The Pros and Cons of Going To College

Pros and cons of college

(Ok. I know. I’ve written about this (but not in the past two years). BUT Someone just asked this on Quora AND things keep changing all the time. So my answer.)

Getting a degree wasted five years of my life. I got an undergraduate degree in Computer Science in three years.

Then I went to graduate school for Computer Science but was thrown out after two years after failing four courses in a row. I wrote three or four novels during that time. Which had nothing to do with my courses.

I wrote a novel about a porn novelist who falls in love with a prostitute. I wrote a novel about a man who invents his own currency. I wrote a lot about my childhood. I wrote a religious history novel. Nothing got published.


I put in my 10,000 hours of programming. I knew how to build an operating system. I could take apart and put together a computer.

If I lived in the 1800s I probably could invent computers. I thought I was good.

When I got my first job in “the real world” I was a programmer. My second day on the job I crashed the entire network and lost everyone’s email.

My boss came into my cubicle (very embarrassing since everyone in the cubicles around could hear and would later gossip) and said, “We really want you to work out but it’s not so we are going to send you to remedial school on computers.”

I drove two hours every day to go to a remedial class in computer programming. I learned how to program then and eventually started three or four software companies and invested in dozens of others.

The above is not saying “colleges are bad”. There are many aspects. The above just says: here is what I learned, here is what good it did me.

Did it even get me that first job? No. I failed the interview miserably. I knew the answers to none of the questions.

Another coincidence got me the job. I wrote about it before. Suffice to say, two weeks later I was offered the job and with a signing bonus. Thanks Rob!

Later that day, my then-boss started yelling at me about something insignificant. He didn’t know that I had just been offered a job.

I held up my hand and said, “that’s fine. I don’t like to be yelled at, though, so I quit. Goodbye.”

He couldn’t believe it. He apologized. He wrote me an email and apologized. I wrote back, “don’t treat people how you don’t want to be treated.” And I still quit.

Six years later when I was running a venture capital firm he even pitched me a deal. I said, “Let me call you back on that.” And I never spoke to him again.

So this is my story of college to establish some credentials. I’ve written a lot about college. I had the #1 book on Amazon about “College Education” for about a year.

But let me tell you the latest pros and cons.

You don’t have to believe me. It’s very complicated. All I ask is that you see that the world is changing very fast.

And again, this is a trillion dollar industry that has other incentives than your education.

This is the honest truth:

PROS:

1) YOU HAVE SEX A LOT

There are no parents around. For me, I had a girlfriend for the first time. There’s nothing to prevent you from doing anything you want. So you do it. A lot.

2) YOU DRINK

I had never had alcohol or drugs before college.
By the end of my three years in college (I graduated a year earlier thanks to summer classes because I wanted to save money) I had gotten trashed many times and had tried marijuana and LSD.

3) YOUR FRIENDS ARE JUST LIKE YOU FOR THE LAST TIME EVER

When I was 19, my friends were 19. When I was 20, my friends were 20.

Now I’m 47. My friends range in age from 24 to 84, all different nationalities and sexual preferences, etc. This is real life. College is just extended high school.

I can’t think of any other “pros”.

What about an education?

I’ve been reading a few books a week since I was 23. It wasn’t until I left college that I learned to appreciate reading.

But other people do learn in college. I can’t argue with that. It’s person by person.

When you are force-fed books to read and facts to remember it’s very hard to enjoy them.

Imagine being locked in a cage and force-fed chocolate all day. You’d soon get sick of it.

NEGATIVES

1) COST and DEBT

This is usually cited as the biggest negative. It isn’t the biggest negative but I will put it here anyway.

The average college-educated person age 18-35 made $36,000 a year in 1990. Now that same average person makes $33,000. This is taken right out of tax data.

And yet, student loans have gone up from almost nothing to $1.4 trillion.

If you are 25, have a great idea that can change the world, and want to start a company, how will you do it if now you have to be chained to a cubicle to pay back your debt?

You can’t even declare bankruptcy to get rid of your debt. With one hand, the government feeds you to the slaughterhouse (college) and with the other, they seize all of your assets.

It’s a great business to be in if you can get it.

2) CHEAP ALTERNATIVES

The other day I spoke to Scott Young. For $2000, and in ten months time, he got an MIT Computer Science degree.

How did he do it? They put their entire course load online. Maybe this will stop at some point.

They do it because they know people still think it’s worth it to spend $200,000 to do the exact same thing Scott did but still get that piece of paper that says “BS”.

When employers were asked, “would you hire Scott even though he doesn’t have the actual degree?” (he took all the courses and tests but of course could not get a piece of paper that said he did it) many of them said, “yes. He has initiative.”

Many schools put their curriculum online. Then there are online-only schools like code academy, lynda, coursera, udemy, creativelive, fedora, etc etc. where you can take GREAT courses.

3) OPPORTUNITY COST

I loved computers. But what if, instead of spending five years learning the academic version of computers (and then still having to take remedial classes), I had just simply started working with computers?

