Sometime ago I did a blog post on "10 Reasons Not to go to College." Robert emailed me and requested I do one on the alternatives to going to college. Well, here it is. Actually this post will also be applicable to someone who wants to pursue a line of work for which a college diploma is required as well. A college diploma is only one among a number of credentials which may or may not be required for any particuler job. Other credentials, for example, are licenses such as contractors' licenses, licenses to practice law, medicine, pilot a plane, drive a truck, graduate degrees etc etc. The cost of each credential and how many are needed and the time and effort required to get them should be a factor in whether or not they're worth pursuing.
1. Spend the equivalent of a one semester high school course in doing research on various occupations, jobs, careers, ways of making money, businesses, arts, crafts, trades, lines of work etc in order to come up with a semi-exhaustive list of ways of making a living. Actually, this should be a required course at the high school level. This is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make in your life so why not give it serious study, research, time and consideration? How much time do you spend taking courses in high school math? Most of you will never use anything beyond elementary school math in your whole adult life unless you are going to be a top level scientist, engineer or mathematician. Balancing a checkbook and other financial transactions will probably constitute 100% of your adult math activities and these require nothing more then elementary mathematics, mainly addition and subtraction. In order to impose order on your list, you can also categorize different kinds of jobs by industry such as the construction industry, the real estate industry etc.
2. Once you've come up with you semi-exhaustive list of ways of making money, develop a list of your own interests, passions, hobbies and other satisfying activities regardlesss of their revenue producing potential. If you can combine these with something that's revenue producing that's great, but often they must be pursued on two separate tracks. In other words, if you can get paid for what you love doing, this is the ultimate scenario, but often you must do something revenue producing on one track and non-revenue producing on another, but it's important to take both into account when you're trying to figure out a satisfying and enriching lifestyle. How important is money and how important is it having the free time to pursue whatever you love to do? For some people, waiting on tables while having lots of time to surf or ski might be a more satisfying lifestyle then spending 40-60 hours a week in an office.
3. Once you've come up with your semi-exhaustive list, rate each job, occupation, line of work, way of making money etc in several ways. #1 How enjoyable would it be for you? What is your interest level or passion level for this line of work. Compare each line of work with your list of interests and activities you would pursue even if you weren't being paid to do them. #2 How lucrative is the line of work per hour? #3 Can you be either self-employed or other-employed in this line of work? #4 What are the credentialing requirements and how much time and money is necessary to get them? #5 Will you be working primarily by yourself (good for introverts) or primarily interacting with others (good for extroverts)? #6 Will you have control over your working conditions or will these be controlled by others? For instance, will you be able to set your own hours? Will you be able to work as much or as little as you want? Will you be able to work out of your home or perhaps the neighborhood Starbucks or will you be confined to an office? #7 How sedentary or non-sedentary is the job? Those with a lot of physical energy may not want to sit at a desk all day. #8 How much natural talent do you have for the job? Don't try to be a mathematician if you're not good in math. #9 What are what I call the sideline serendipities of the job? What I mean by that is what can you do with the skill set required for your primary job as either a revenue producing or non-revenue producing but inherently more saatisfying sideline? For instance, if your primary job is as a journalist, you can write books and get them published on the side. Ben Franklin was a publisher so he could not only publish the works of others for which he was paid up front but publish his own works such as Poor Richard's Almanac which was a more speculative venture for which he might make money if enough people bought it (enough did). A handyman can work for others and build spec houses on the side. #10 How readily can you make money at this job? Is it readily marketable? Can you step right in and make money at it or is there a long period of relatively meager returns before you start to make good money? How much competition is there? How much demand is there for this type of work? #11 How easy is it to combine your revenue producing labor with your other interests in life and here I include your family and relationships as well as your hobbies and interests? Is your work life enhancing or stress producing, emotionally and psychologically satisfying or nerve wracking?
4. Once you've shortened your list to areas of activity that you think you're most interested in, contact other individuals already working in those fields. Ask if you could spend a day with them as they go about their work. At least try to interview them and ask questions. Try to get a feel for the job. Don't let them snow you or lay a PR trip on you. You want to find out what the job is really like, not have them try to impress you with how wonderful it is while at the same time they are hating it.
5. Get involved in some line of work you're interested in at as early an age as possible. Start racking up real life experience. If it turns out that the work experience isn't what you thought it would be, you have plenty of time to change. In the meantime you're making money.
6. If you start your own business, be willing to live frugally while you grow the business. You might have to plow most of your income back into the businesss. I had a friend who loved Macintosh computers and started his own MacLab. He had a storefront so rather than pay two rents, he lived in his office. He had rows of the latest computers which he used for training, and at night he rolled out his sleeping bag and slept in the aisles between the computers. He was one of the best engineers I've ever known, and, by the way, did not have a college degree. Instead he had a passion for his line of work and was good at it. If you have a work vehicle such as a van which you use for a mobile service of some sort, consider partially converting your work vehicle into a dual purpose camper and sleeping in it until you get your business established.
7. Evaluate your list of jobs with respect to capital investment required. Don't forget that college requires a considerable capital investment if you take out student loans. Many people come out of college $100,000. or more in debt. You could start a great business (which you would then own) for that.
8. Get whatever credentials you need by the cheapest possible route. When you get to be a lawyer, for example, nobody is going to be interested in where you went to college only in whether you can win their case. Your reputation will count far more than where your degree came from. Start out with a two year community college (always cheaper) and then transfer to the cheapest 4 year school to get your degree. Beware of "degree mills" however. Get your credentials from a reputable institution and if the leaarning experience is not that great there, it's up to you to learn your stuff on your own in spite of the quality of the school. That's the only way you'll learn anything anyway. Forget about having the teacher cram stuff in your head without any effort on your part.
9. The debate about whether going to college is to prepare you for a more lucrative career or to enhance your general intelligence is over as far as I'm concerned. You can learn all the art, music and history you're interested in by reading books throughout your adult life. You don't need to go to college to study these subjects. If you do go to college, go simply in order to get a credential necessary for pursuing a line of work you want to pursue. And if you're not interested in history, why should you study it ever? You'll only do so to pass a test and it'll stick to you about as much as water on a duck's back. Many people go through life with very limited knowledge in areas they're not interested in and are none the worse off for it. Evaluate each credential (college or otherwise) as you would an investment. Does the rate of return justify the time and expense?
10. Finally, do you have control over your line of work or does it control you. Can you live where you want and pursue it? Will you be able to decide how long you want to pursue it or will someone else make that decision?. For example, if you work for a corporation and they outsource your job, someone else is making the decision that you should retrain for another occupation when you might have been perfectly satisfied with the one you had. Does someone else or you decide when to retire? You might want to retire when you're 50 or, if you love your work, you might never want to retire. Do you have control over it or does someone else?
11. Finally, finally, don't be intimidated by facing life without a college degree. Parents, teachers, politicians and the education establishment have endevored to create the Weltanschauung that you're a total failure and will never amount to anything in life unless you go to college. Plain and simple, it's bulllshit. Some of the richest and most accomplished people, including Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, don't have college degrees.