I would never dream of discouraging anyone from attending a university to further their education in preparation for the real world, but I will advise anyone considering going to school before they know what they are going for and without the funds to pay for it to take a hard left turn and just think about it for a minute.
I was encouraged to attend college immediately after high school without knowing what I wanted to do for work and without the money to pay for it. I took out massive student loans, enrolled in basic classes and wandered around aimlessly for years, changing my major multiple times and feeling more pressure and stress than I ever have in my life. I was not on any sort of path to an end goal, and yet everyone kept telling me to ‘just go and figure it out while you’re there.’ This has been the worst advice I have ever received, and because I went along with it before I fully understood what I was getting myself into I unfortunately have buried myself in debt that I will be paying off for decades.
I can’t blame anyone other than myself for this, even if I was mislead, because most of the people who pushed college on me did it with the best intentions. They were just brought up in a different generation. They became adults under different circumstances, when college degrees actually helped you land a solid job and were much cheaper to obtain. I understand that in certain fields they are still necessary. One of my best friends is currently working toward becoming a dentist, and six years in. I think the obvious problem here though is that everyone goes to college these days, with or without a financial plan or a plan in general, and we have surrendered to this bizarre idea that everyone can be successful on the same level. Everyone wants to be at the top, but everyone can’t be at the top. This is where on the job training and vocational programs would come in handy, but I won’t harp on those dying art forms.
My takeaway from school was that it did not prepare me for the real world. I wasn’t taught how to do an actual job, nor did I walk away with any useful knowledge that would be applicable to where I am now. I did eventually graduate with an associate of arts in music (vocal performance) and now teach private singing lessons outside of my day job, which is is a ton of fun and very rewarding, but doesn’t make enough money to live on.
So how did I find my career? Accidentally, and not because I had degrees listed on my resume or experience in any fields other than retail and restaurant. I was working in a restaurant one evening when an old acquaintance from my hometown walked in that I hadn’t seen in forever, who had recently started working for a local insurance agency, and they were desperately seeking a receptionist. I sent in my resume, interviewed and was promptly offered the job. After several months working there I had another professional connection refer me to a bigger opportunity in the same field with a different company. I accepted a position there and the company immediately invested in me, paying my way through the training and licensing that was required in order to start a career in that industry.
In a perfect world, everyone could accidentally and through personal connections have their entire career path laid out in front of them over a period of six months, but that rarely happens. The best thing you can do is be realistic, be cautious, and understand exactly what you want before you throw any time or money at it. If you are anything like me in that you hate school with a burning passion and don’t function well in that environment, don’t go. There are other ways to discover good paying jobs that could potentially allow you to do something you enjoy or at least make you feel accomplished and like you’re contributing to society. Sometimes it really can be your work experience, work ethic, and the connections you make that come through for you, even more so than a college degree.