Why You Shouldn’t Go To College Just To Figure Out Your Life

If you told me when I was a senior in high school that I should just skip college and dive into entrepreneurship instead, I would have thought it ridiculous. Only crazy people did stuff like that! But, now at 28, I am seriously regretting I didn’t find out that was a totally realistic plan until after I graduated college.

Honestly, I believe we have a wrongful mentality in the United States that if someone doesn’t go to college immediately after graduating high school, they neveraverage semester cost msu will find a “good” job and they will have ruined their entire life.

The horrible part is that we brainwash even the kids themselves to think this! I know I had that mindset once upon a time.

In reality, the only thing this does it push many students who are too young to really know what they want out of life to go into massive debt just “figuring it out”. Let’s face it, how many people actually know what they want out of life at 18? This is why you shouldn’t go to college just to figure out your life, it’s just too expensive for that! A much more practical alternative would be to figure out what exactly you want before you even go. You may discover that you don’t even need college at all, or at the very least, save several thousand by not wasting years trying to figure something out.

You don’t have to spend $10K – $30K + a year to “figure out your life”

If I learned anything, it’s this – if you aren’t sure what you want to do, figure it out BEFORE you start college. I mean, you don’t need to take Psych 101 to figure out if you’re interested or not. Did you know you can take college courses online, for free (little known fact)! Websites like Coursera.org and Edx.org offer complete college courses that include video lectures, homework, and even tests. Many of them even offer certificates of completion. They’re not going to hand out your degree or anything, but if you are interested in just learning and exploring options, it’s better than having to invest your money, right?

coursera free college classes

In my case, I went in to college with little idea of what I wanted, and was only encouraged by guidance counselors to “explore my options” by taking different classes and seeing what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. Yeah, that is horrible advice considering college is nearing an average of $10K per year for public universities and $30K for private institutions. And those are strictly tuition prices, you must then add on room and board and textbooks, two major additional college expenses.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to college at all, you definitely still need a degree to do many things. But don’t fall for the mentality that it’s the only option for you. There’s lots of possibilitites waiting out there. High schools and parents don’t teach kids about things like entrepreneurship anad put little emphasis on trade work.

There are so many things out there you can get real world experience from instead of throwing yourself immediately into college.

Don’t get a degree if your profession doesn’t require one!

I mean, for example, they offer photography degrees, but most photographers are independent, sole proprieters upon graduation – they don’t work for anyone but themselves. If you’re interested in photograpy, instead of thinking you need college, invest in a nice DSLR camera and teach yourself instead. Grab your camera and start practicing. Offer to take engagement, maternity or wedding shots for free to build up a portfolio. Experience and proof that you know what you’re doing is much more valued than education. You don’t need a fancy photography degree to make money.

Internet marketing is another field in which they offer expensive degrees that are absolutely not needed. If you examine any companies advertising for positions like “search engine specialist” or “content marketing writer” or “social media manager”, they are looking for people with hands on experience, not degrees. By the way, it’s actually an incredibly in demand field these days with so many businesses in need of marketing their products and services online. You can actually learn those types of skills for much, much cheaper than the price of any degree.

You can definitely get a lot of value out of a college education, but in many cases the cost doesn’t justify going when you can learn on your own, for free or at least at a mere fraction of the cost.

Reality Of Student Loan Debt

We all know that college is expensive, but many are so convinced they’re going to get an amazing job after they graduate that nobody really takes a hard look at the reality that exists for many in the years post graduation. Nearly 70% of college graduates are stuck with studen loan debts averaging the $30K threshold. That being said, I know tons of people who have way more – $50, $60, even $100K+ in student loans! Federal loans have an average interest rate of 6.8 percent, but private loans for students can reach as high as 11% (according to debt.org).

If you just take the average of 6.8% interest, if you pay it off over the course of 20 years, that’s enough to nearly double a $30,000 loan to $55,000!

student loan interest total over 20 years

Given the state of the economy, I’d say those who can pay it off in 20 years would be lucky. Even if you were to pay it off in half the time, you’re still adding on nearly $12,000 in interest. The job market is tough on new graduates, and more and more are taking remedial secretary or sales positions, and in many cases minimum wage jobs.

minimum wage working college grads

Min Wage Workers with Bachelor Degrees, 2005 – 2013

And for those that argue kids these days are “over privelaged” to expect an amazing job immediately after college, I bet their first job out of college wasn’t McDonalds. The truth is, there’s way less opportunity for college graduates than there was once upon a time and thousands of graduates are taking on minimum wage jobs. In fact, in 2013 there was over a quarter of a million in the United States making at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour (according to cnn.money.com).

This is very real and something I’ve experienced first hand, having to take a near minimum wage job myself after I graduated. I also personally know many others that were in the same boat.With how expensive college actually is these days it doesn’t make sense to even go to college if you’re going to be stuck in a $15- $20K/year job.

If you are lucky to land a great paying job after you graduate than the cost of college totally makes sense as it can end up paying off big time over the course of your life. But the reality is jobs like that are becoming fewer and far between, and you have to go in with the intention of becoming something like a doctor, lawyer or engineer to even have a chance of finding a really good paying job like that. Let’s face it, we aren’t all cut out to be engineers.

