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June 15, 2010


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I think it is really important to consider the decision of whether or not to go to college wisely, it's even more important to choose your subject wisely. If I was going to university again i'd choose a more vocational course.

Some professions of careers require a degree just to be even considered for a job. Engineers,Teachers, Architects, Nurses and Doctors require college.

I would avoid degrees where the degree is not specific. Unless the person is self modtivated to adapt and sell themselves and there "Communications" degree to a positions available then it is possible, I know few highly motivated individual who have succeeded and more that have not.

Study after study clearly show that college grads make *on the average* more money and are much less likely to be unemployed at any point, than mere high school grads.

These statistics are about the strongest thing you'll find in any kind of population study ever done. The unhealthy effects of smoking, the effects of diet and obesity on cancer and blood pressure--all are less compelling than the existing evidence that going to college will improve your economic life.

Of course, there are still rare people who go to college but don't improve their finances or employment, or do so only marginally. However, your chance of being one of those people is totally under your control!

One thing that isn't often mentioned about getting value out your college degree: I recommend that any student work at least 20 hrs a week the entire time while they're in college--and make sure it's doing something in your target career area even if you don't get paid anything at all.

The real value of working while attending college is its importance for helping you become more disciplined and focused, it improves your resume and will make you stand out when you are later looking for jobs, and it gets you acquainted with mentors who can help you, and the demands and requirements needed to work in your chosen field.

FMF, the link in the post does not work. Can you fix it? I'd like to read the article.

GE --

It's fixed now.

Speaking of low paying jobs, I read about this website,, in Smart Money where people sell their services for $5. At least these out of work grads are getting creative and finding ways to utilize their degrees.

Nice post, FMF. I do have some questions regarding the content of your link to the older post (link -- my degrees have earned me millions of dollars).

When I read the linked post, you are firm in the belief that your MBA is what propelled you into the upper tier of wage-earners; however, lately, it seems that you have changed your opinion about whether or not the MBA is worth the extra time and money to pursue for recent grads.

Also, as many have mentioned, since the internet has come on the scene (I, too, graduated before everyone had access to the internet), scholarships are much harder to come by since the competition is fierce and information is widespread. My family members who have college-aged children often tell me to forget about my daughter getting any kind of scholarship money, even though she attends a top private HS, has maintained a 4.0 avg. her whole time in school, plays volleyball, and does 80 hrs. of community service/year.

Anyone care to comment on these thoughts/common sentiments?

A collage degree isn't required for all jobs. For many technical training might allow them great job opportunities.

I do believe that even if you don't get a degree, taking some collage classes would still be helpful. If I was in a position of hiring people. I would probably be more willing to hire a person that had taken some college classes over the person that only completed high school. I think it shows that they at least tried to better themselves. And you never know why they didn't get a degree. For some, simply not being able to get the money could have been the reason. But to at least put down on your resume that you had some college I think would be a plus.

I think our society needs more emphasis on vocational training in areas such as plumbing, electricians, HVAC repair, etc. High schools should provide paths for those careers, instead of trying to funnel everybody into college prep. Too many young folks are told they must get a college degree, and then they either get a relatively meaningless degree (leading to the mall store job) or quit in frustration, either way with lots of wasted time and debt.

Holly --

My thoughts on the MBA haven't really changed -- I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But the issue is that students have to "do it right". There are certain steps to take and some to avoid that can make it a goldmine or not worth the effort.

Obviously money is of great importance and without it life can be very miserable but a university education offers a lot more than just the promise of greater earnings in the future. Higher education broadens your mind, exposes you to a lot of smart people, sometimes you even meet a partner that you will spend the rest of your days with in college.

I have two friends that are in the group I go hiking with, they are retired blue collar workers whose education stopped completely at high school. They both have narrow fields of interest and although they are nice guys their knowledge of the rest of the world and deeper topics is very limited, and sadly they don't seem to have enquiring minds that want to learn about topics about which they know next to nothing.
On the other hand there is another younger guy that is very different. He is still out of work and has run out of unemployment benefits after the 99 week maximum. He was laid off from a good job at a software company. His degree is a BS in psychology, which may explain why he was let go. He is a very interesting person to converse with and has a broad interest in all kinds of topics no matter how esoteric they may be. He does regret the choice of his major because it doesn't impress others when they read his resume but he is determined to get a job and sends out lots of applications. Fortunately for him he is living with his girlfriend who has a really good job and can also include him in her healthcare plan as a dependant.
Bottom line, a college education is never wasted but ideally it should also be in a field that provides lots of good job opportunities, now and in the future, and looks good on a resume.

your daughter should have no trouble getting scholarship dollars, but the easiest scholarship dollars these days are from the school directly, or very local scholarships in your community that will get fewer applications. The big national scholarship programs are basically a crap-shoot. It also depends on where she decides to go-most state schools will be happy to throw a ton of money at her, while more exclusive private schools may be a harder climb in terms of scholarships. With lesser stats than your daughter, I was able to get 40% of my college tuition paid for just a few years ago at a private college.

