I Shouldn’t Want to Be Liked So Much

I went to a dinner the other night where I was the featured guest and by the end of the evening almost everyone there hated me. It feels bad to be so obviously hated and I always want to be liked. I probably want that too much.

The reason I was a featured guest is because they wanted to talk about the subject of whether or not kids should go to college. I had to start off with my ten minutes on the topic and then the discussion would begin.

There were two people there from the NY Post, one person who called himself “an economist” who used to work at Fox Business. One interesting woman was starting an online dating service that matches people based on their sense of humor. One woman worked at 60 Minutes. There were some teachers there. There was one person there who fights terrorists for a living. Several people were ex Washington DC political people. A few lawyers. I felt like I was going to be accepted.

But they hated me.

I gave my ten minute spiel on it. I started by reading this death threat.

Readers of this blog know my stance. Here are three links:

My main point: Student loan debt is higher than credit card debt for the first time ever. Kids can’t be entrepreneurs or artists anymore. They have to be janitors until that debt is paid off.

I also stated that a smart, aggressive kid with a five year head start (i.e. they don’t go to college) will figure out all he or she needs in terms of networking, socializing, critical thinking, etc. and not have the extra $200k in debt and 5 year lag that their college-educated peers have.

To me this is all obvious.  Why go to prison when you can be free?

Probably 16 of the 20 people there completely hated me by the end of my ten minutes. You ever get that visceral feeling when everyone in a room is sending waves of revulsion in your direction?

One guy said, “I went to college those four years and now I’m in my dream job and I learned things about myself that I never would’ve learned and…” I can’t remember the rest of what he said. For one thing, how could he know what he would’ve learned if he didn’t go to college?  And for another thing, who cares about his personal experience?

We’re all in NYC and the average age around the table was about 40. We’re the masters of the universe! What about the personal experiences right now of 22 year olds who graduate who can’t get their dream jobs and are worried sick about all the debt they collected?

Before the end of the night everyone had given me their personal experience and how great college was for them. It was like I was the accused and my judge, jury, and executioner equated college with perpetual orgasm.

One woman said, “What’s with this indentured servant thing? Who says kids have to do what they want to do?”  Forgetting the fact that it’s the kids who don’t have to pay down a lifetime of debt that start companies, create jobs, invent things, cure cancer, become artists, etc. No more. Now they have to make pencils at the factory.

One person kept saying “no matter how much debt someone has, an entrepreneur will figure out how to get money to start his business.”  This has not been my experience in being an entrepreneur. What if he also has two kids and a new mortgage. He’ll quit his job, raise money, and start a business in this environment?

Another person said she would’ve been a stay-at-home mom with five kids if she had never gone to college instead of working her dream job at 60 Minutes. Which actually makes my point. She never had the debt that current kids have. She had choices in life. Kids now (or their parents) have debt.

But it’s stupid of me to rehash this. I could’ve said all this then when I had the chance. I sat there smiling like an idiot.

The main thing is, these people didn’t like me very much. I felt like I had upset the religion of America so I was an apostate. I left at the end and very few said goodbye to me. They were all talking and joking amongst each other and Claudia and I slinked out of there. I don’t like being disliked. I shouldn’t care but I do. This is what I get for going out at night. I bet if I had brought candy to the event and given some to everyone then I would’ve been liked a little better. Just like I did every day in 8th grade.

But it’s my fault. I felt like I didn’t make my point well enough. I thought I was going to state my case and everyone would applaud and agree with me and maybe there would even be a trophy with my name on it. And then we’d all eat dinner and tell stories about how bad college was.

(maybe I would’ve liked this trophy)

Claudia said to me right afterwards, “you can’t accept these dinner invitations anymore unless running it by me first.” Her point was: I had gotten worked up, it was late for us so my morning routine would be upset, and nothing had been accomplished. I hadn’t saved the world after all. I said, “but why didn’t they like me?”

When we got back home I got into the bed right away but couldn’t sleep at all. I thought about how my 12 year old was graduating 6th grade the next day. Little did the people at the dinner know that I don’t even think kids should go to the glorified babysitting service that we call first through twelfth grade. I’d rather my kids just sit at home and get a better education watching cartoons.

Good thing I had kept my mouth shut.

  • Cartoons, especially the old ones, can be very educational.

    If I had to guess at why the people didn’t “like” you (actually they didn’t like what you “said”) It’s because they have closed off their ability to embrace new ideas, or even just consider new ideas. They have set their lives in stone, and therefore they may feel like you are injecting poison into their self-imposed rigid belief systems. 

    I wouldn’t be surprise if many of the people who heard you stayed up all night, in the safety of their quiet darkness, thinking how their lives could have been different, or maybe questioning what they have told their children to do.  I bet your words are replaying in their heads like a broken record…..

    I have three in college, I believe for them, it is the right choice.  However, I do agree that college is a huge waste for many people.

    • Be thankful for their disdain. It makes your point of views all the more interesting.  :)

      • 736, thanks as always for helping me get a good perspective on this.

  • You’re absolutely right. These snobs (I think it’s a class thing, to a great extent) are behind the curve. One of my kids is interested in engineering and for that he needs college. But why should it be the default option for every kid?

  • Ron

    You are right to point out the serious problems with college as a very bad investment (huge debt and after graduation no income to pay it off) — many people (including the folks you spoke to) are just too brainwashed by the educational establishment and their cheerleading politicians who benefit from this sad arrangement at the expense of the students.

  • Avdhoot Limaye

    What I think americans should do is come to some of the best colleges in india or china or even singapore or thailand for that matter…….for a fraction of the cost take a look at a total dissimilar culture. Get the same education and experience cheaper and maybe better ??? and stay totally out of debt.  just my 2 cents

    • I think thats a great idea. I hope my daughters go for a route like that.

      • Ron

        You may already are familiar with Jim Rogers and his book “A Gift for My Children” –he lives in Singapore and is educating his kids to be bilingual in Mandarin Chinese and English.

    • That’s one of the most inspired and exciting ideas I’ve heard in a while.  There must be a business in it somewhere…

    • Brilliant!  and simple like most brilliant ideas.

    • Concrete Dovetail

      Good experience but from the point-of-view of ultimately getting a job it might not help out.  I did part of my educational/work experience in Europe.  So far the consensus has been that anything outside the US is inferior and doesn’t really count, even though I’ve outperformed people in my field who stayed in the US.  Of course, if you don’t mind being an intellectual transient then go for it.  It’s a fun way to live, but doesn’t attract employers.  My salary is dreadful considering the cost of where I live and I have a wife who is currently unemployed (unlike me she did almost all of her education/work experience overseas).  Not sure about Asia but at least in science many Asians are fleeing to come to Europe and the US.  Obviously for some fields it would help out and maybe even be a requirement (i.e. foreign language/international experience).  If the real purpose was to experience the cultures I’m not sure if the university is a good prism to look through.    

    • Crusader79

      One of the most valuable things a young person can do is to go live and work in another country. There they have their eyes opened to how so many of the basic assumptions they ‘know’ to be ‘true’ are not. This is particularly the case for Americans, who are weighed down by an enormous amount of cultural propaganda. Viewing the U.S. from the outside for the first time is almost always a startling experience.

      When as a fresh college graduate I moved to Hong Kong from the U.S. 30 years ago, I was struck by how no one in ‘overseas Chinese’ manufacturing (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore) gave a crap where I had gone to ‘school’. In fact no one cared whether I had a university degree at all. In that industry of the largely self-made, one was judged by capability.

