dollars. This person is a major success and now nobody needs to ever go to college again.

I’m tired of these articles that bash the idea of an education. College isn’t a waste of time. Not everyone will start a billion dollar app. Gary Vee and other online entrepreneurs are telling you to avoid college. They’re wrong and I’ll tell you why…

is college worth it

I started this blog as a college student who wanted to get into saving money. I dabbled with working in the field before I ended up doing my own thing. With that being said, I don’t regret attending college. I’m tired of famous bloggers that constantly tell everyone how they shouldn’t go to school. I love the writing of James Altucher and the videos of Gary Vee, but some people need college.

Here’s the reality of this whole debate between college and entrepreneurship:

Not everyone wants to start a business and live off an unpredictable income. Some people know what they want to study. They know where they want to work and they want to get a high paying job so that they won’t have to stress about paying the bills. Working for yourself is very challenging.

If you get a degree in a lucrative field, you can have a well-paying job for the rest of your life.

Ask yourself these questions when someone rants and raves about what a waste of time college is:

  • How many people do you actually know that got rich off starting an app or doing something extraordinary?
  • Do you have the risk tolerance to live off an unpredictable income?
  • Are you really that ambitious? Are you willing to give up your weekends to grow that business?
  • Do you see yourself putting in that same work that the famous blogger bashing college did?

I get it.

You want to one day start a business that makes millions of dollars for you while you sleep in.

Who doesn’t want to be an insanely popular entrepreneur on the cover of Forbes?

I have hundreds of pro wrestlers on my Facebook. Only two ever made real money from it. There are a few that make a decent salary. You won’t always be able to live the life chasing your passions.

[Side note: see what happened when Matt discovered the dark side of a successful business.]

Why’s college not a waste of time?

Most of us aren’t extreme outliers.

Not everyone wants to sell all of their possessions to live in Thailand.

Not everyone wants to chase down clients for payment.

Not everyone has it in them to start a billion dollar business in the basement. Most people in the basement just play video games and wake up at noon.

The social media world is filled with unique stories that inspire us:

  • The couple who sold all of their stuff to live in a van.
  • The guy who started an app that sold for billions.
  • The lady who runs a successful vegan crossfit blog.

These are awesome stories. We all live vicariously through these people. What are the odds of you doing this?

Most of us are better off working a “real job” instead of chasing this entrepreneurial dream.

If you know what you want to study, you’ll make more money.

According to The Economist:

“College graduates aged 25 to 32 who are working full-time earn about $17,500 more annually than their peers who have only a high school diploma.”

Okay, I know that these generic stats don’t always tell the full story.

Here’s the thing…

If you want to be an accountant or a doctor or a teacher you kind of have to study this stuff. Would you trust an accountant that didn’t attend college? You want your doctor to be highly educated. Don’t try to operate on my knee if you didn’t spend at least 8 years in school.

The truth is that the more you learn, the more you earn.

You can even pick up skills in college and then turn around to use them as an entrepreneur. This is what I did. I was inspired by how behind some of my business courses were when it came to personal finance. I ended up started a personal finance blog.

You have to stay out of trouble.

What are you going to do with all of your free time? How will you stay busy if you don’t go to college?

In the perfect world, you’ll start a profitable business while you learn three languages and play the guitar while you do charity work at least 20 hours per week. In reality, you’re going to wake up at noon and watch the world pass you by.

I’m not shy to admit that I was on the wrong path until I started studying business in college. I was hanging out with losers who just wanted to sit around all day.

I then ended up reading business-related books in my spare time as I got more involved with Studenomics and blogging.

Yes, there’s lots of binge drinking in college. I get that. However, you can get yourself into trouble with all of that free time at such a young age. I’ve seen this happen first hand.

You’re going to be around like-minded folks.

If you play sports or have a specific interest, college will help you be around similar folks.

If you’re really into engineering or sports nutrition, you’ll also get to be around like-minded people.

Where do you think Mark Zuckerberg got the idea for Facebook?

What if you’re not sure of what you want to study?

Don’t get me wrong. There are many flaws with the educational system. It’s unfair to claim that college is a total waste of time for everyone. It’s also equally unfair to say that everyone should attend college. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You don’t have to rush into a degree program either.

Don’t attend until you’re ready.

I wish I took a leap year or some time off. I went straight from high school to community college to university. I never took much time to myself. Then suddenly one day I was done.

Nobody’s forcing you to jump into college right away. You can take some time to work on yourself, upgrade your courses, or work. More on this later.

Take some courses/try something else.

You don’t have to jump into a four-year program. You can start off with other options.

What are your choices when it comes to higher learning?

  • Take a few courses to get a feel for what you like.
  • Attend community college. I did this before moving over to university.
  • Study part-time. You can work during the day.

Work like an animal.

Take a job. Get a second job. Keep on working. Nothing will motivate you more than working a job that you hate with little pay. You may also figure out what interests you and what you want to study.