Maybe even starting a business? Who knows?

Many other well-known software companies started by 19 or 20 year olds started that way. What if I had done it?

Instead I had to wait 5 years before even considering it because i was using the most valuable time in my life to take classes that taught me nothing.

I’m not bitter (see the Pros) but I often wonder what would have been different.

What if you are not a scientist? Doesn’t matter. My daughter wants to study acting. Why can’t she just spend that time going to auditions and getting real roles.

I spoke to Mark Messick recently. He’s 16 years old, dropped out of school at 11, and now makes $4000 a month writing books. Living the dream.

He still goes to extracurricular activities at his school to maintain his friendships, but other than that he is light years ahead of his classmates in education and opportunity.

4) BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LIBERAL ARTS?

There was a study done: quiz students 1 minute after they get out of class and then 50 minutes after they get out of a class.

After 50 minutes they had almost zero retention of what they learned in the class.

The only way to learn something is to have a passionate interest in it, then learn it, then repeat it, then try to teach it to someone else.

This is not something taught in school. Kids are taught facts and not questions. And yet questioning the world is how all knowledge is learned.

After college, 80% of people never pick up a book again. If you just read 5 pages a day (10-20 minutes of time. The time it takes to read People Magazine) of something you are interested in, you’ll read 1800 pages more per year than everyone else.

Advantages are not created in a classroom, they are created in 1% a day of personal improvement.

5) BOGUS INCOME STUDIES

Many universities, to tout their benefits, have done the exact same study: People who got a degree, 20 years later, have made up to $500,000, give or take, more in their career then people who didn’t have a degree.

This is a spurious study. It has no control group. It’s based on a demographic from the 1970s and 1980s when people from middle class families went to colleges and people from lower-class families, often didn’t.

This could be the entire reasons for the income difference but the studies don’t mention that.

Here’s a study: take everyone who got accepted to Harvard. Tell half of them you can’t go to college ever. Instead, get your four year head start on making money.

Then see who has more money 20 years later.

6) ITS NOT A SAFETY NET

I ask my kids: why do you think it’s good to go to college. Despite my insistence (maybe because of it) they still think it’s a good idea to go to college.

My kids are actually rebelling against me by getting a traditional education.

They both say the same thing, “it’s a safety net so you can get a job”.

“Who tells you this?” They have no answer. It’s just in the air.

Forget the income numbers I cite above. There are changes happening.

Just this past week, Ernst & Young, the accounting firm, said they will no longer care if an applicant has a college degree.

Google has said they will stop looking at it.

More and more people will stop looking at whether or not you have a college degree.

And the safety net has disappeared. i see it in my own companies. Middle management across the United States is getting demoted.

WHAT SHOULD I DO INSTEAD?

  • Study many things. Study things you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy anything, work on a charity or travel the world (yes, this costs money but it’s cheaper than college).
  • Work at a job. If you want to be a doctor, work at a hospital and see if you really enjoy it.
  • Read every day. Five pages a day.
  • Learn these skills that are critical in every aspect of life but are never taught in college:

a. Sales
b. Negotiating
c. Well-being / Positive psychology
d. Failure
e. Communication

I was at a dinner once. Someone who was working for Mayor Bloomberg asked me, “Would you let someone who didn’t go to college give you brain surgery?”

I said, “It’s not about me. Would you let your son who has no interest in being a doctor, go to four years of school and another years of medical school just so he can operate on my brain even though he hates every minute of it and gets a million dollars into debt?”

The average person has 14 different careers in their life. But now because of the costs and the debt, they are chained to that first career forever.

Make the choices that allow you to cast away the chains as quickly as possible.

Go to the COLLEGE OF YOU. It has one course: every day wake up and ask, how can I improve 1% over where I was yesterday in any area of my life?

You have a mission here. Fly out of the nest and accomplish it.

 

  • Marcus Feder

    Thanks again James. I’ve been discussing this same thing with my wife and in-laws for years. College has become such a waste of time and money these days. I believe so much more can be learned outside in the world than can be inside a book in a classroom. At least my kids will have a choice.

  • Can’t Tell You Who I Am

    James. I know the director of a local college theatre arts program and his own son, yes his very own son, is not going to college for theatre arts, he is going to NYC to audition and see if he has what it takes.

  • Thank you James. I unfortunately went to college for Accounting and now, 8 years later, I feel stuck in that career. And another problem is that since I was so focused on College and being a great employee, I didn’t seek out any other interests. I feel I have to start over if I move to another career. I hope to start next year.

    • Bota N. Kroondyk

      You must be an auditor lol… Seriously, that’s unfortunate. Why do you feel stuck?

      • Because most other jobs or gigs require experience and my only skills and experience are in Accounting.

        • Hominid

          That’s true across the board – you’re not in any exceptionally bad spot. Grow up, stop whining, and do what’s necessary.

          • Do you have any tips?

          • Hominid

            Yeah, girl – I already gave them to you – re-read my post.