Stop and think before you just “do”

man-96587_640College is definitely an amazing experience, but unfotunately it’s also a very costly one. If you’re not sure what you want out of life yet and are thinking you must attend a university straight away to figure it out, just stop and think about it for a minute. College isn’t real life, and in many cases you aren’t learning actual applicable job skills, and when time comes to apply for jobs, you realize that all the education in the world can’t compensate for your lack of real experience.

Spend some time exploring your options and interests. Take free online courses somewhere like Coursera.org, go explore your interests straight within the field to get a feel for what exists. Heck, try turning your true passion into a business, you never know what the world has to offer until you jump outside of your comfort zone.

I consider myself lucky for finding my true passion, even though it didn’t happen until after college. I’m just lucky I didn’t have any student debt to worry about.

Did you waste money on college trying to figure out what you wanted to do with your life? Were you able to become successful without college? Drop me a comment down below, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Owner, SurvivingAfterCollege.com

About the Author Wendy

Wife, Mother, Entrepreneur. I've been making money online for the past 5 years with online marketing and blogging, and I love helping others learn to do the same. You can read my full story here

Leave a Comment:

Gary says


You bring up some amazingly thoughtful points regarding a college education. I really appreciate your “Stop & Think” with the links to some continued education avenues that are rarely discussed.

Most here in the states are “Conditioned” from a very early age what the only REAL path to success is, and that is usually a college dgree of some sort & years of debt..

Somehow I do not think the “Trillion Dollar Student Loan Disaster” was ever anticipated but it is here with us now, and my wife’s oldest just became a member of that special club last August.. Fortunately with Community College and the Credit Union he should survive.

Wendy, great post on a very important topic, keep up the wonderful job,


Cathy says

Hi Wendy. I graduated in year 2008.

I spent 5 years in college to pursue a professional degree so that I can live in my “dream career’. You can more or less calculate the depth of my debt that I am in right now. Doesn’t look very good on the monthly bank statement actually, especially when you realized that the reality of a ‘dream career’ doesn’t compensate enough to feed your survival in this current economy.

While I appreciate what I learned at school, I wish someone has told me to start saving (or earning) so that I can start paying off my loan way earlier than letting it drag (and be a burden) till now.

Scott Newkirk says

Hi Wendy,
This is such a great post about college and why you don’t need it to have a very rewarding career. I tried to go to college multiple times but I could never get enough financial aid to be able to afford it. Back then I thought this was the thing to do if you wanted to make anything out of yourself.

I’m actually glad that I never got approved or couldn’t get enough financial aid to go now. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with paying back this debt, and hope that I could find a J.O.B after graduation.

All my friends are still brainwashed into thinking that they are going to have it made after they graduate. I actually was talking to one of my good buddies about this last night and he is certain he will be making good money in less than a year from now.

He doesn’t realize that he is going to have to start paying all those student loans back 6 months after he graduates. I’m also one of the lucky ones who has found my true passion to work online and help other people out.

Thanks for sharing this with everyone

    Wendy says

    Thanks Scott. Well depending on what happens after college (and what they go to school for) the loans may not be so bad for some, I think it can be useful and worth it in many cases. Like, for example, my cousin went to law school and accumulated $100,000+ in student loan debt(ouch), but he’s now a lawyer and makes very good money.

    That being said, I also know people who graduated YEARS ago and are still deferring their loans because they just didn’t get a decent paying job yet, or they’re forced to use a huge chunk of their income making $500 monthly payments on student loans. It’s just one of those things where people need to stand back and think if taking out that loan is REALLY worth it. You definitely don’t HAVE to go to college to be succesful in life, yet most people still seem to think that way.

Dustin Garness says

Hey Wendy! I can definitely empathize with the student loan debt.

Luckily for me I got my undergraduate degree covered with a 200k thousand scholarship…however, I wasn’t so lucky for my graduate program! Even just two years at 50k a year adds up to A LOT of loan debt.

If I would’ve stuck with my program and gotten a job in my field of education I probably wouldn’t be hurting as much as I am now; however, my story took me into other places and I haven’t been able to start my “career” yet.

Now I’m stuck with these huge student loans. Sometimes I think I should’ve just bought a house instead! Haha.

That being said, I don’t regret my education at all. It’s already paying off…just not in a financial sense!


    Wendy says

    Oh you’re lucky, 200k?! Where did you go to college!? Lol. Actually I didn’t end up paying for college personally, but I attended a public university so it was probably only a quarter of that cost. However I know how horrible it was for my peers who took out loans and are currently struggling, so I feel ya. Some are having to defer them because they don’t have a “real” job yet, and others are stuck with $500/month payments!

    Yeah I don’t regret my education either, but for some it may not be worth it with how expensive it can be these days!

Evelyn says

Hi Wendy,

You pointed out some great points. I tried community college after high school and decided to work instead. I found working 9 to 5 more fulfilling than going to college.

