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Articles / Applying to College / Is There A Better Choice Than College?

Is There A Better Choice Than College?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Oct. 28, 2014

I realize that the purpose of this blog is to discuss all thing related to college and college admissions. However, I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion lately about the extremely high cost of college and the related miseries of student loan debt. Accordingly, people have asked me if, indeed, the overwhelming majority of high school seniors should go to college. That’s an issue that deserves serious consideration.

I did some research about this and found a ton of articles that speak to the topic of, generally, “Should everyone go to college?” One particularly pertinent article comes from Slate, entitled “Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material.” If you have a chance to read it, I think you’ll begin to see some of the points of the crowd that thinks that there are viable alternatives to a four-year degree.

I posted a thread on the College Confidential discussion forum about a similar article some time ago and it generated a lot of feedback, some of which may be of interest to you, especially if you’re a parent wondering about this question for your child, or if you’re a high school junior wondering about where your path may lead after you graduate.


If you would like to compare your thoughts about this important question with those of parents and students, check the comments on the above mentioned College Confidential discussion forum thread. Here are some samples:

I don’t agree with the idea that “everyone needs to be sent off to college”. America was always a nation of opportunity, and I support the goal of making a college education available to everyone. If a person truly wants to go, then they should be able to pursue that path.

On the other hand, there are many students who go due to peer pressure/parent influence/whatever, but have no need to. They’re not motivated to go to college, and many careers don’t require a degree. I don’t like the prevailing notion that college is essential to success in any field, because it’s not true. These kids are the ones who don’t graduate and are hurt in the long run because of it.

In the future, I think we’ll see the rise in prominence of technical schools. People go, do what they love, learn what they need to, and live good lives. If you don’t want a liberal arts education, you shouldn’t be forced or pressured into getting one. If you do want one, then the opportunity is there.


I agree, and my dad says this all the time, college is a waste of time for most people who go.


How many times have we heard the line that a liberal arts education gives you the ability to think critically, therefore you are more flexible in the job market? Is it better to send kids off to a technical school to learn a specialized trade that may be obsolete in 10 years, or would you rather have that kid learn how to think, speak, write logically, learn math and science and a foreign language in a global job market? Where I live, many apprentice programs are taking on kids with degrees because they find the best workers are able to think on their feet. Maybe if we retooled the high school education so that it prepared the average person to be successful in the job market, then college would once again be for the intellectuals. I don’t see America going back to a manufactuing economy, so we need the next generation to be able to use their collective knowledge to come up with creative solutions.


The problem is not the US tertiary education system but the US primary and secondary education systems. US children spend at least 10 years in these two systems doing what exactly? Some seem to be learning while many just seem to move along a conveyor belt.

At the primary and secondary level is where children and adolescents should be taught the basics and fundamentals our society requires of people to function properly. Instead, it seems primary and secondary education are no more than “college admissions preparation.” The last 2 years of secondary education may be used to offer students a menu of options where they can explore possible paths towards professional and personal growth.

Professional careers, such as Law and Medicine, should be “detached” from academia (e.g. one should not have to go through 4 years of undergrad and debt to study Law). Vocational careers should receive more societal support (e.g. not categorized as “low class” professions). Finally, academia should be once again treated as what is supposed to be: a place where academicians and scholars can develop new ideas and theories without the risk of harming society (e.g. intellectuals in their ivory towers believing their untested ideas will uplift society).


1. There are fewer people in poverty today than there were in the 1960s. Also, more people have degrees. Correlation or causation, I don’t know. But maybe the increase in degrees granted actually isn’t as “inflationary” as thought… maybe people are actually better off.

2. To people saying that people should start specializing in high school, I disagree. High schoolers don’t know what they want to be for the rest of their lives. It might sounds good, but it really is not a good idea. What is more important is teaching them basic skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. Skills like grammar, reading, writing, basic knowledge that people expect others to know, and logic… that is what high school is for, not learning how to fix a car.