So old Limey, would you agree that college is not always of financial value, but is always of great personal value?

Cultural travel (vs going to the beach) might also fall into that category? A cost that broadens the mind, but does not always have a financial return.

"They don't seem to have enquiring minds that want to learn about topics about which they know next to nothing." I would think this would be a perfect example of why they wouldn't have been successful college students. Although there are many learning opportunities available by going to college, not going to college doesn't force a person to stop learning.

In my personal experience, even if you don't get a degree to get a specific job, you still need at least a bachelor's degree to get in the door of most businesses to interview. My degree is wasted where I am currently, but I wouldn't have gotten the interview without it.

I have an engineering degree (1990) with an MBA (1993). The MBA has been worthless in my career, but valuable in my personal life. The engineering degree exactly the opposite. I earn in the upper 5% of Americans. 'Nuff background.

I'm convinced college is over-rated in today's environment. Too much risk, not enough reward. IF one can manage the costs and benefits AND get a good job, with benefits, as outlined by FMF, of course college makes sense. But what are the odds today? Shoot, even my benefits and pay are getting killed, and I work for a Fortune 500 "stable" company and have for 15 years. The company is taking benefits away (health care premium up 58% this year alone) and pay is not increasing much. So I look at my twin college freshman daughters and shudder. They will major in education or physical therapy, most likely, and where are they then? Let's assume they get a "good" job. They have few benefits (teaching) or none (PT), low pay either way, some stability but it is decreasing by the year, and little debt (hopefully). That's not much of a recipe for success.

What if they went a vocational route? Say, a plumber (I know, it's another problem that they won't consider something so "low" on the food chain, but I frequently wish I had gone a vocational route). They have better pay than the options they are pursuing now, are making money today and not hoping for it 3-4 years from now, have equal benefits either way, and are on their way. The only thing they lose is the "college experience", and that's real to them, but they are not curious or intellectually outstanding, so the only "college experience" they gain are more FB friends and learn more drinking games. I think they are making the wrong bet.

I guess one question I have about the almighty statistics is this...we always talk about "average salary" of college educated employees and average lifetime earnings. As an engineer, wouldn't these "averages" be heavily skewed by the top earners, such as executives, Wall Streeters, doctors, and the like? I wonder what the "median" is for the college graduates lifetime earnings versus the median for a well-guided non-college graduate. When the time value of money and initial debt are figured in, I bet the equation gets really interesting.

Thanks for your input.

We are hoping our daughter will qualify because we have 3 children and we want to be able to help them to afford college if they so desire. We have already made mention that they will be responsible for 50% of their tuition/loan for higher education. Therefore, I want to watch that they make smart decisions regarding the expense; I will not allow them to graduate w/over $20,000 of college debt.

Of course that $20,000 is based on today's figures; the number might creep up slightly by the time they are finished...still, I refuse to allow them to risk their financial futures!

Once again I agree with Tyler and Old Limey. Let me add two things:
I can also agree with the idea that college isn't for everyone and everyone need not go to college if they don't want to go. But still the fact is that college graduates earn more money over a life time than someone who stops after high school or sooner.

And two. Daron you are right that perhaps your daughters ought to consider other options but won't for status reasons. ( If I read "low" correctly.) However, those trades jobs you and others mention aren't quite as easy to train for, and to get, as it seems to me people think. To be a union plumber or even union trained requires getting into the aprentice program. Not everyone is admitted (Keeping the labor supply under control) I realize not every state or area requires a plumber, electrician, carpenter, bricklayer etc to be union. But then where are your daughters going to learn this trade? Someone from a right to work state who reads this can you offer any perspective? At the very least, someone would have to be willing to 'apprentice' themselves to an established person/company. they then would have to work several 4 to 7 years before they got good enough to be considered a solid professional.