I know college is not for everyone, but for someone who set out to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher and so on then I understand the need for an extended education.

My daughter wants to be an artist or even set out to write her own comic books. I’m backing her up 100 percent on her dreams. If she decides college isn’t the right thing for her, I will understand, but what I wont allow is not taking action on her dreams. There is no sitting around playing around.

I learn through my own life that the clock is always ticking and your time to build a life of your dreams on this earth is limited.

I believe your article will make people really think about what they want in life and how to pursue it. Thanks!

    Wendy says

    Thanks Evelyn! Yeah, there’s a big difference between skipping out on college to play around and doing it so you can gain vaulable experience and take action on your dreams. I think sometimes college can hold people back if they don’t intend to hold certain stereotyped professions which absolutely require a degree of some type. Otherwise, you may be wasting time in the “bubble” of college… I was there for 5 years and I know all too well how easy it is to slip through the system with a degree yet still be very unprepared for the job market. You’re right, we only have so much time on this earth and no one knows when their last day will be!

Neil says

Hello, Wendy

Such an insightful post on not going to college just to figure out our lives. I had dropped out of school when I was 17 and half way through my business course because I just reached the point where I had enough and just wanted to earn some money in the world of work.

As time went by, I realized 2 things – 1: School days “were” the best days of my life and 2: A “job” sucked.

Eventually I found my way in to the online business world through research on Google and I’m just thankful I didn’t choose the college route which seems to be too much of a risky investment.


    Wendy says

    Yeah can definitely be risky for some people, but it also works out well for others. I think the main thing is people need to understand what they’re getting themselves into if they plan on taking out massive loans, especially if they have no clear cut plan in mind for their future. That debt will many times stick with you for the rest of your life!

Deidre Salcido says

You raise a lot of good points. I left a great job after high school and dove head first into the restaurant business. While I was attending college, I was moving up quickly. Friends and family were surprised I left the other job. I was really good in the restaurant business so I stayed for 16 years, utilizing my Hotel and Restaurant Management Degree. Then, I left the business and completely changed job categories…management with UPS. To make a short story even shorter, 10 years later, same industry but with Amazon now for 3 years. I am done…I feel like I wasted so much time and I am enjoying online marketing. In the fifth grade, there was talk about “the future” but I didn’t pay it any attention and here I am. One does not need a degree in order to make a good living. You have provided good information and you should be able to keep visitors as well as draw new ones in…please keep me in the loop and thanks again!

Steve says

I never pursued a college degree because I never wanted a “real” job. I think that it’s fine to pursue a formal education as long as you are learning a marketable skill. By that I mean a skill that you can sell directly within the market place through a company that YOU own. Job security and pensions for the masses are becoming all but extinct and there’s no reason to believe that they’re ever coming back.
The best opportunities to prosper with today are in the information age and the necessary education for that can be found for far less expense than a college degree.

    Wendy says

    Yeah, well at least you were smart enough to know it wasn’t necessary. I only pursued a degree because it was what my parents wanted (and they were paying, so I really couldn’t argue much). With all the horror stories about kids getting into too much debt and not being able to pay it, it makes me worry about the future… We’ve created a “college bubble” that is bound to burst eventually, just like the housing bubble did.

Nathaniell says

Despite graduating high school valedictorian I didn’t go to college because I didn’t qualify for financial aid and never considered getting a student loan. With all the buzz about the student load crisis now, I’m glad I didn’t. I’m happy with what I’ve done with those years of my life and ended up doing something that I love.

I think that high schools should put more emphasis on going to college for a good reason rather than, “that’s just what successful people do’. My high school counselor made me feel like if I didn’t go, I would turn out to be a loser working a dead-end job.

Many young people take on huge student loans because they’ve never really managed money and after 50k or 100k, it just because a number and they don’t realize that it may take 30+ years to pay it back. If people waited until they worked for a few years to realize how hard it can be to make that money (especially after taxes, rent, food, etc), they’d think twice about taking out that loan.

And then we wouldn’t hear them on TV with 160k+ in loans complaining about “I don’t know how I’m going to pay this back!

Not to rant (lol) but it annoys me when people talk about student loan forgiveness because if I knew it was going to be free money, I’d have taken out some loans as well!

Anyway, it’s hard to imagine my 18-year-old self making important life decisions. I don’t know WHY they encourage kids to jump into college right after high school except that it keeps them under the wing of authority figures long enough to get their education out of the way. They seem really worried that kids will go out in life and never come back to school.

    Wendy says

    Yeah, it’s really bizarre how they make everyone feel like only losers don’t go to college… because it totally is not true. I know tons of people who are working and way better off than people I know who actually took the time to get a degree. And many people I know that didn’t go to college right out of high school end up going back at some point down the road, so I don’t know why they’re scared kids will never go back if they don’t go out of high school.

    Yeah, 18 year olds don’t know the reality of what paying back that money actually means, in many cases it’s $400 – $500 monthly payments after they graduate… that’s A LOT of money, even if you do have a decent job! If I had to take out loans to go, I never would have.

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