      That ubiquitous American question, ‘Where did you go to school?’, which originated with the degree-obsessed baby boomers, irritates me to this day. It is used in the same way the British use (or used to use) accents, to quickly, socially categorize. After 10, 20 or 30 years of work and life, again, who gives a crap whether or where anyone went to Collej?

  • -Paul

    It’s totally understandable that you have an approval-seeking side.  I do too.  But really, “What do you care what other people think?”  One of the consequences of having radical opinions (in particular this one about college you make a good point).  Forget this audience.  If you really feel this way about the usefulness of college, find the right audience–share your opinions with the people who matter, in this instance–the 18-19 yr olds that are going to have to make that decision.  You’ll probably not convince people your own age because, as you point out, they’re all ossified.

    • -Paul

      Well, maybe not all ossified, just 80% (16 out of 20)

    • James that’s a great idea. Hire the best promoter you can and do a college tour! :-) Can you imagine how insanely great that would be?

  • Paul

    One of the things that helped me a great deal expressing unpopular opinions (and I have many) was the book “Thank You For Arguing”.  http://www.amazon.com/Thank-You-Arguing-Aristotle-Persuasion/dp/0307341445  If you haven’t read or heard of it, check it out, I think you will get a lot out of it. 

    It’s a fun book on persuasion and rhetoric that made up for my bad decision not to join debate club in high school.  If I was going to start a school today, I would teach an updated class on rhetoric and persuasion, and probably start teaching a simple form of it in the early elementary grades.  It’s a lost art but one that is crucial in all aspects of adult life: business, romance, consensus-building.

    • Excellent idea. i will order the book. I actually don’t like arguing very much. It doesn’t really go towards increasing my happiness. That said, i do think these issues when discussed can lead to greater happiness across the board. So I suppose its good to have a book like that.

  • Ok.. What’s you take on European University and education? Where most of the best schools are public, acceptance rate is high and costs are very low. I love reading your blog (don’t know if i like you though :p – but at least the blog) and i just got out of my undergrad program in which i spend 6 years (changing studies here and there) having the time of my life.. relaxing and never (and i mean never) making an ounce of effort for University.

    I loved university but hated academe. I loved the care free life of having no worries and no responsibilities. Partying 5 nights a week, sleeping laid… (i mean late) and getting to meet people that will be friends for the rest of my life. I hated having to spend hours (i didn’t) on projects that would be corrected by half ***ed teachers (or worse assistants) and absolutely no return.

    Now i’m starting a business, it’s fun and i greatly enjoy doing stuff that i wouldn’t even had thought of doing if a teacher had asked me too. And probably yes, many things i would have been able to achieve already if i had used those 6 years to be an entrepreneur. But i would have never experienced this carefree, responsibility free life that allows me to think of time now not as work but as an extension to an already very good life.

    That includes the risks of failures (and changes to get back up), having kids and maybe, maybe, create something great at one point (I’m young and i’m going to conquer the world… by working hard eventually)

    I understand your point is based on american education but i believe and agree (with you that is), that if the ultimate goal is to be successful financially (as an entrepreneur) then College education is actually and probably not the best road to take (baring in mind that in college you meet smart people with whom you could consider working with or get ideas that might help you become successful).

    Oh well, i mumbling… Turning around in circles with the inability to make a decision. So i’ll conclude with my open point (sigh). Loved COLLEGE hated Academe.

  • Jonathan Cantor

    James you need to go a bit further here to elucidate this being a major issue. What are the implications. Claiming that this is a problem (which you have), is great and brings it to the forefront. But without talking a bit more about why this is a problem or support it with some data (not saying its not there, just have not seen it), then aren’t your opinions just as anecdotal? Anyone can say that there is a rise in student debts. But where is the data to support this, I for one would like to see it or you defend it. It could be there is a rise in student debt but its not as bad as we think it is. Can’t debt also spur innovation (I know a few example of this, again no statistics). Without the data your behaving just like those at the roundtable (again, not necessarily a bad thing). 

  • bluenextbear

    jam – instead of making the argument for eliminating the “need” to go to college, perhaps your case would be best made from the point of presenting college as an equally weighted option for outgoing high schoolers –

    to be sure, it is foolish to put an 18 year old with no direction into a school to study their least hated topic because they don’t have enough experience to know what they love to do – on the other hand, some kids (probably most of the ones at your table) either had the goal focus (60 min woman) or social development (the guy who found things out about himself) to achieve and college was an important step for them –

    sometimes spending a little time bouncing around is exactly what it takes – some career Plinko, as it were, but if the options are go to college or fail, we’re cutting people off by wrongly projecting their outcomes and creating self-fulfilling prophesies –

    to me and other libertarians, it is not our role or right to incentivize and disincentivize behavior that does not directly, physically affect us – it is naive to think that social codes can apply to everyone evenly, and over a long period of time – we are too evolved, numerous, and complex for that to be the case – so the best option is to eliminate the codes and provide options –

    • My concern mostly is that the discussion be had: we’re killing the country not because we aren’t educating enough people but perhaps because we are educating too many people now. On top of that, from the perspective of a hard-working parent, tuitions are a scam now, regardless of the choice of my kids.

      • bluenextbear

        i am of the opinion that cost is related to the consensus opinion:  go to college or fail –

        our primary schools lack the proper tools to teach critical thinking needed to erode this mythology, not only because of standardized testing, but also due to student/teacher ratios blowing out –

  • L. Moen

    We (husband and I) are self taught designers. We own a business and periodically take on design practicum students.

        The best and brightest of these kids succeed despite a lot of the nonsense they are taught in school.

        The lesser lights  end up taking on jobs that they could easily have had without a degree.

         Far too many of them will be heard to complain that they don’t get the respect that their degree entitles them to!

         Sadly, what they don’t learn in school is that it’s a really tough world out there and that they better get a move on.


    • It’s very true. Smart and talented people (who work at developing that talent outside of an institution) will rise the to the top over time. And sometimes that time is very quick and very cheap.

  • L. Moen

    We (husband and I) are self taught designers. We own a business and periodically take on design practicum students.

        The best and brightest of these kids succeed despite a lot of the nonsense they are taught in school.

        The lesser lights  end up taking on jobs that they could easily have had without a degree.

         Far too many of them will be heard to complain that they don’t get the respect that their degree entitles them to!

         Sadly, what they don’t learn in school is that it’s a really tough world out there and that they better get a move on.


  • Anonymous

    Data? Here’s some
    Law school bubble blowing up is just one of a ton of data out there.http://abovethelaw.com/2011/06/a-visual-representation-of-the-law-school-bubble/I am almost done with college and my take on it is.. don’t go to ivy league school to find yourself. I am going to a state college and its an amazing place not for the mostly boring coursework (ironically we all score worst in our most liked subjects because we like doing things different than its taught in the book and are therefore punished by a lower grade? HA!!)

    Almost ended up going to a $40k a year private college being lured by a big scholarship which if i hadn’t asked would have screwed me. it was $26k scholarship which i figured either per semester or per year but it actually came out to be a one time thing.

    Anyways I know this should have its own blog post but slowly and surely Claudia and James are convincing me to create my own blog and to express my heart out.