Good luck to you and here's hoping your company stops cutting your benefits.
My point is that I think many college graduates underestimate what it takes to be a professional tradesman(person) as opposed to a handy man.

@Daron: How did you try to use your MBA to enhance your income? I too have both, and my MBA definitely enabled me to move to management and marketing jobs which I was interested in, and which paid more.

First, it's about what you study (engineering, business, art, music). Second, it's about where you get the degree (ivies, top 25, top 50, unknown). Third, it's all about your brain (skills, experience, and communication).

Well, I went to a top 20 Engineering school and yet work with Engineers that went to Cal States. So, enough with the where do you go argument. It's the paper diploma, how much you can sell yourself and lots of luck what matters.

I too wished I could have learned any vocational trade. In this economy to have a side bussiness is golden. I would at least work on weekends on cars, electicity, plumbers, construction or anything else.

Here is the bottom line. Going to college is worth it ONLY if your kid is going to study 4 subjects. Engineering, Medecine, Law, and Business, anything else is just a big WASTE of money. Business would be my field if I could do it again, but at the very least I can barely pay my bills as a civil engineer. I realise that for a Med, Law and MBA you need at least two more years, but again totally worth it. I know a Zoologist who told me that they were always going to have teachers because that is the only job available to 99% of the fields. He used to be a teacher and now he works in our engineering firm as a tech. That is the sad truth. The truth sometimes hurts.

So, go into those 4 fields or get a trade job. It's that simple.

@ John (above);

As far as 'Medicine', are you including nurses, physical therapists, etc., or just M.D.'s?

What about fields like meterology or criminal justice?

It can't be as bad as you are making it out to be. Can it?

No, most definitely not. Btw, I'm willing to bet John meant MD's only.

And yes John, you are free to have your own view.

This and just about every other college related post seems to distill down to "If you half-ass it or are unlucky post-graduation then college is a bad investment."

If you half-ass just about anything it turns into a bad investment.

And if you are unlucky (like graduating in the middle of a major recession), then you're unlucky. Not much you can do about that.

So the first principle of all college advice seems to be: "If you aren't mature enough to take college seriously enough to finish it, then don't go."

Everyone else should probably be going to college. The increased earnings as demonstrated by every study ever done seems to suggest that college is a good investment for most people.

As for where they should be going and what they should be studying, this kind of advice is essentially impossible to dole out without taking the prospective student into account, making most generalized advice useless.


Yes I was talking about MDs, but I would include nurses in the vocational trades. But at least here in the Southern California Area we are saturated with nurses.

What about meterology or criminal justice? Have you pick up a newspaper lately and read the classifieds? You could get lucky and end up with a great job, but I am not talking about the exemptions here. I am talking about the most probable end here.

I am not trying to be mean here. I am just trying to save some poor ignorant parent 100's of thousands. If Parents are willing to spend that type of money then do it correctly. Even more important than where to go, just like another poster indicated is what to major in. The truth is here in black and white. I am already telling my kids to choose only one of those 4 fields and my oldest one is only 7.

Look people. Look at wall street CEOs. They all got MBA's from great schools. As a matter of fact, there was a glut of great mines that have lect engineering for business over the last 10 years. Now there is going to be a huge shortage of engineers in the future. Engineers where at work in wall street. Have you seen those dervative calculations? That's correct people. The Elite have their kids earn MBA's. That is where the money is and where you should aim for. I wish you the best.

It seems like since everyone has a college degree, you need one. Because if the job is between you and one other stranger, and you are both equally matched in all ways, yet he has a degree and you do not, they'll pick the one with the degree. So you practically need one, no matter what field you're going into, since so many people go to college these days.

My cousing major in Public administration. She was very excited when she got a job last year as a teacher. She just got a pink slip and will be unemploy as of July. Was that a geat investment?

I really value the many cultural trips that my wife and I have had. You learn so much from visiting other countries, especially learning about other religions, political systems, customs, and world history. The USA is a relatively young country and its mainland has only been attacked once which was when my former countrymen burned down the White House in 1814 during the war of 1812. Travel to Peru and you can learn firsthand about the cruelty of the Spanish Conquistadores when they conquered the Incas and much of South America. Journey throughout Europe and you will learn about all the wars and the ways in which the boundaries of so many countries have changed back and forth. Elsewhere you can learn about the history of the great colonial powers from early colonization to the final granting of independance. Visit great cities such as London, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Istanbul, Beijing, Kathmandu, Delhi, Casablanca, Cairo, and also Africa's great game parks and learn about history from those viewpoints. These are all experiences that expand on the very deep but very narrow knowledge that you obtain from most specialized degrees and provide you with a view of the Big Picture. Stay at home, leave high school, and become a plumber, electrician, carpenter, or a Comcast technician and you can earn a decent wage, service a need that most of us have, and raise a family, but you will learn little about the life and history of your own species, nature, geography, and the world in which we all live. All of us only get one life and that life should be lived to the fullest extent possible - at leat that's the way I see things.