          • I only see the grow up, stop whining unnecessary comment you made. I don’t see a constructive tip. If you don’t have any, then I suggest you don’t comment at all. That shows that you are a bully.

          • Hominid

            You stopped reading to soon, not that those first two recommendations are at all “unnecessary.” You’re bully comment is more about you and your whining oh-poor-me.

          • Really?

            Wow! It’s a troll! You can always tell a moronic troll when he types the non-sequitur “stop whining” in a comment, like an adolescent. Are you writing from your bedroom in your parent’s basement, by chance, Mr. Winner? Have you ever kissed a girl? Maybe you should focus on those two problems instead of annoying the adults who are talking here.

          • Hominid

            You’re projecting.

    • GardenGrl

      Accounting, yeah, flee far, flee fast! I did book keeping and from what I see all of that is going the way of software. I noticed they were adding a bunch of positions as analysts and statisticians.

      • Hominid

        Especially if the pols simplify the tax code.

    • Hominid

      Duh!

  • Mark Brady

    There’s a lot of beneficial ancillary learning that goes on at colleges that has little to do with classrooms and course content. One of the things college does for you is provide a structure for learning that 19 year old brains can’t provide for themselves. They simply haven’t yet developed the live wiring needed to design a curriculum and the discipline and organization necessary to stick to it. It would be a great gift to attend a high school that taught you curriculum design and personal discipline/integrity and how to ask and answer The Two Perilous Questions (q.v.).

    Many people who go to college meet people who become friends for life – another Pro?

    • Ellen K

      And other kids, like myself and my own children, had to work full time because while their parents were middle class and couldn’t afford tuition, we allegedly made too much and didn’t deserve financial aid. I would have loved to participate in the social side of college life, but never had a chance. And because FAFSA, even with three kids in college, thought my entire salary for the year was a reasonable amount to “contribute” my kids never got much help either. But, having said that I will say that working during school while seeing scholarship kids waste time, money and get kicked out of school for partying, my own kids learned critical adult skills that have served them well. All have paid off student loans for the most part, none have been arrested, all have good credit. Considering that the oldest kid is 30, that’s a pretty good score.

    • BCVB

      So, as to friends, tell me, what happens after you have paid your fees and gotten into a college gotten a bunch of credits, only to suddenly find in your second or third year that it wins the “award” of “#1 Party School” and Jay Leno on the Tonight Show mocks it? And all activities meant to allow people to meet involve drinking or getting hazed in frats? I’m not sure that a conscientious student would meet many friends that way.

      What happens when you take computer science, get an announcement from the professor at the beginning of every class that it will be heavily curved (translation: they are primarily a researcher who doesn’t know how to teach but can’t let the administrators know that)? What happens when you think as a naive 20 year old “I want to work in this industry and need this degree” and find that you’ve mostly spent your time learning 30 year old ideas, little programming (on seriously outdated languages…..that were relevant when the professors were going to school) and your so-called “education” really isn’t anywhere near what is needed to get a job in the time when you graduate?

      I had that situation in the 90s before the web was popular enough where people could post complaints. In later years, I saw complaint after complaint stretching up to 2011 about that department and how they were continuing outdated teaching, the professors had no clue how to teach, and were just as rude and arrogant as I remember them to be. Sure, people came out with a good GPA and that all important piece of paper…….but they learned nothing that was relevant.

      I had had an extraordinary opportunity to do two professional part time jobs in the 1990s before I got my all important piece of paper. I was brainwashed in high school to believe that the academics “know best” and to listen to them. I asked an “advisor” for guidance in choosing a major based on my extraordinary and well paid (enough to pay for all of college) opportunities. Here is what I was told: “You must think of these jobs as no different than working for McDonalds to pay for college. Nothing you have ever done in your life before you get your college degree is useful. It will only be a detriment to you as you will be set in your ways before getting a full time job. Just pick any hard science major so you don’t waste your college time with a liberal arts major.” Gosh, some “advice” from a so-called “advisor” who knew best. But as a naive 19 year old, I believed the academic industry serving lie.

      I had done some freelance work in addition to the jobs during that time. A customer urged me multiple times to quit college and become an entrepreneur. One of the longer jobs was as a contractor and thus I was familiar with running my own business. But I believed “conventional wisdom” and stayed in the useless computer science program.

      The second part time job was an actual job. My absolutely wonderful boss got a major opportunity and left the organization around the time I graduated. He created a position for me as I was leaving. It wasn’t what I really wanted but it was a job. Since I had been brainwashed by the “advisors” that I should not even list my work during my student years on a resume and had to start with my degree (and I felt the “education” was inadequate) I took it. I knew many people in that organization and had the respect of 200+ people from senior management down to clerks. But then I got moved to another department where they resented all of these connections and the creativity for which I was known. They engaged in workplace bullying, locked me away in a cubicle, and did everything they could to isolate me. I spent years in this until it started affecting my physical health. I had tried many times to get another job but the experience in that office was limited. Often times, there was nothing to do in that office for a number of people….including myself. And I still believed the lie that what I did before receiving a degree did not matter. I finally had to leave as it was affecting my health. I left with no job and had to live off savings. The intent was to be an entrepreneur once again but I continued to be hounded by my “circle” about my decision.