    Back on subject… In college I didn’t do sports, i just took the classes and got involved in an investing club. fast forward 4 years later and i managed to convince the faculty to turn it into a 3 credit course to be taken up to 2 times for a total of 6 credits. Who teaches it? I do of course and not in the theoretical ways that school is taught but more hands on. I want the students to learn from a fellow student on how to invest and make money work for them.

    How much did this unnecessary college degree cost me? about $3-5k a year after financial aid which is a good way for people to discover themselves and make connections. I know I have but I also had an entrepreneurial mind to begin with and a natural go-getter tendency therefore I’ve owned and built a computer support service just by word of mouth since i was legal enough not to require adult permission and now as I come into the last year of college i have given corporate america a good bye wave. 

    I’m not rich but I’m not poor. I want freedom while accepting the risk of the unsteady paycheck. $6000 one month and $500 the next? sign me up.

    you didn’t inspire me to do any of this as I did on my own before discovering your blog a few months back but its nice to hear it out loud by a person. (honestly this is the longest comment I’ve ever written so take it for what it is)

    recap: college is good only if its affordable. its like paying an entry fee to a club so you can dance and mingle and get some numbers inside. Use it not just to go to class then forget it but make connections, attend events, talk to people and pretty soon those $20k or so over 4 years will pay off dividends if you did it right.

    yes all that can be done by going to outside free events but since many people might be put off by you not having formal education as they were put off by james’ speech.

    feel free to reply to this if you make it to the end.

    • Hey, thanks a lot for this. Very helpful.

    • Jonathan Cantor

      Sorry now I’m confused are talking college or graduate school. The above link is for law schools which is clearly having major issues recently, then your story comes from undergraduate education. I’m not trying to be rude I’m just trying to clearly define where the argument begins and ends. An undergraduate education versus a graduate education are two different things with completely different implications. To lump the two together would actually be hindering the argument. I can agree that graduate school might be reduction in earnings. However the preponderance of information I have seen shows the opposite. I know in particular physicians seem to get a greater return for their money except pediatricians). And that lawyers tend to do so as well (though their distribution is bimodal a difference between corporate law and public interest law). The issues here are much more complex than to use the new hot link (I say hot because that abovethelaw post has been getting a lot of play). Now this study comes from data in 2002 with data used in 1997 so it might be a bit dated, but it seems there are returns to law school, business school, and medical school. I have yet to see other peer reviewed information out there on the returns to graduate school, but it seems there are sum….

      http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Abstract/2002/04000/The_More_Things_Change__Revisiting_a_Comparison_of.10.aspxI think the better argument here to be made is against for profit institutions as opposed to undergraduate and select graduate education. It is much more nuanced than this. I’m not trying to contradict the claim i think James is completely right, I just want to make sure that the proper issues are being addressed. It just seems that the incentives are a bit off…

  • It’s very difficult for people to accept heresy, even if you’re right. They’re invested in the fantasies they’re invested in and those fantasies bring them comfort. There is nothing that can make people hate you more than telling them a truth they don’t want to hear.
    You are right about education. Colleges, especially elite colleges, are doing the country a disservice. I attended Yale recently for an MBA. I was the oldest in my class and just astonished by my classmates’ ignorance about basic facts of history and their complete lack of critical thinking skills. Their education at elite colleges and universities consisted of political correctness administered by indentured grad students in a culture of grade inflation, extended deadlines and do-overs. If I had a kid, I’d rather give them the $200k to start or buy a business. They’d be better off in the long-run.

  • John Carney, who runs an excellent website at netnet.cnbc.com was at the event (was one of the 4 out of 20 who not only has agreed with me on this topic but also written excellent articles on it) had a completely different take on the evening, which he wrote about here:


    • just read John’s post – great read &  funny.
      I lol’d at this ->”Couldn’t he do that alone at home, like in the shower or something?”

    • Todd_Andelin

      Next time you have one of these dinner discussions, have someone film the whole thing.
      “real-time with james altucher”

  • Caromusa

    My 2 cents:

    1) you are right, the educational system in your country is rough, getting into so much debt makes the kid start over with the wrong foot… here in Argentina people can go to the public university for free -I did-, and get a better education than in the private ones (ask your wife: UBA -University of Buenos Aires- is one the best Universities in Central and South America, and it’s free).

    2) it’s not true people doesn’t like you (see all the comments on your blog!), you just seem to be around all the wrong people! LOL
    This also happens to me often, I see how people look at me like I’m a weirdo, or how I hate everything they say and do, and I think how can they be so stupid, or maybe I am the stupid and no one will ever like me… but when I am with the “right” people (right for me, of course, no judgement), I feel so comfortable and we get along and everything is fine… 
    Anyway I think I need to learn to be around all kinds of people, so I can have a more open mind… but just don’t tie my self esteem to what all of them could think of me. It’s not easy, but I try.

  • Christopher Strom


    Just like nearly everyone I know, I went to college.  And I generally agree with your stance on the pointlessness of college, but I think there is more nuance to the topic than you usually address.

    First off “college” is too broad a word. 

    If you want to be a lawyer, accountant, physician, engineer, etc, then you require specialized knowledge and skills.  Moreover, you must prove sufficiently to people who do not know you that you have such knowledge and skills.  The most effective method of doing this is to have a neutral third party vouch for you.  Today, the generally accepted method of accomplishing this is to have a degree from an institution accredited by an recognized industry body (AMA, IEEE, etc).

    However, most college graduates do not study these sorts of subjects, nor do they get these sorts of degrees.  They get degrees in literature, psychology, communications, and a whole host of other subjects that have no practical value.

    To make matters worse, many of these kids will get these useless pieces of paper not from some state school that will cost them $30K for four years, but at expensive private schools that will cost them $30K per semester. 

    And to top it all off, they will finance these insanely expensive ventures with borrowed money, turning them into the wage slaves / salary whores you describe.

    Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with working for wage or salary.  Having worked for myself and for salary, I have to say:  I like working for salary.  I rather enjoy having work and life quite well separated.  I prefer not to be awake at night at 2am worrying about the million problems that could take down my company. 

    Nor is there anything wrong with studying literature, psychology, communications, or other non-marketable subjects.  One might really enjoy deep study in, say, literature from a particular
    culture or era, but since the market for this knowledge is very small,
    this subject of intellectual pursuit is best approached as a hobby, not
    as a field with career potential.  In this light, borrowing six figures
    to study literature at Columbia University is utterly insane.

    Nor is there anything wrong with going to college.  But college is not
    an end in itself, it is a means to an end.  It is not sacred, it is but one way to alter the path
    of your life.  And if you want to be a physician, engineer, accountant,
    or lawyer, it’s the way to go.  If you want to do something else, there
    are many other paths.  Most are cheaper.  Many are better.

    This leads me to take a different approach to the subject of college.  College is expensive, often ridiculously so.  Education is an investment.  But education is not limited to college, and the goal of an investment is for it to pay off.  Such desisions should not be made by kids right out of high school.  Eighteen-year-olds are idiots with no life experience and poor decision-making skills.  They are in no way capable of making careful decisions on subjects that have long-term effects on their lives.  This isn’t their fault,  their brains just aren’t done forming yet.  Fortunately within a few years, their brains are fine.  And your “alternatives to college” list is a great way for kids to take those fresh brains out on a test drive, so they can practice making decisions and gain experience with cause and effect in life.

    But no one knows what they want when they’re eighteen (other than the few exceptions that prove the rule).  Hell, I’m 41, and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  I started as a retail owner, now I’m an engineer, maybe I’ll brew beer next…

    So chin up, James.  Your message is sound.  Your ideas are right.  You simply presented your case to that audience in a way that failed to resonate with them.  Find another angle to approach it from.