I met a buddy on the first day of college who spent four years working minimum wage jobs. This dude was ready to crush it in college because he was tired of low paying jobs.

I have nothing against honest hard work. My entire family is made up of immigrants that had to work labor-intensive jobs. They had no choice. They couldn’t speak English. We have choices and options.

If you have a chance to better yourself then take it.

How do you know if college is right for you?

Common sense.

  1. If your business is booming and you really don’t have much to gain from being away for four years, then there’s no need for you to go away for school.
  2. If you want to work a trade, then go do that.

If you know what you want to do for a living and how to get there, then go and study it.

I wrote an entire piece on deciding if you should go back to college in your 20s if you’re stuck.

Add the numbers up.

The return has to be there. Try to run the numbers.

It’s okay if you want the college experience. You don’t have to let it ruin the rest of your life.

Do you have to finance everything about college?

Look at what the average salary is in your field. Look at what top earners make. Is this amount worth the debt? Can you work during the term? Can you work in the summer? Can you get a work term?

When is college a waste of time?

When you have no idea what you want to do next.

There are better ways to “find yourself.” There are also cheaper options. Don’t go to college if you have no idea of what your interests are or what direction you want to go in. You’re better off working for a bit.

When you’re just avoiding life.

You know when this is the case. I don’t have to tell you when you’re obviously trying to hide behind school. I won’t lecture you either.

When you have to finance everything in debt with little hope of a future income.

Once again, I don’t want to see you ruin the next 30 year of your life because you racked up $100k worth of debt to pick up a history degree because you wanted to live in a house by campus and have steak for dinner every night.

If you didn’t attend college, you don’t have to bash those that did. I’m sure that I would be more bitter if I graduated with debt.

College isn’t for everyone. I’m not saying that you should force your kids to attend or that you should feel obligated to go. I just had to write an article that doesn’t bash college.

Don’t drop out of college or avoid school because a famous blogger selling an eBook on how to make passive income told you to.

29 thoughts on “Why College Isn’t a Waste of Time Despite What a Famous Blogger Told You”

  1. Great article. If you want to be a entrepreneur, I think taking business at college/university is a good idea. Then you’ll know how to write a business plan and understand the various departments like finance, accounting and HR. Without that your business is more likely to fail.
    I also think you should work in the industry for a while at a company to understand it better. Then after 3-5 years of experience, you can think about starting your own firm.

  2. Yes! I agree the college may not be for everyone or for everyone right out of high school, but my college degree certainly has a great value in my life and has opened doors in a wells-paying career I would otherwise be disqualified for.

  3. Am always interested in the college vs. no college discussion – especially today. There are other reasons to avoid college – besides starting a business. Besides the hefty price tag, I’m not sure college is serving students like it once was. Students seem under-prepared for the work they are to do when exiting school and I’d venture to say many would be better served if they opted out altogether and decided to apprentice under someone. Like you say, its important to know the reasons why you want to get into school before signing on for a century or more of debt.

  4. Good post Martin. I do wonder about the importance of college 18 years from now when my son is eligible to go. Will there really be necessary then? I’m pretty sure everything by then can be learned for free on the Internet, and if I’m still alive, I will teach him everything there is to know about Real estate, business school, and starting a small business.

    Man, I have four more years to work on what you love or take a year break would’ve been nice. But then again, some of vacations during college, and studying abroad was a blast.

    When are you going to buy my e-book on how to engineer your layoff? I need to buy my baby some new shoes! 🙂

    1. Sam:

      I think the nature of college education –and actually, education in general–is changing in response to technology and contemporary society.

      I notice this as a lifelong student. I recall not too long ago when smart phones were banned from the classroom. I’m talking senior undergraduate and graduate level courses.

      Today I’m about to complete another master degree completely via distance education while smartphones and wifi-capable devices are strongly recommended in the classrooms of my three oldest children (Sr High, Jr High, Grade 5).

      Additionally, I have noticed that my children in elementary school no longer sit at desks. Rather they sit at larger circular or octagonal tables that more easily facilitate group work, while also rotating through the computer labs at one end of the classroom.

      Additionally the teacher is much more of a learning coach facilitator than a lecturer.

      So I don’t think the Internet will render teachers and classroom obsolete, but both teaching as a profession and the classroom are changing in response to the Internet and modern technology.

  5. Hey Martin! As someone who doesn’t feel that his college degree really prepared him for the realities of the real world (Information Technology), I absolutely agree with you on this one. I think it’s irresponsible to put out blanket statements that college isn’t worth it. It requires an intentional lack of intellectual honesty to assume that what’s best for one person is automatically best for everyone else. It’s not.

    In my case, I argue from time to time that college shouldn’t be assumed to be some “automatic success” mechanism for our nation’s youngsters. Meaning, just because you GO to college doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lead a happy life afterwards with wonderful and high paying jobs. The market has a profound impact on that and so does, to a varying “degree”, your chosen degree. Meaning, a degree in Midevil Literature might not prepare ya for the realities of what companies are looking for.