      I continued to try and get jobs, believing the nonsense about the importance of a college degree. Finally, I realized that I was making the doom and gloom by people who criticized me into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once I got over the “conventional wisdom” of society, things changed a lot and new opportunities opened up.

      I was a conscientious student. I was repulsed by the drinking culture at college and thus did not waste time socializing. I studied and worked. Period.

      You say that 19 year olds need all this bureaucratic structure which costs thousands upon thousands of dollars. I think if I had followed my own path and listened to that client who urged me to go forward with entrepreneurship decades ago instead of following “conventional wisdom”, I’d be much further ahead. I would not have naively put my trust in a self-interested industry that taught nothing relevant to the business world. Wait, excuse me, it did teach something: Like cable television, it is an outdated industry that is obsolete in its current form. Entrepreneurs are working to change it and make it less expensive and more useful. Thank goodness.

      Look, my story is not unique. There are complaints throughout the Internet that college teaches too much theory and not enough practical skills.

      And, before I get the “College is not a trade school; it’s done to make you well rounded” remark, here is my answer: People who want to become well rounded do not need to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on a degree. They are doing this because the hype says this is the gateway to professional jobs. Period. If you want to be well rounded, read books and do research. That’s a lot cheaper than paying someone to lecture you.

      Oh, and could you tell me why some state college presidents make more than the US President? Can you tell me why some state college vice presidents make more than their governors? Hmm, I think the US President and governors have just a bit more responsibility than overpaid college management.

      • Hominid

        Was it necessary to write your autobiography to make a couple simple points? You need to get over yourself.

        • BCVB

          Hominid, thanks so much for your very “useful” comment. The point was to give an illustration of why his claim that 19 year olds need (expensive and bureaucratic) “structure” (which is more about providing jobs for college employees than it is for conveying knowledge) is wrong.

          Looking at your flippant answer to Mr. Brady, it’s not even worth his time to respond. It is merely an opinion with absolutely zero substance.

          • Hominid

            Tha’s what I said – why did you have to write so much about your personal life to not make any meaningful points – “zero substnce”?

          • BCVB

            I’m so sorry that my reply to you went over your head. Sorry that formal schooling failed you, Hominid. Rather than giving a flippant OPINION I explained a real world situation of what can go wrong with Mr. Brady’s line of thinking. If you cannot comprehend that, Hominid, then I can’t help you.

    • Hominid

      True. But, as in all dilemmas, it’s a question of degree. Colleges have gone to far in the wrong direction.

  • as a parent I am not thinking the first three things on the list are really pros.

  • SmartMarvin

    I enjoy JA’s take on college and agree with much of it, but it ignores one very important point. Many careers vital to society simply require formal education. Maybe JA would say these are careers controlled by gatekeepers that need to be worked around. In some cases he’d be right. But who among us would be willing to let a surgeon with no formal credentials operate on us? Would we want to drive on bridges designed and built by people without credentials? What works in the worlds of tech, art, publishing, etc, doesn’t always make sense for matters of life and death.

    • psych495

      I don’t think anyone is advocating for surgeons with no formal training.

      That’s not really an honest assessment of the author’s point.

      • Hominid

        The author doesn’t have a point – that’s what SmartMarvin is saying – and he’s right.

    • Lucky Orogun

      We were not told in the bible that the guys building the tower of Babel to “see” God has credentials in structural engineering studies. Even though I acknowledge that formal education “liberates” the mind but it is not a ticket to easy life as many would want us to believe. On the contrary, the exhorbitant cost of acquiring a college “degree” is a major dis-incentive for most folks, coupled with the fact that most “educated” folk indulges in un-ethical practice to re-coup their educational expenses in a hurry. And the world revolves with brand new ideas on a daily basis, while up-dating of college curriculum is seemingly stagnant.

  • slotowner

    In the end his real argument is:
    “I sucked & flaked at college, therefore college is worthless.”
    I’m sorry but I’d like an opinion on a sample size that’s large than one. I think he has some really valid point on alternative & opportunity costs. I think colleges need to change because the benefits of sitting in front on someone droning back to you the contents of his book is worse than a YouTube speaker that you could actually pause.
    However, Scott Young, who got his on-line degree would have been successful in a lot of was, while young James Altucher would be making excuses why on-line training just sucks & is not worth the time, effort, and money.

    • Hominid

      Depends on the curriculum and major. I doubt a math major or computer geek or financial investor EVER benefits from college – these are focused technical subjects the successful enthusiasts of which have an intuitive flair for and can easily master without the structure and formality of the classroom. Engineering and especially science absolutely require a fairly large amount of interaction with accomplished professionals in order to learn to separate the important from the incidental or fallacious. Finally, interactions with professors are essential to master the mushy pretensions of the humanities.