    And keep up the writing.  Your posts and advice are inspiring in hard times.

    • Christopher, you’re right. And everyone kept relating to their personal stories but the world of college tuitions (not to mention the job world afterwards) has totally changed now.

    • Aaa

       ‘…it is but one way to alter the pathof your life.”

      Well put. 

    • Saw4139

      As a BSME, I can say that a $200K debt is too great for this field.  I got out of engineering as fast as I could, moving to sales.  The pay is far greater.  In fact, these careers like engineering and accounting do not pay enough for this level of debt.  Furthermore, family practice medicine does not either.  My doctor friends are worried they’re next on list for attack by the government.  I think there are only a select few areas where this debt level can pay off, but they are only for the exceptional student.  Unfortunately, this is the case.  Fortunately, my wife, the RN, knows this.  We’re steering our kids accordingly.

  • That’s courage, James.  Sticking with your views, heck, expressing them, to those that clearly don’t agree.  Reminds me of that Churchill quote: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

    • Great quote.

    • Chris K

      This is a very good quote. I can relate to this because those that avoid enemies and say they don’t want to “burn bridges” with people are those that don’t have will and courage and those that don’t stand up for what they believe. In essence they are the conformists of society’s rules and customs.

  • What would our lives be like if we could give up our need to be liked?  Isn’t that where a lot of our neurosis comes from – the little kid at the playground who want to be accepted, seems like we’re still stuck at that stage.

    Using myself as an example, how would I do that?  Thinking it would involve (1) taking a hard look at who I am, including the fact that I’m an imperfect human being (2) accepting myself (3) loving this individual I turned out to be (4) realizing the greater inner part of me that is and always has been complete.  

    I’m thinking that giving up need to be liked would be equivalent to having a superpower.  You could be at a party and have a great time regardless of those around you.  If they disagree, call you names, throw tantrums and take their legos away, you would just smile at their antics, and accept them for who they are.  

    Until then, yes, do run all invitations by Claudia first.

    • Still thinking about this.  If our state of mind depends upon others liking us, then we’re basically giving our power away to them, saying, “you decide how I feel about myself and how I use this fleeting moment.”  

      • Yeah, good way of looking at it. I’m a people pleaser though for 40 years (since I was 3 at least). We all build various levels of addictions, and some of them superficiallly appear to have positive effects on our interactions with society but ultimately they tear at us.

    • I agree. Its almost like a super power to fully give it up. I guess I’m not afraid to state opinions in the quietness of the blog but i’m always surprised by some of the vigorousness of the reactions. I’m torn because I really believe in a sort of radical honesty but I’ve gotten myself in trouble a few times now because of it.

      Claudia has already vetoed one dinner invite. There’s a dinner honoring a blogger who lied quiet a bit about me in a post and I was thinking it would be a fun story to go and just be there but Claudia vetoed.

      • Hooray for Claudia!

      • Claudia was smart there. Setting the whole “being liked” issue aside, your time is also an investment. Is the return on that event’s time bill greater than, for instance, an equivalent amount of time together with her? Can’t see it, myself. Guess she couldn’t, either.

        Likewise, college isn’t just a money investment. It’s a time investment. Could you get more out of that time doing something else, as well as less money? It depends on what you do, of course, and who you are. The person who looks at college as a big party is likely in that mode, and will be so even in the real world, unless the thing they’ve chosen to do instead also broadens their horizons some other way. So the time issue is a wash, but they’re not in debt.

        When I think of it this way, it offers another angle for you. College is hugely expensive, and because it has become so expensive, you have to be very focused in terms of what you want from it, and what you will invest of yourself while there.

        It’s pretty much inarguable that most people going to college do NOT meet this definition. So, my audience, all those slackers and coast-alongs you knew in college? The difference is that today, they urgently need NOT to be there, for the sake of their own futures, until and unless they really understand why they’re going. When they come out of high school, therefore, they need to do something else. And even people who think they know what they want might do well to follow suit, until a couple years of real world experience have either confirmed or changed their intent.

        Maybe, after they’re done with that few years of “something else”, they’ll still want to go to college. Maybe they’ll decide they have already received what they need – and here’s why they might. The most important thing is, they won’t be $100,000+ dollars in debt trying to find out. When YOU, my audience, went to college, you could use it as a place to find out. The big difference is that people today can NOT use it for that. You have to know going in.

    • Sharon Royal

      I can tell you what it’s like to have little concern about being liked since I’ve never understood why most people need to be liked. Maybe, that’s because I was born a classic introvert, so what other people think just isn’t my focus on any subject, except when I think they may have something to teach me. It makes life much simpler to act based on what YOU think, rather than worrying about what other people think about you. It saves so much time and gives you so much more autonomy. On the other hand, maybe more sociable people just can’t afford to take that approach.

  • Tim Hofmann

    People who allow their need to be liked to control them will look back on their life as a sycophant or slut and probably have no idea what went wrong. 

    Fight it!

  • Great article!  I’ve worked at a large, research institution for four years now and I continue to have mixed feelings about the positive and negative aspects of college.  Many readers before have commented about some of these, so I will skip the details.  

    I just think students need to be challenged to critically think about their decisions.  So many of my college students have never considered what will happen when they graduate with a humanities degree and 30k or more in debt. 

    Ultimately, lifelong learning should be an opportunity that everyone deserves.  But we need a system that combines technology and classroom interaction in an affordable way.  Just like in primary and secondary ed, we need to refocus the system on the students and not the adults.  

    I think the US is going to be hurt in big ways in the future because of our underperforming education systems.  I’m happy folks like Altucher are questioning the status quo, because that’s really where change starts to happen.

    Let’s adapt and provide great learning opportunities for anyone that wants to take advantage!  

    • CMS

      If you haven’t already, check out Khan Academy.  http://www.khanacademy.org . If I were giving out donations, that’s where it would go.Overview of quite a few subjects with an emphasis on math (from identifying numbers to calculus). .  It can be used for self study or in a classroom. The website and videos are simple and brilliant.

      • The khan academy is interesting because it clearly satisfies the “education” requirement. So what else is there?

        • CMS

          KA’s how- to videos, available tutoring and testing, that’s it.

          For an
          adult, life-long learner, that fills the order. For children, all that’s left
          is the social requirement. Of course, we are just talking about the math requirement
          in regards to Kahn’s site. He doesn’t offer practice/testing/tutoring on the
          other subjects, similar sites will be needed to cover all the bases.

          adding a little math to your daily practice may advantageous; one would be put in
          a logical/problem solving mindset first thing in the morning.

  • Anonymous

    Cry heresy!

    I was actually struck by Claudia’s response. She’s definitely got your back.

    Funny that you question the value of K-12 education. I’ve had the same thought 100 times looking at the stuff my son brings home. I think “is this even remotely relevant to any of the challenges this kid will face in his lifetime? Is this even a foundation for anything?”  I know the stuff we were taught (we’re about the same age) was virtually worthless.

    Fees at the second rate state university I went to are about triple what they were when I was there. I thought I overpaid then and am convinced it was a complete waste of time and money now that I’ve got 20 years of experience as a “college graduate.” 

    Keep speaking truth. You are doing good.