I think that’s fairly obvious, no? There are many things you may learn somewhere that you may not learn elsewhere; what is your point? The premise of the thread is that our society is unnecessarily (over)educating many people for professions that do not require such level of (over)education. A Bachelor’s degree holder performing tasks that a high school graduate may perform satisfactorily is a waste of resources, both societal and individual.

I value education just as much, if not more, than you. I am currently a STEM major. Thankfully, I’m largely insulated from people that view a college education as job training but unfortunately people in more general fields are there because they need or think a college degree will catapult them to a middle class lifestyle.

Is college overrated? Yes, it is overrated for many of the jobs and positions available out there. Many of us know many people that managed to attain success, whatever that is, without the need for a college education. From your famous successes, like B. Gates, to your local pizza parlor owner, these people proved, time and again, college was overrated for those tasks they performed.


Well, I am one of those kids who is in college to gain financial stability and employment. I went from being a Journalism/Chinese major, to possibly teaching, and now I am a Pre-Nursing student.

College is what you make of it. If you are only at college to party and get wasted, then college is going to be a waste, regardless of what you major in. I am in college for great internship opportunities, a study abroad program, a flexible career with decent pay, and a partner (which I have found). I also have enjoyed working for the school’s newspaper, and traveling to Los Angeles and doing volunteer work.

College shouldn’t be just about “learning for learning sake’s.” If colleges were cheap, I would be fine saying that. However, they are not. So unfortunately, people must look at college for what it is: a business meant to SMARTLY invest in.


The performing arts are interesting oddities in this discussion. While they are obviously not typical fields for those focused on starting salaries and therefore are often considered along with other humanities disciplines in discussions such as this one, a strong argument can be made that they are among the most vocational majors in existence. Really, a conservatory or music school is arguably more career-focused than your typical tech school.


If everyone just tried to be useful all the time, well, that wouldn’t be very interesting. For me, college is not about getting employed but about learning what I want to learn.

And, of course, you can get plenty more INTERESTING jobs with a college degree! If you WANT to spend your time as a plumber or engineer, then no, maybe college isn’t for you. But if the people in that trade are only in it for the money– well, I guess I can’t criticize them, but I’m sorry for them, that’s all.


I was troubled by the suggestion of using the military to find oneself also. I do agree with Tony that the military will teach discipline and job skills. I don’t deny that it has been very beneficial to many.

I do feel the PRIMARY reason to join the military should be to offer service to your country and not find yourself. College might be an expensive transitional experience, but young people who enter the military might very well be in active combat with the potential loss of life or lifelong injury. It shouldn’t be the “go-to”option for those who can’t afford college or didn’t do well enough in high school.


I do think, however, that most kids would best be served by some type of post-secondary training, if not college. It may be a trade or something else. A high school diploma is just not adequate in this day and age and is limiting a young person’s potential. College may not be the appropriate path but other options to train for a career are needed.

And for students who truly desire a college education, I hope more and more are afforded such an opportunity.


Right: college education is now expected for many jobs. Hence, it is becoming necessary for many people – B.A. is not overrated, but rather underrated (with it, you can hope to get an entry level office job). I know too many BAs who work as cashiers in stores…


Performing arts students CAN flunk out. You can obtain failing grades.

You are the only one asserting that only engineering students can get failing grades.

I also shared arts programs where you can be cut even if you are not failing, and this is based on a talent assessment (even if you work hard) or in some schools, they reduce the class size after freshmen year to a certain number no matter how well the student may be doing grade-wise. You are not warned that you will be cut. You perform an audition for a jury and they decide if you will be dropped or not. You don’t have an option of changing majors.

With engineering, if you have an F or two, it is obvious you are on a path of flunking out and so you should switch majors before you entirely flunk out.


Isn’t it really more about motivation? Even if most people could, with enough effort, become a mathematician, few would want to, and that makes the effort moot. Education has to be relevant in order to be effective. If you consider mathematics relevant, you’ll learn it. If you don’t, the best teacher in the world isn’t going to make you. A good teacher can make a subject relevant, but everyone has a limit.


Interesting points. What’s yours? Post them below in the comments section below.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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