    • Barry Schatz

      I disagree. The real argument is that education brings fulfillment only when each person finds their own path, which entails taking ownership of your own educational development and rejecting the influence of others who dictate to you based on their (not your) best interests. The argument echos Plutarch’s maxim (“the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”), which means that it’s been legit for centuries, which is to say forever.

      • Hominid

        Sounds like humanities blather.

        • Ellen K

          There’s room for humanities. Everything you wear, drive, live in and use that was manmade at some point was in a designers hands. We need people who can read and write with finesse as a record of our culture. The idea that anyone can do it is refuted by the few who actually do so well. We need people with all kinds of capabilities. Interesting to note, Johns Hopkins was alarmed at how young doctors were so absorbed by diagnostic dialogue on their computers that they often failed to pay attention to critical medical symptoms. So the school began mandating art history courses to help students learn to observe critically. It’s a big world out there-we might as well use all our capabilities.

          • Hominid

            More blather. We don’t need them at all – all we need are scientist and engineers. The rest are a burden to be born.

          • Ellen K

            You do realize that without innovation, the ability to think outside the box, which is a left brain skill, you don’t have new things. I’m not saying design is the end all, but if you think a world of just scientist and engineers would be effective, then why are there so many issues in technology where people do not understand how to make programs accessible to real humans. Long after technology is outdated, art endures. Art is the signature of a culture. Remove it and you have just machines. That’s very dystopian of you.

          • Hominid

            Art is delusion – it’s wishful thinking – it contributes nothing but entertainment – it’s crystal meth.

            Poetry doesn’t relieve pain and extend life; it doesn’t build bridges and enable jet air travel; it doesn’t produce abundant food and air conditioning.

            Science and engineering do that.

          • Ellen K

            Then please give up all things ever touched by a designer-your house, your car, your clothes, the utensils you eat with, the computer you use because all have had a designer and artist at some point to refine, improve and streamline the delivery of technology to the consumer.

          • Hominid

            Bah-loney. The FUNCTIONAL designers were engineers.

            The ADORNERS you’re talking about, vary wildly from one to another and over time, they haven’t a darn thing to do with functionality and come and go because they are ultimately irrelevant.

          • Ellen K

            Obviously you didn’t evolve properly.

          • Hominid

            Concession accepted.

          • Unperson

            What’s the difference between you and a virus?

      • slotowner

        Half agree.

        In that end, I disagree with Altucher because he judges college by his lack of commitment. Anything is worthless if you never commit to it so college is no exception.

        For great self-directed, competent, motivated people college is also irrelevant, because they can achieved what they want to achieve with a degree or without. But this does not describe most people.

        There is a reason why a college degree is desired by a lot of employers. It’s proof that a young adult with no work history has actually committed to something & finish it despite all the temptations & difficulties that life throws at them. For many, its their last chance to build the life habits that they need to succeed in an environment that is not home but still sheltered, & for those that do commit to learning, there is plenty available to learn.

        I think that colleges need to adapt to the modern world & stop being ivory towers that proclaims sage knowledge from high. While Altucher goes tell people to discover their person education & drive, I keep seening images of how Thoreau’s Transcendentalism inspired people to self-indulgence & narcissism. Altiucher tells people they can do it themselves but actual results say most people can’t actually do it.

      • Hominid

        “each person finds HIS own path. . .” – NOT “their” own path.

        “which entails taking proper ownership of ONE’S own . . .” – NOT “your” own.

        Learn proper English!

  • Tyler

    So your argument is that you sucked at college so therefore college sucks?

    I feel the same way about baseball.

  • Striterax

    Ok, so you suceeded without college. But because of hardwork and drive (And Im saying to myself that if you had put in the same hardwork and drive back in college, you wouldn’t have flunked out).

    And you are 1 data point. You can’t justify your argument with 1 data point. Not even with 4 data points (you, Gates, Zuckerberg, Dell). Or even with another 100 black swan data points. For each of those “successful” black swans, there are 1000s of “unsuccessful” college drop outs you’ve never heard of in your life because they never made it. You just know about the few drop outs who became successful.

    So, as much as you’d like to put down the bogus income studies, they atleast have a lot of more RELEVANT statistics. And your Harvard study is as bogus as your other derisions. First, you are taking one of the costliest schools in the world that is completely dependent on brand value / perception and charges exorbitant self-absorbed tuitions bordering on ego-maniacal. Second, you are taking a guy who is “good” enough to go to Harvard (which would mean he/she is already so good they have the inner drive to succeed even without a formal degree) and telling him not to go to college to save the 4x hefty Harvard tuition and hoping for a result in your favor after 20 years …. Very nice try but a pathetic scientific / statistic attempt.