  • Todd_Andelin

    1. Colleges are like old-age homes, except for the fact that more people die in colleges.-Bob Dylan2.What was your BODY LANGUAGE like?Were your palms faced up or faced down while your were talking?Were you trying to be in a position of authority or submission?3.I read and study books at Barnes and Noble all the time.  They should become a small college.  Have pop-up classes in their stores.  On any subject.  They already have books, internet, coffee.  Sounds like a college to me.Make some glass rooms and rent space to small start up companies as well.

  • Student of wisdom

    Maybe your wanting to be liked so much is just another leak you need to plug. For the record, I like you. I like you a lot. I like how you say what you think even if, or maybe especially if, it goes against the conventional grain of common thought. You are a man of great courage and exceptional wisdom.

    • It’s definitely one of my leaks. I have to work on it. Thanks.

  • Jay

    James watch the last five minutes of Dog Day Afternoon. You probably felt exactly like Al Pacino at the end of your event.

    • Ha, yeah, I remember those 5 mins. What a great movie.

  • Right on, Mr. Altucher. The last line blew my mind. If college is sacred ground, the twelve year compulsory “education” system is a cow far more sacred. There’s a NY State teacher of the year named John Taylor Gatto who quit teaching, writing a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he said that he couldn’t hurt kids for a living anymore. He chronicles his reasons for hating the school system in his delightful but very strangely organized book ‘The Underground History of American Education.’ It’s the sort of book I think you’d either like or hate, and you can read it in print or online for free.

    • Ha, I’ll check that out. If you think about it, it common sense why K-12 exists. K-6 exists so parents can work because now both parents have to work 80 hours a week to afford college, our inflated retirement needs, etc and we need a place to put the kids. Grades 7-12 exists so basically kids stay out of trouble while their parents work and the kids hormones are going out of control. There’s got to be better ways to do it.

      Denis Johnson wrote an essay in either Slate or Salon about this in 1997 that I thought was EXCELLENT. One sec while I look it up…


      • Anders

        John Taylor Gatto is amazing. Google him and you’ll find great speeches and articles by him. You should check out Sudbury Valley schools – they’re a much better way to house children while mommy and daddy work.

  • Ah, James….

    I don’t believe you.  I don’t think having the great unwashed masses like you is all that important to you.  On the off chance I’m wrong there is an easy way to change it:

    Stop speaking truth.  people will love you for it.

    Of course, then I will no longer respect you and that will be bad for me.  I’ve found very few people whose minds offer unique perspectives.  It would be a pity to lose one.  my loss.

    but for every one like me you lose you’ll gain a thousand.  your call.  I think I’m safe.

    • I was just saying to Claudia, I’m torn: because I do really like being liked. Too much. AND, i dont really intend to be controversial. I’m always surprised what a hot-issue this topic is. But it is, even in friendly environments.

      • I guess we all liked to be liked; it is just a matter of is it more important than other things, like speaking truth.

        I’m always a little surprised when any issue gets so hot topic the debate turns ugly.  I’m never offended becuase someone has a different view than I.  Mostly, at least if I respect them, I’m intrigued to learn why this person could come to such a different conclusion.

        Of course that respect doesn’t extend to those who insist they have the one true way and all must follow.  For awhile as a satire on that I got into the habit of telling people:

        “The is a simple way to evalute the accuracy of your world view.  The extent to which you disagree with me is precisely the extent to which you are wrong.” 

        I loved the absurdity of it.  Unfortunately, many many people took angry exception as they took it at face value.  That’s a commentary perhaps on what we expect in our debates.

        While I mostly agree with you on this one, I am sending my kid to college.  I’m also working on a post as to why.  She has suggested the title:  “College is a scam, but I’m sending my kid anyway.”  that sums it up.

  • joanie

    awesome again!  

  • Daniel Binder

    Hi James.

    I’m a fan of yours, in particular your ideas on college and housing. I think you should get a lot of credit for correctly pointing out that the economic proposition of these two commonly held bedrocks of financial (and otherwise) success in the U.S. have become perverse for many, if not most.


    I think that after readers or listeners get over the immediate personal defensiveness that this argument brings up (you are, in a way, calling them suckers for paying for college), the point that many who hear your perspective take away is that
    you’re against people learning. Or maybe that you’re against learning
    things that aren’t immediately economically valuable. I don’t think
    that’s your point.

    I think that your point is that the high cost (and resulting high opportunity cost) of a higher education that you are taking issue with, not the resulting educated people (regardless of their political leanings). I’m assuming that you prefer informed and capable people around you because you, in fact, you rely on them in your profession. These people are (mostly) the result of the U.S. educational system.

    Being in “college” does not preclude motivated and talented people from being artists or entrepreneurs. In many instances, being in college enables them.

    So, if you’re only issue is with the economic cost to the individual, then the more rational argument would be to LOWER the overall COST of education to individuals. Lower cost schools that don’t require loans or scholarships would be the most efficient way to achieve this. As with housing, we should have learned that cheap, subsidized loans simply inflates prices and makes the entire system more expensive. 

    In an earlier era, this was the impetus for creating the state college systems. Maybe it’s time to take another look at this. Maybe online colleges are a solution. I don’t know the solution, but I think that this would be a more productive direction to take the conversation and attention you get from your hot potato opening.

    Again, please continue. I enjoy your work and think it’s an important perspective.

    • I agree. i tihnk people go right to the exteme and I don’t necessarily discourage that. My thoughts on that are mixed. Lets say college was free. I’m still not sure I’m in favor of it. I would be more in favor of gap years so kids can see what its like for the first time in their lives to not have schools, and tests, and teachers telling them what to do which is why I wrote about alternatives. Then maybe after some gap years, school might be more exciting to them.

      • Daniel Binder

        I’ve been in favor of some sort of compulsory public service after high school for some time now, be it military service, working in hospitals, teaching/daycare, et cetera. I think that the lack of common experience, in particular experience that exposes people to a broad spectrum of society, has led to increasing polarization.

        As a side benefit, everyone would have the beginnings of a economically-viable skill.

        Probably not where you’d go, but otherwise, kids would be economically dependent on parents or low-skill wage jobs, which are increasingly in short supply.

  • Kjp712

    The ” Game” was changed 3 years ago when Lehman’s collapsed.The people in the room grew up in the old paradigm and refuse to accept the new reality.When one thinks inside a box it is important to cut tiny windows in order to see outside.Those people have forgotten how to dream and check their wallets to make sure it is still there.

    • I agree. I think even moreso: the game was faked all along. There never was corporate safety at all. I met a guy a few weeks ago: college, grad school, 36 years with GM. Made the mistake of moving into middle management, the one un-represented group in the bankruptcy. Now: no health insurance, no pension, no job, etc. Fortunately, this guy had done some saving, had downsized, etc. But many people didn’t.

      Everyone thinks the college degree is either this perpetual safety net or somehow at least a band-aid on a bad world because they read the great books and learn how to think when its quite the opposite. the real world teaches one how to think. Or fail. Or breathe.

  • superhl

    You are offending people who make a lving based on this religion. Many of these individuals make BIG salaries working for universities. How dare you question what they teach. Don’t you know they are smarter than you. Shame on you!!!! What would they do if all these kids decided not go to college? Strart a business? Most likely not.. Why? No real skills…. Keep up the great post!

  • BLP2

    I am 46 years old and I have 6 college credits. I am a VP of sales for a technology company. I have 17 sales people that work for me and they all have college degrees. Most of the Account Executives in our firm that are 35 and under are still paying off their student loans. I agree with your position on a formal education. It is overrated and expensive. Unless a person is looking to specialize in a chosen field they should save their money.