    But like you said, college does provide more tangible benefits than just knowledge. I think networking with other like-minded folks to be the best of these benefits. In a world of “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know”, networking in college can definitely come back around to ya in spades.

    Nice article, Martin. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment Steve. Going to college isn’t enough. However, if you study the right program, you can make decent money and live a good life after college.

  6. If the famous blogger who says you shouldn’t go to college had gone to college, he or she would likely be familiar with survivorship bias – a form of reasoning to the general from a specific example that is not representative of the general – and know better than to use the cherry picked examples that represent only the survivors and not the many many more failures.

    Another great reason to go to college – to learn for the sake of learning. Yet another – learning to think critically. These are, by no means, assured by attending college. They are, however, far more likely to be achieved through formal education than not.

    FWIW – BA in Philosophy, Poli Sci, and Honors Studies, BS in Physics, working on MS in IT. I thought I had a firm grasp on how to think before college. The interactions with students and professors was critical for me to learn how wrong I was. I’m better for it, and it was worth it at any price without regard for earnings potential.

  7. A more practical debate would be the college degree vs. trade school (apprenticeship). Granted, pursuing a college degree in a field which lends itself to a better financial outlook post-college, like in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is sound advice and should be seriously considered. However, VET (vocational education and training, the skilled laborer) needs to be in that same discussion. It creates the opportunity for both entrepreneurship and/or traditional work career without having ones future earnings tied to student debt (less likely to have than traditional college student). One enters the workforce 4 years earlier (minimal), learns a valuable skill, and if willing to be open to geographic mobility (go where the demand is high for your skill), can be a happy financial camper.

  8. Great post. I wouldn’t be where I am today without going to college. I still believe college is a great way to get ahead. College broaden your horizon. I met so many people and learned so much. It made a huge difference on who I am today. I guess everyone’s experience is difference, but I’m sure most college grads would say college was a good choice.

  9. As a college professor I am a bit biased, but all I have to say is here here. In particular, I love the first part about how we live vicariously through others online (e.g. the person who lives in a van and is worth millions b/c of their frugality). The truth is that many of us will have to work years, if not decades (hopefully not more than 2-3) to get to a point to be financially free, etc. And that is ok. College, for many, can be the starting point.

  10. And one more point to add. The dirty little secret that many won’t tell is that the degree doesn’t guarantee anything. What really helps students is what we now call High Impact Practices. Those are those things you DO while in college. HIPs include internships (a must for any student), studying abroad, leadership activities on campus, campus organizations, etc. Student who do that will necessarily guarantee themselves a job after college, but they are head and shoulders above the run of the mill college student who drank beer for 4-6 years and graduated with a 2.15 even if that person was in the STEM fields. The English or Philosophy grad will do better in the long-run.

    1. I love this post. Internships and organizations will help you go a long way in the future. Some of my friends did work terms. They got paid and they picked up the experience needed for life after college.

  11. The power in college is through experiences gained and connections made. I do agree that not everyone has outlier potential. I think college was powerful for me but then again I can’t say otherwise because I did go to college and enjoy my life.

    1. Thanks for the visit Jason! It’s unfair to claim that college is a waste of time for everyone. Many entrepreneurs have started in college and then moved into their ventures.

  12. I hear people talking like this all the time.

    I paid $170k for an undergraduate and master’s degree and I don’t regret it one bit. The benefits of college (networking, access to great professors/classes, recruitment pipelines, socialization) are abundant and largely dependent on how much you’re willing to apply yourself.

    Without college, how long do you swing for the fences before doubt and regret creeps in? All of a sudden you’re 35 years old going to night classes after 9 failed businesses.

    I definitely recommend going to college, but try to keep the cost reasonable, especially if you’re not going into a high-paying industry.

    1. John. This is the best line of the week:

      “Without college, how long do you swing for the fences before doubt and regret creeps in? All of a sudden you’re 35 years old going to night classes after 9 failed businesses.”

      I have so many friends like this on social media. 32 and still living at home chasing some unrealistic goal. I’m all for dreamers, but at some point you have to accept the reality of your situation.

  13. College is useful if you have a plan for what you’ll do when you get out. People are looking to Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs as role models. They believe that dropping out or skipping college is the cause of their success. They’re not looking at the big picture.

  14. Great article…there are too many people bashing on getting a higher education. There are many issues w/our educational system (no question), and its big business that doesn’t always benefit the student, and many students probably shouldn’t go to college for a variety reasons…however, most professions require an advanced education…doctor, lawyer, RN, chemist, physicist, etc., etc. So, with all the problems with our current educational system, I can’t think of too many fields where a college education wouldn’t at least benefit or at most be required. The BIGGER issue is with our high-schools where kids are graduating with often little academic strength and are not ready to dive into adulthood. I think college is playing a surrogate role in this regard. I do think students should consider (as you stated) trade school or something similar in an effort to build skills.

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