“The formulation of the problem is often more important than the solution.”
-Albert Einstein, German-born physicist
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”
– Robin Williams, American actor and comedian
Don’t go to college learn—that is, don’t go to college to “acquire new knowledge and skills.” Instead, go to college for the education—that is, the “organized program of learning.” Let me be clear: I’m not saying that learning is unimportant. In fact, as we will see, learning is critical to professional success, especially in the modern globalized economy. However, post-secondary education institutions—including small liberal arts colleges, massive public universities, or niche technical schools—are not structured to maximize a college student’s learning experience. In fact, the economics of college institutions are such that students are disincentivized from learning and incentivized toward education. For better or for worse, this is the reality facing students, graduates, and alumni in the world of formalized education during the early 21st century.
Despite the realities of this educational landscape, many individuals, particularly those in the West, and chiefly America, remain disillusioned that college institutions represent an optimal atmosphere conducive for learning. This naïveté—coupled with America’s fantastical obsession with formalized education—poses a serious danger to incoming college students oblivious to the economic and financial realities of the new economy. Without understanding how to properly navigate the college maze, many incoming college students will share in the same somber fate (at least initially) that awaited many of my friends, family, colleagues, and even myself: (i) a crushing mortgaged-sized student loan debt, (ii) an educated but unemployed life—or if you’re lucky—an overworked but underpaid existence, and (iii) an unenjoyable, disengaging job.
Surprisingly (although, perhaps not, as we will see), many college advisors, both formal and informal advisors, have yet to fully comprehend the fallout from their faithful allegiance to a broken system. And yet they keep on giving the same advice. Teachers encourage virtually all students, regardless of academic abilities, to pursue a college degree. Parents, genuinely wanting a better life for their son or daughter, push their children to enroll in college. Guidance counselors force-feed high school graduates the same cookie-cutter script: be a success; go to college. This go-to-college message has proven both unwavering and inescapable. College represents one of the biggest financial decisions in a person’s entire lifetime. How are only a small handful of people encouraging prospective college students to pause—or at least very least more thoughtfully consider—the economics of a decision fraught with lifetime consequences?
This book will first stand conventional wisdom on its head and ask the tough but necessary questions regarding college. What do students have to gain by pursuing college, anyway? What is the purpose of formalized education in the age of the new economy? Why is seemingly everyone ignoring these obvious but important questions?
In addition, this book will show college bound students how to outperform college classmates, including smarter, better networked classmates. Yes, it is possible to work less and achieve more, even in college. According to Sir Ken Robinson in his 2013 TED Talk, “[T]he dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning but testing.” Yes, college is one big test. But because the college process is highly regimented and highly predictable, that means the college process can be learned, which means it can be taught, which means it can be mastered. This book will serve as an effective how-to manual for any college bound student because it demonstrates how to maximize employment prospects, minimize student loan debt, and flourish in post-college life.
In order to provide college students with these insights, I’ve collected hundreds of real-world testimonies, experiences, and anecdotes of people who have previously (and recently) walked the college path. When totaling the educational expenses of each of these interviewees, this book represents experiences and lessons costing literally tens of millions of dollars and centuries worth of time to learn. Ultimately, this book represents an account of every practical lesson I wish I had known starting my first day of freshman year at college.
For those more hesitant to committing to the college track, this book provides a real account of those who opted against conventional wisdom and immersed themselves in the job market immediately following high school graduation. This book chronicles the advice from many successful non-college grads who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps without a fancy college diploma. At the very least, this book encourages high school students uncertain about pursuing a college degree to ask the real but difficult questions rather than drinking the same go-to-college Kool-Aid doled out to virtually every high school student.
In the course of human history, the stakes for achieving professional success have never been higher. This statement is not hyperbole. Thomas Friedman, in his seminal book about globalization, The World Is Flat, offers a sobering reality:
In many global industries now, you have got to justify your job every day with the value you create and the unique skills you contribute. And if you don’t, that job can fly away farther and faster than ever.
We understand the realities. We understand the stakes. I’m confident that access to this book only a few years ago would have prevented one of the biggest financial mistakes of my young life: going to law school. Similarly, previous access to this book would have fundamentally altered the manner in which I approached my undergraduate education. These lessons cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition expenses and tens of thousands of dollars in lost income to learn. I’m hopeful and confident that the content of this book can alter the course of your life.
One final note: I love people who are on fire to revolutionize a broken system. If you are one of those people, I applaud you for that. Petition your local legislator. Write your local school board member. Become involved in the community. Whatever you do, keep the fire. But this book is not a how-to manual focused on revolutionizing a broken modern education system. Instead, it’s a battle-tested approach on how both college students and non-college students alike can flourish in light of their college decisions right now.