    • anders

      We should also remember that good sales people will always have work in this country –  only an idiot won’t hire a sales guy who performs because he didn’t go to college.

  • Beyondbeige

    I have been saying this for years to my high school students. Under cover of darkness of course. Our district judges each school on how many of their Seniors graduate and go on to college. The problem is more than half of those kids end up dropping out. We were told it was a whopping 60%.  So we’ve had to beat the drum more, raise those test scores and offer remedial classes to those students who want to go to college but are not prepared. And probably never will be. In our district its considered almost shameful not to go to college. Like its the only way to get to the American dream. 
    I myself am the only one in my family to go to college. All my family members who chose not to go are thriving economically.. We each took our own different paths which back in the day was a heck of a lot easier than it is now. Gas was a buck for cripes sake. Now the low paying jobs the kids are working don’t even pay for food,utilities, car, rent etc.  unless your rooming with a cast of thousands. Good luck trying to start a business as an 18 year old. Unless you want to be in porn maybe.

  • Jake

    Well, let’s say you’re 18 and you’re not interested in becoming an entrepreneur. You want to do something useful with your life, to contribute in your own small way to humanity (while making a decent living), but you don’t know what yet. There’s a couple things that interested you that you “learned” about in high school, like Ancient Greece and space science. So, you take the SAT’s, get accepted to some second rate state college near your home, and get financial aid (because your parents are pretty poor) that pays for your tuition, fees, and books. You live at your parents home because you don’t want to get into debt by getting a loan to pay for housing closer to school. You major in “General Studies” so you can take a wide variety of classes/subjects. You change your major in your junior year to mechanical engineering because you took a class in your sophomore year in general engineering that covered briefly about how spacecraft are designed, that inspired you. The classes you take tells you how things are calculated and why, in designing mechanical stuff. You graduate (debt free, thanks to financial aid) and find a job where you work with a team to design satellites. You make a decent salary that allows you to pay taxes that kinda pays back the good people of the US for having paid for your education. You buy (or rent) a modest, decent home, get married, have kids, and so forth. You’re doing okay, and it’s good enough for you.

    I think college still makes sense for quite a few young people. I understand the issue with debt, but I think it really impacts the upper mid-class (too rich to get aid, too poor to pay without loans or digging deeply into savings). I also see how college would be a waste of time for some – ironically, the ones most sought after by colleges (high intelligence, high scores, highly driven, lot’s of ideas, ….). But if you can get a free or near free ride, and you’re not a kid with those traits, college might not be a bad option at all.

    • Even in your above scenario (which is not a horrible scenario for kids) I would note a few things:
      A) I still encourage a gap year. You say yourself the kid is confused at 18. Do something other than spend their parents money or borrow money in order to learn a little more about life. Then it doesn’t have to be so expensive before they find out what they want to do.
      B) Financial aid is not free. Its a state school which means its coming out of your state (and some federal) taxes. Thats a real cost to society to pay for a kid who doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life.
      C) Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. But the following skills are necessary for everyone: come up with ideas and learn how to sell them. They don’t teach that in college at alll. So its worthwhile to at least try a few times at being an entrepreneur to learn the “hustle”.

      • Jake

        Hi James,

        a) I would agree – better to reflect for a year than waste money while totally confused. However, I think most have some interests they might want to pursue (learning more about ancient Greece, space), and college might be a good source to find out more in a structured way (some people need this structure).
        b) This is true. I got through college thanks to financial aid, for which I’m very grateful. I pay a lot of taxes now, and I like to think a part of it now pays for some other kids in need of aid. It would be disappointing if it was going to a kid who was wasting his/her time in school.
        c) I agree that it’s useful and would be helpful/worthwhile for anyone to learn these skills. However, some (maybe many) just aren’t interested. They’re happy being worker bees, getting a salary, taking orders from bosses, socializing at work, etc – and college is “good” for them (they need processes & conventions to bring sense to existence). And I think we need people like these to get most of our society’s gruntwork done. 

  • casper

    Will you accept treatment for an ailment from a person who has not attended med school or one has attended med school and has a degree in medicine ?

    • this was also asked during the dinner. My answer: “doctors kill more people than anyone!” so of course I would. My main concern would be that they have compassion and no their material. Now, you can say, how would you know that? There are many ways but I can get into it in another post.

      However, if one of my daughters wanted to practice medicine I would first make them work in a hospital for a year or two cleaning bedpans to make sure they really have what it takes to be a doctor: compassion towards their patients.

      • The Window Washer


  • Anonymous

    I agree with you on this one. Starting off life with that much debt makes everything much more difficult. College is still useful but if a kid is going to do it now they better either:

    1. Have rich parents who pay for everything.
    2. Have very good grades and get scholarships to pay for school and/or
    3. Work their asses off while in school to pay that tuition bill a keep the debt to the absolute minimum.

    Or go to community college. Hey- it’s an education and really, if you are smart and motivated nobody cares where you went school. I’ve learned 100 times more from books and just living life then I did in four years of college.

    The other thing you can do is audit classes. It’s cheap and you can just pick and choose what you want to learn from only the best professors. And you get to make connections that might serve you later in life. Screw the degree.


    • you forgot the other option: study while working and buy books on subjects you’d rather just clep out ahead of time so you can shorten the time it’ll take you to get that piece of paper that collects dust in a frame on a wall that only the visitors ever look at.

  • Anonymous

    James, I’ve become addicted to your blog.  I really like your point of view on things, even if I don’t agree.  I find that people many time won’t even entertain another point of view because that will rock their core beliefs, and they don’t think they survive that.  Mabye they can’t entertain two conflicting thoughts at the same time.  The one lady who said she’d be a stay at home mom if she did’nt have her drem job got my gears to grinding.  Stay at home moms are far more valuable than whatever she does at 60 minutes.  Don Hewett died and that show is still going on.  She can’t be that much important.  If we had more stay at home moms we would have much better children.  Plus, remember you have a whole universe of people waiting for the next word you say.  Every day.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your blog. It always makes my day.

  • Leniholiday

    Yo  Altuchdaddy, what do you think about getting a nursing degree (ADN)? I’m currently trying to get my nursing degree but i’m not sure whether i should do it. I personally hate school but my parents are  paying for my education . Is it a good idea to continue?
    What do you think about Mike Rowe’s movement to get people working dirty jobs?

  • LJF

    This quote kept coming to mind as I read this…

    “To be independent of public opinion
    is the first formal condition of achieving anything great.” — G. W. F. Hegel

  • Chickfromcraigslist

    everyone wants to be liked… just not everyone admits it…. i like you.

  • Emily

    James, Please don’t feel bad. You were speaking to the people who chose to follow the course in life we’re told will lead us to fulfillment, so of course they had to defend their choice to follow the norm. I couldn’t agree with you more about college, and about school in general, even elementary school. I suffered my whole childhood in school, being pushed down by teachers and forced into the mold – and I had such spirit! When I have children they will never go through that. I still mourn for the little girl I could have been, and the love for life that was squashed from me in school. Sometimes I see her, but most of the time she’s hiding behind the “should’s” and “need to’s” we’re trained to pay attention to through routine and rules and unending boredom. I hate the person I so often am in my day to day life, and wish I had the guts to toss it all away and find that spirit again. Thank you for sharing your life with us, it inspires me so much.