We're all different, but my perspective is that it's important in this day and age to get a college degree - moreso than ever. People here at home (U.S. for me) aren't just competing for jobs with others here, but with people abroad. These are white collar jobs people are competing for, and there are many smart people globally willing to do work for less money than many of us here in the States. The need for a college education - and even advanced degrees - has never been higher in my opinion.

Besides, there's something to be said about having a mind that's attuned to learning. It can only help you, and help your kids. It may be tough to quantify, but I tend to think that the NPV of a college education will be high for most people, as long as they don't pay for a pricey private degree and subsequently work for minimal income or stop working. In that case, they would have been better off getting a degree from a public, less expensive school. But get that degree, you will learn, and learn how to learn.

I think it depends on the career path that someone chooses. I have to agree with Daron and John. There are a few specific fields where a college degree makes a difference. Does the 'prestigious' top university seal at the bottom of the diploma really make a difference? I am not so sure. I went to mediocre state engineering school and I am at the same pay scale as graduates from top 20 engineering universities.

I wonder why college fees keep going up when other 'technology' items (computers, hard disk drives, bandwith, storage, processing power) unit costs go down... Why isn't there a university model that is set up using internet based learning with a 2 way conferencing to a team of instructors plus video lectures from the great scientists with a local campus that would only cost $2500 per semester and still have the ability to crank out young adults with potential.

I would like to be part of the creators of such an institution, whether for profit or non-profit.

And one would think the gov't would welcome a win/win outcome that lowers the cost of education for all. Only one caveat- NO UNIONS ALLOWED! So maybe there will be political reasons to kill this!


JOhn, I'm sorry for your cousin. I have a friend who needed 6.5 months in order to collect a fair pension. He got laid off. This is a very hard time. BUT (caps intended) it won't last. We will recover. This Great Recession is nothing like the the Great D.

Old Limey, you know I value your comments. Today's were especially on target. I wonder if you recall our first exchange here.

A college education is no guarantee of anything money wise. But it does give a perspective: Those who ignore history are fated to repeat the past. (Yes know that is not exact)

People hard times are always aroung the next corner. the last 20 were the anomaly. I graduated into a recesssion in 1970. Did a tour in the Peace Corps. I floundered for a while. Made some bad choices; then made a good one. I've done okay. what's my point?!! There is no free ride; no guarantee; we struggle. But the eheme of this site is still: watch for opportunities(i.e. manage your career) spend less than you make; invest smartly and give it some time. {I left out, stay out of debt}...

Most likely you won't hit OldLimeys area, nor even FMF's ( did you say millions?)

But you can be comfortable; and what's wrong with that?!

Sorry to be on a soap box toight.

No way we could value education for our kids if we didn't value it and enjoy learning ourselves. College is important, even if it can be overpriced or overvalued. Thanks for the interesting comments.

This is going to sound elitist but it's what I have experienced.
Our learning never stops. We watch many great educational programs on several PBS stations in our region. Four of our favorites are NOVA, NATURE, American Experience, and Globe Trekker. It's just my observation that college educated people are much more likely to have the desire to continue their learning by watching such programs. The same cannot be said for my friends that never went to college.

Every evening I scan the programming of the channels on our "Favorites" list at Comcast to see what's being offered. If there's nothing available or nothing new then I go to our DVR and decide which previously recorded shows we would like to watch. Between Comcast and Netflix we have more great entertainment of all kinds available to us than we could possibly watch. It's a far cry from my parent's days when prior to the 50's there was one radio station, the BBC, and then later on after TV was available there was one TV station, also the BBC.

Old Limey
I only disagree on one point you made. What you say does not sound elitist. What you say is valid as far as I am concerned.
Sounds like we enjoy the same shows and netflix too.

Having a degree of any kind will certainly open more doors for you, especially when it comes to a business or office type of job.

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