    • JeffreySnow

      Your comment is idiotic and adds no value to any conversation. You pretty much are hating on Altuchers views because he tells it like it is. In this new information age anyone can learn on their own about any subject and develop any skill set. College is not any more the only way to get access to this kind of knowledge.
      In addition, your last paragraph is pure irrational garbage. Universities are ran like corporations and it is in their best interest to try to justify the outrageous tuitions by providing some evidence that after they get their degree they will do better later in life than someone without a degree. Well the reality is that student debt has skyrocketed in the last 20 years and wages have remained stagnant. People who go to college and come out with more than 100k in debt will spend most of their better years tied to whichever job to pay this debt rather than having the opportunity to explore around and find what they truly excel at.
      So instead of hating on the message, please on your next comment suggest ways on how to solve this problem…

      • Striterax

        When I was talking about statistics and you chose words like “idiotic”, “hating”, “garbage” … that says it all buddy!!

        My point is simple. Statistics matter. What is your point? I sure hope it
        is not that we should all skip college just because Bill G and Mark Z
        skipped college and are millionaires.

        There are many more millionaires who became so because of college education. My
        company employs many 1000s (you heard it right) of PhDs in engineering,
        physics, math. Every doctor, lawyer and MBA earn a lot of money and
        become millionnaires because of their college education.

        So, save me your tirade.

        Student debt has skyrocketed because stupid people are given loans and those stupid people take them to get a random college degree that nobody in
        the marketplace wants.

        As to suggestions to improve, remove all governmental college loans from the equation except if you earn below 2x poverty level and you ace SAT (top 10%ile). Make all college loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. These 2 will, in one shot, reduce paper money supply from dubious corporations (who know the loans are zero risk loans) to these bloated universities. Universities
        will mark their tuition to market in a jiffy.

  • Ellen K

    As a high school teacher, I shake my head at the attitudes of mostly politicians and delusional parents that all kids should go to college. Instead of instilling them with those much beloved job ready skills, we insist that kids who have no interest in college take college prep classes. While a few may succeed, many more do not and what is worse, by their disruptive attitudes and bad behavior they drag others with them.

    I think that two critical things need to happen. First, we need to stop shaming people who work with their hands using technical skills. The world need electricians, machinists, mechanics and plumbers. The people who can do things and build things are the only ones who seem to have thrived in the last six years. Test kids as eighth graders and give them options. Those who choose vocations can be trained as part of their education. One of the coolest programs in the district where I live is a Science Health Magnet where students who want to go into nursing or become doctors can shadow and work in those settings. On the other hand, students who want to be EMT’s can train and get their certification as part of their high school education. Everybody wins.

    Secondly, we need to get politicians out of the business of directing education. This goes back to H. Ross Perot’s imposition of high stakes testing on Texas school kids for the sake of growing more workers for his tech companies. Not every child is going to be a STEM groupie. Some students need to paint or dance or perform in order to achieve their goals. These skills have been looked down upon by educrats because they are difficult to assess. Yet those abilities to use the entire brain, to create, design and develop methods to integrate new technology into a human accessible format are critical. High stakes testing have become gamesmanship at best. We push kids to learn the test and then there’s no link between learning and application. This is all part of the politics of education. The worst words a teacher heres upon returning to school in the Fall are “the administrators have been to a seminar.” The ever changing fashion of education from New Math, through Open Classroom to Back to Basics to Common Core are all political manifestations of ways to extort money from school districts. Most teachers would prefer less rigid curriculum, more Piaget and less Maslow.

    • Hominid

      Primary school used to be the way you’re recommending – college prep track and vocational track. I don’t know if it’s still the case or not, but we also had 3 learning proficiency tracks in the common subjects – fast, bright learners in track 1, average with their peers, and slow learners in their own group (track 3) – and which group a student resided in was obvious to all.

      Once Liberalism took control, everyone (especially one group in particular) had to be “equal” and protected from “discrimination” on the basis of IQ & academic performance. Everyone was deemed capable of college. That was the beginning of the end for public primary education – where the overwhelming majority of American students attend – and the effects soon rippled up to the college level to accommodate the ill-prepared and innately incapable students and separate their parents from their dollars.

      • Ellen K

        My daughter was a G/T kid. She was also well behaved. So they shackled her for more than a year with a kid who was so insane that as a third grader she would come home and ask me to explain the foul names he called her under the nose of the teacher. She would always be the kid in the group project to do all the work because she cared about her grade and the rest of the kids were willing to let it happen. That’s still going on under the label of “collaboration.” The good students hate it. The bad students love it. That should be a clue that it’s not a good way to teach.

      • Ellen K

        I remember reading circles. The Bluebirds, the Robins and the Cardinals. I was a Bluebird. We had a wall where the teacher had stamps for each book we finished reading by ourselves. The goal was 100 books in a year. I made it and so did many other kids. We had phonics and drill and people learned to read, write and spell-three skills being destroyed by current methods. By having groups of similar levels, everyone’s needs were met. Now we throw them all in the same class and fling a bunch of paperwork at the teachers mandating that they meet all kids needs, which is impossible in the current system.

  • Dan Ashley

    College is not for losers…

    • Glenn Beaton

      Then why are so many there?

      The following people did not graduate college (and many never even attended): Ansel Adams, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Bob Dylan, Thomas Edison, Bobby Fischer, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, J. Paul Getty, John Glenn, Barry Goldwater, William Randolph Hearst, Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, J.D. Salinger, Taylor Swift, Ted Turner, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Mark Zuckerberg.