  • I completely agree with the school thing. I am a public school teacher (High school). Probably 70% of our day at school is unnecessary. We could easily have the kids done by lunch, but then what would they do? Their parents are at work, they don’t have jobs, they are stupid kids. So, we babysit them until 3. I just wish we would call it what it is, baby sitting. oh well, whaddaya gonna do?

    • I wish they could make it fun. Basically, all kids need to learn from school is how to do basic math in their head and how to read. So basics get covered from 9-10am in the morning. 10-12 should be reading anything they want. Noon to 2 should be running around outside, doing what kids do. And 2-3 should be playing any board game they want. now THAT would be an education.

  • Jay

    Jim you should read Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki. Zen dudes don’t worry about results. They bruise on the inside jk.  For real, as the kids say, if you’re worried about results you’re not living in the present moment.  Live the truth. Done.

    • I read it. Probably the best book on Zen. Was very into it for awhile but have gotten more into yoga philosopy lately (which is very similar but adds more of a physical component – the idea being that if you can sit straight better, then you can meditate better). I think, ultimately, its very hard to live in the moment. I like to “practice” (e.g. meditation) but its practice for all the other hours of the day when it’s so hard.

  • college was good for me….i learned that baked potato is the cheapest food in college and it’ll keep you full til you get home. i also learned that psychology and sociology classes provide very entertaining moments when others burst out in disagreement.

    • Ha, I missed that about psychology and sociology because i unfortunately never showed up for those classes. And for me, ramen noodles. Mmmmm.

  • jim

    Are you sure the missed expectation was less about being liked and more about not being hailed as a world-saver?  Did you interpret that lack of world-saver-hailing as not being liked?  And sure, anytime you say something that runs against the grain (at least the gran in the room) you’re going to get people rearing their heads back in shock.  But is that always equal to dislike?  Could it just be shock?

  • C Pennybrown

    James, you are liked.  You must know that by now. But maybe your ideas aren’t appreciated in some quarters.
    Your ideas aren’t ready for prime time because there are lots of vested interests that get undercut by them.  Who is going to pay those college presidents’ million dollar salaries when kids start chasing your alternatives?  Who is going to be willing to sign up for lifetime of serfdom “working making pencils in factory”  except someone tied down by debt and few options?

    As for wanting to be liked….. well psychopaths never care what people think about them.  And they probably sleep a whole lot better than you.  But nobody really loves a psychopath. 

  • Luke

    Most people are unhappy. Rather than improve themselves to feel better, they choose to drag others down in hopes it will boost their spirits. The reason people defend college so much is because they hate their life. Admitting college is often a bad decision means their predicament is their fault.

    Despite what they argue about the “great experience” or “knowledge” they gained in college- the reality is that if they admit that perhaps college is gigantic boat anchor tied around their neck then they will, in effect, have to admit that their unhappiness in life has been caused by their own choices. Free will is a scary thing to 90% of people.

    I wanted to take a year off from school and experience different things, but my family insisted it was a bad idea. So I went to college for 2 years. Then I dropped out. Then I worked some crappy jobs. Then I became a successful entrepreneur and have been happily self-employed for the last 8 years. No debt.

    My other friends and family members went to school. They did well. They all have jobs they hate and huge loans. They call me “lucky” but never recognize I made the right choice. It was of course “just lucky” and they think college is great.

    Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me.

  • Brian S. Eater

    The word “zombie” is a slur.  You should know that the correct term is “Biologically-Challenged.”


  • Sadly it seems that in our society the majority of people don’t want to think, or create, or even consider that there might be other paths than the majority-endorsed norms. They just want to be told what to do – and to have it affirmed that what they did was the ‘right’ thing.

    Telling them otherwise – or that you even think there MIGHT another path – is very threatening to their self-perception and image. Which leads to the type of reaction you experienced.

    Thanks for saying what you think. As your comments indicate, there are some who appreciate it.



  • I would like to tell that woman how I quit college TO become a stay at home mom with 5 kids! That was my dream job. And #5 is graduating from home school next year and following her dream to take a lot of really great pictures, maybe set up a business — without college in the equation. #4 is a musician. He works a day-job to support his dream of playing loud, screaming loud, and making people jump up and down. He rocks. And the rest are fine too.

  • Original thinking is like that. You get rejected. A lot. Hold your head up, and think some more!

    Did you read Louis Menand’s article in the New Yorker, about college

    Raising children to help them acquire real education, to prepare them for life, and to help them find what life is about: that’s not college these days.

  • I’d already read and immensely enjoyed your pieces on avoiding college.  Personally I didn’t really enjoy college – I couldn’t wait to be finished with it, get my degree, and start normal life.  And I was already skeptical about university in general even before I read your articles.

    I avoided massive debt by living with my parents for part of the 4 years, and taking 2 buses to college.  I also went to a state university rather than a private one.  That kept my costs down.  My parents and I both tried to pay some of the tuition costs on the spot, rather than taking it all on loan.  And of course I tried to hold down a job in the meantime.  All those things combined to make it so that I had SOME debt, but not massive debt.  I paid it off about 7 years after I graduated, and the payments were slow and manageable.

    With my kids, I’ll probably try to do the same thing.  There’s a big difference (in terms of debt) between a private university taken entirely on loan, and a state university taken partially on loan.  And a young person isn’t likely to be able to make full use or even appreciate the better instruction in a private university, so why pay more for it?

    The sad truth is that a college degree is still seen by many employers as a bare minimum for many jobs.  If you don’t have it, you won’t even be considered.  It’s the golden key, and you gotta have it, unless you’re Bill Gates.  Or Mr. Altucher.  :)

  • You are looking at college from a strictly financial perspective.  There are other advantages to going to college, not the least of which is that in the eyes of most attending university moves you into a higher social class.

    Also, most people aren’t capable of starting and running a successful business.  The majority of people are destined to be employees at one level or another, so I don’t think your college argument should address segment of the population.  Recent history has absolutely proven that your typical genius level entrepreneur can succeed without a degree (Gates, Zuckerburg, Larry Elison, etc). 

    That being said, I agree with you.  College is a waste of time and money.  Unless your parents are rich and you can get into a top 25 school.

    • Well, see some of the other articles I’ve written. The financial perspective is most important, yes, because it either frees us or enslaves us.

      BUt there are other factors. You just spent 12 years behind a desk, listening to teachers, hanging with the same sort of people as you. Why do another 4. Why not take some gap years and look for alternatives. You owe it to the rest of your life to try something new. New-ness when so young is a gift that so few take advantage of these days. Believe me, you can’t do it later. Only when you are 18-22.

  • Anonymous

    I was aimlessly thrashing through my third year working toward my degree in computer science and was dealing with a prof who could not understand a program I wrote for my COBOL class where I created an encryption program that went beyond the specifics she outlined. I went to the department head because of the D, and he said that he really liked the code and that it was original but the grade would stand. He explained to me that we all had times when we would have to work for people who weren’t as bright as ourselves and I should learn to live with it… I joined the Navy as an enlisted man shortly thereafter.

    It was a decision I have never regretted.

    All too often, even in courses of study where there is an application, higher education in this country better resembles rote application of the prejudices of the current ruling education class. -Memorization, regurgitation, and defecation. Sometimes I think that students succeed in learning despite the best efforts of the institutions they attend.