      But you’re right that Dan Ashley is not on that list….

      • Hominid

        It makes no sense to count people with an innate talent in such a list. It is also inappropriate to count people from an era in the distant past when there was little formal knowledge to acquired in college that wasn’t readily available on the street. Finally, because you can list a dozen or even a thousand successful people who did not obtain a college degree, you’re talking about exceptions to the general statistical data in which the millions of the rest of the population are distributed. You’re an illogical thinker.

        • BCVB

          Others might have had an innate talent. Then they went to college and fell into status quo mediocrity and we never heard about them. And seriously? There was little formal knowledge to teach before the last 100 years or so? Colleges have existed for centuries. President John Adams (born in 1735) went to college. Gosh how did Harvard survive before the last 100 years?

          • Hominid

            I didn’t say people didn’t go to college, dummy – I said it was much less necessary in the pre-industrial. And, yes – there was far less formal knowledge required in the pre-industrial world. How dense are you?

          • BCVB

            Thank you for yet another “enlightened”, “intelligent” and “substantive” response, Hominid. You said there was little formal knowledge to be acquired in college that was not readily available on the street. If that is the case, colleges would not have existed at that time. Then at the same time you dismiss talk of people who actually were productive leaders not going to college as enigmas. You can’t have it both ways.

            In any event, at this point in time where the world is changing so fast, students are asked to drop close to or more than $100,000 on a four year program that is out of date by the time they have graduated. Outside of licensed professions (and if college had to depend on those alone, they wouldn’t be able to survive) students are better off doing one or many of the things Altucher suggests as alternatives. Real learning, rather than force fed factory learning, will happen in those cases.

        • agree. all he did was cherry pick examples

      • innate talent and IQ plays a bigger role than whether or not someone went to college

  • Arrimine

    I was successful in college 30 years ago and I think it has been extremely valuable for me. I grew up poor and education served as a ticket to the middle class. That being said, I have no idea if I could’ve done it in today’s environment. The combination of much higher costs and the uncertainty of job opportunities today (compared to the late-1980’s) would’ve terrified me. I don’t know that the author is right but a lot of what he says resonates with what I have seen over the past few decades.

  • Brian

    In my past I was a very hard core nonconformist. If I was 18 again, I would follow my older brothers and work hard in high school and go to college. I would try to be efficient about it, going to community college and a state university. I would also gain practical work experience. I think that Mr. Altucher underestimates his college education, and might not realize that a degree from NYU probably helped to open doors that may not have been so easily opened. Maybe he would be as or more successful without the degree, maybe he is a helluva lot smarter than the average person. I doubt it was a waste.

  • rlhailssrpe

    After 45 + years of engineering, a handful of degrees, PE licenses, a score of nukes, two score fossil fuel power plants and decades assessing global advanced technologies, I offer my two cents to young people.

    Be very skeptical of any institution of higher learning, particularly in any technical field. They teach what they know, and that might be twenty years out of date. Your first job will be like jumping into an ice cold lake.

    Learn, in your teens, to work with your hands and mind. Build something.

    Learn Mandarin. For good or ill, your survival will be tied to China.

    Save every penny you can, as soon as you can. Then learn how to invest your savings.

    Understand money, particularly debt. Large college debt can cripple your entire financial well being for many decades. The definition of a slave is a person who is 100% owned by some one else. And no one cares about a slave. A lack of money is agony, a surfeit of money rots you.

    Do not let things: cars. homes, vacations, play, own you. Only God and family are worth your money.

    Learn self defense. Come to grips with the concept of death. Yours. Others.

    Read extensively, on many matters, throughout your life.

    Learn to communicate orally and in writing. Learn negotiation skills. When to hold them. When to fold them.

    A good boss is gold. A bad one is poison. You should acquire and keep, at all times, the option to quit your job. To do this, network optional positions constantly. Know you will have 6 – 10 different careers in your life time. Be ready to take a cut in pay for a better life boat.

    I profoundly disagree with the author’s moral choices while in college. He squandered himself and others. With children and grand children, he will learn life. I agree with his judgment that a college degree today no longer has the status of an earlier age, for good reason. America graduates dumb people, who have been taught by dumb faculties.

    In every scientific argument, look for the hidden agenda. And possible deception.

    If you rise to power and wealth, help other less fortunate people. This is better than owning gold.

    • Dineo Matloga

      Beautiful. Thank you.

    • Janet Nelson

      Great post! Thank you!

  • Yo

    This article glosses over a key point when it discusses college. I teach at a major university. Just try to run your class in a way other than lecture-test, lecture-test. Online, interactive Q&A? “Read the assignment before class, then we’ll just answer questions in class”? Sorry, the students will run to administration and say you are cold, unhelpful, confusing, disorganized, not teaching the textbook, not following the syllabus (which they didn’t read), and so on. Administration will reprimand you, in writing, without giving you any chance to respond. Next term, you’ll revert to lecture-test, lecture-test. I did. My teacher evaluations rose 72%. So, it’s not “college.” It’s administration. Administration views my job a making sure that students never think, never move out of their comfort zone, and never learn.

    • Hominid

      Bingo!

  • royw

    So often I am reminded of Mark Twain saying, “I was blessed with a wonderful education…interrupted only by four years in college.”

  • BCVB

    Thank you James for your post. It is important to point out what really goes on in colleges and question the propaganda that they are really useful. My contention is that those who are driven but might be a bit too trusting of the “authority figures” in a college (because they just got through 12 years of a top down management school system where students were taught to obey and not think for themselves) are simply dumbed down to fit in with the rest of the sheeple that go to college.

    Need social interactions? Social media allows people to meet each other and get together. Shockingly enough, you CAN socialize with people of different ages and people who might be going to a different college or who are doing something a little different.

    Of course there are defenders of status quo mediocrity that will disagree with your points. Ignore them. If these people were in charge, we’d still have rotary telephones (maybe even party lines — watch Green Acres if you don’t know what one is), “mobile” phones on a cord attached to your car, computers that take up an entire room, etc. Continue posting about how college as we know it is out of date.

    Conveying knowledge is important and necessary. But the bloated and expensive “delivery system” of a college in its current form is not the only way to do it. Actually, it is the worst possible way to do it.

    Besides, you are popular, sell books, appear on television, and have influence. Defenders of the status quo? Let’s see the books they have written and their sales rank. Let’s see the influence they have. Oh, do I hear crickets chirping?

  • Hp B

    #7) College can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

    Admitting people into college who can’t even spell university in two tries is hardly progress nor is it compassion. It’s borderline criminal.

  • Robert Jones

    I think I have real advice and value to add here if you allow me to offer my own experiences. I also wish to encourage those who are suffering because of their college experience, fear of failure etc..

    I did a 2 year course, after a professor friend recommended me; a Diploma in Higher Education…DipHE….which one can convert to an honours degree by doing an extra year. I did not do that. I was kicked out 2 months before the end of the 2 years because I did not hand assignments in, I did them, just did not hand them in…Oh and I also ignored the exams at the end of each semester. I hated every second of college, I loathed the teachers with their pretentious ways ( wearing bow ties for instance ), and the overly competitive students, each thinking they were unique and special and precious; almost exclusively of middle class, graduate, family backgrounds. After working several years in accounting and business in junior management roles a Northern Irish painter told me; ‘It would pay you to purchase a floor sanding machine.’ I did research, purchased a machine, did a job for free to practice and voila; my first paying job took 2 days and I earned £500, 800 US dollars, the pay for a week in my junior manager’s job….cash money, no tax. It was a revelation….coffee breaks when I wanted, start and finish when I wanted…basically freedom to do what I want….as long as the contracted for job was finished by the time I stated and to the standard I stated. Well, 23 years later and I have basically retired, quite early, with far more money than I need. No real debts. A skill that I can use if ever I need to and a workshop full of valuable tools ( valuable in the sense they both have value and can create value ). The floor sanding led to other opportunities, such as french polishing, house painting, floor laying, rubbish clearance from gardens etc…but the pillar and main revenue stream remained my speciality…floor refinishing. The wise people before me who mention learning a trade are people to be listened to.

  • Cloé D.

    Hi! Your article was very interesting. I’m from France by the way, so everything you wrote doesn’t apply here, especially for college loan and debt. I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that in the USA, going to college is a must-do from the individual point of view, not the business/recruiter point of view. I think that, not only in the USA but everywhere in the world, parents tell their kids from first age that they need to succeed at school and later in their studies to have a good job one day. But what I’ve often heard is that US recruiters don’t focus on diplomas, but rather on your skills and motivation.

    In France, that’s absolutely not the case. If you don’t have at least 2 years of studies after high school diploma (bac+2), a driving licence and at least 2 years of experience, you’ll almost never find a job! They don’t give a damn about what you know or what you can do!

    Personally, I did some studies in various fields and stopped them all in the first year, so today, I have no degree. I’ve tried looking for some work, but eventually decided to become a freelancer, so I could use my skills and be my own boss. It’s a great success by the way :)

    The funny thing is that among the 50 clients I have, only 2-3 are French. Everytime a French client posts a job, they ask for your qualifications and CV/resume. On the opposite, an American client will tell you what needs to be done and ask if you can do it.

    I keep telling my friends and family (who all have done long studies) how I find going to college a BIG loss of time (and money, let’s face it), when there is so many resources which you can learn from today! And when French people I meet for the first time ask me what I do for a living and I tell them how I became a freelancer, they can hardly believe I succeeded that much with no degree!

    Now, you’ll always have some competitors who graduated that will tell you you’re obviously doing bad work, because you didn’t, so you can’t know what you’re doing.. well, let them talk, just trust yourself, your skills and your clients’ feedbacks, that’s all that matters!!

  • Robert Ridley

    This advice doesn’t help the person who already finished college and wants to at least put to use what they learned.