    I had the pleasure of instructing many of our fine young marines and sailors in electronics and one of the most difficult training tasks I had was teaching them computer math and logic. The greatest source of difficulty that I had was that I found most of these top 10 percent students did not have a grasp of the decimal system. They were also not functional without their calculators. And most of them had some college…

    College should be difficult, not a social club. It should be a place to learn the tools to apply to problem-solving, rather than how to parrot back the answer that best reflects the opinion of the professor(s). It should be difficult to get into, cheap to pay for, and provide skills that have the potential to improve the society into which the graduate is released into.

    At present, beyond our system serves only those staffing it. While I will buy into the need for the rigorous training of our doctors and engineers, most of our educational expense is wasted upon fluff and nonsense.

    As for those who disliked your message, James, you should relish it. Some enemies are marks of distinction. They are small-minded wipers of other person’s bottoms, brown-nosed sycophants, and unworthy of serious consideration. Had they listened to you speak, appreciated your message and actually thought about it, offered honest rebuttal beyond the, “Unh-uh!” – level, you might take their criticism to heart. Listen to Claudia and shake the dust of the memory from your feet.

  • When everyone is lying, the person in the room telling the truth looks like the lier. You should expect not to be liked when you give an opinion the audience as a whole probably doesn’t agree with.

  • I am a little old to fret about it, maybe it is different now, but in my generation (class of ’64)
    we did not have the example of Gates and Jobs, and just assumed that we
    would have to pick a career, learn something about it, interview to
    prove it, and work our way up. I suppose that there are many fields where one could WORK productively without a college degree, but how would you ever get through the interview process? Where do you even get the vocabulary? Dont you have to convince someone that you know a bit about the type of work you are interviewing for? How many careers are there where one can just self-start your own business? Even if you dont have to impress the potential employer with your competence, dont you usually have to impress your prospective clients? Are there really that many hopeless suckers that you can sell snake oil to?

    Plus, A friend and co-worker had a poster on his office wall with the general point that the most important thing in life was persistence–the ability to dig-in and grit your teeth and hang on until the job was done. Knowledge, creativity, intelligence… all need persistence to get the payoff. And when you go in to an interview with a college degree of any kind, you have demonstrated some stick-to-itiveness. Otherwise, you are a “?”.

    • True but note: your friend said “the most important thing in life was persistence”. This is still true. The sign didn’t say “the msot important thing in life was college” or even an “education”. People get educated regardless of college. And sometimes people don’t learn how to persist thru inevitable failures regardless of how many years they spent in college. I’ll stick to the original quote on your friends door and say that is far more important than anything else.

      • Fine, but how can I know about someone’s perserverance? They may have it through life experience, but how can I know that?

        I think we are talking about different worlds anyway. You tossed a figure of $200K college debt, and my debt on graduation was $1500. I worked my way through a state school. If you are spending $200K, in my estimation, the education benefit is trivial compared to the contacts you make. I cant imagine any sort of knowledge that a professor could give me worth that sort of money. If he had that kind of expertise, why is he not out using it?

  • Malgreenfield

    Have you thought of creating a list of the famous people/inventors who didn’t go to College or even school? Like Edison? People find it so difficult to be original, own their own thoughts and beliefs, march to the beat of their drummer instead of regurgitating the same information. We never stop learning and don’t need a College for that.

    • anders

      John Taylor Gatto covers this. Look at the people who won the revolutionary war against England – many of them didn’t go to college and they’re well regarded as producing many brilliant political thinkers and defeating the greatest empire at the time (it helped they got the French to help.)

  • JaneyB

    Thanks for telling it like it is – however much people don’t want to hear it. And please – tell it again, every chance you get! College debt is killing the young in this country. Kill-ing them, delaying marriages, and making impossible the crazy risks that make a nation great. You can’t get rid of student loan debt  even by going bankrupt. It is incredible to me that parents allow their children to do these degrees and then…they brag about them. Worse, it’s not even good education now that the faculty has such little job security that they have to flatter their charges to keep their jobs. University – sure – a course here and there, auditing – why not, maybe do a year but do NOT do a full degree. The debt will destroy your future.

    The sloppy social science that schools use to justify their programs is a fright. The main reason why the people with good jobs have so much education is not because they needed it but because the economy was in the tank so they stayed in school until it recovered – and back then, that was cheap. That is very different from needing the degree to do that job.

  • achilles3

    what if you get a full ride?

    • A) there’s never a full ride. Someone’s paying (parents, banks, taxpayers)
      B) you just spent 12 years in  a classroom. Most likely (not in every case) better for your life in general to figure out an alternative for a year or so.

  • James, I’m guessing you’ve read this classic article on Radical Honesty, but just in case, well worth a peruse: http://www.esquire.com/features/honesty0707

    • Yes, I’ve read it and its interesting. I believe in the basic idea but both of the main protagonists (AJ Jacobs and the guy who develops the concept) seem to also use “radical honesty” as almost daggers to not just explore their boundaries but pierce them and potentially hurt people (consequences less important than the honesty itself).

      Jacobs sort of notices this and writes about it. But I think there’s a way to explore those boundaries without (hopefully) hurting people. I’m going to write about this. Its an important topic since so often we lie out of fear. And the idea that honesty frees ourselves (the point of “radical honesty”) is a true one.

      • Great observation on it hurting people.  I like the idea of exploring these without hurting people.  Yes, please do write about this. 

      • Great observation on it hurting people.  I like the idea of exploring these without hurting people.  Yes, please do write about this. 

  • achilles3

    Well yeah someone’s paying but it isn’t you so it seems like a good business move for a young person.  Hey you’re 18 and we wanna give you something for free that usually cost a lot of money.
    If my son had that opportunity it would be hard to not advise him to give it a shot.

    I actually think skipping high school altogether would be WAY more helpful than skipping college. High school is a huge waste of time for most. 

    • Re: “High school is a huge waste of time” — I like the basic idea. Just brainstorming. Others here have suggested high school be followed by military training or community service, etc. I suspect one factor missing from many young lives is motivation.

      What if, rather than post high school training, after jr. high, at about 14 years old, kids spent part of each year being exposed to different views and ways of life. One should be
      –Physical Labor (that was my kick-start), then maybe
      –Community Service, followed by
      –Military Training (not action, just training), then
      –Philosophy and Religions (any group that wanted to could send a holy person from their denomination to present their case)
      In between these motivations, kids could learn to read, write, speak, do math, science, history, civics…

      Perhaps then, by 18 they would be competent decide whether college was the right way to go.

  • James, I would bet that a lot of the people that you say don’t like you are not really not liking you but just disagreeing with your ideas.  I may not always agree with you but I most certainly like you!

    I find that sometimes you come at an issue from a different perspective than me and for that I am grateful because it helps me to see things from an angle I may not have considered.

    Me, I am one of those people who would have been happy to remain a perpetual college student.  I enjoy learning about things that can’t possibly benefit me financially.  I went to a Jesuit school and studied Philosophy by professors who said it was better to learn to make life worth living than to make a living.  They were both right and wrong at the same time.  You really have to have both.

    I worked in college admissions after college because I believed in the value of an education for its own sake and I felt that it was important for young people to learn things like ethics.  Unfortunately most of the kids were being drilled by their parents in the value of a degree towards getting them a good job.  So the values became getting the degree to get the job to make the good money and nothing else.  No “life worth living” in there anywhere.  Just “make a living”.  Judging from some of the questionable ethics uncovered in business in recent years, I personally think people should have been more focused on values than just getting the degree to get the job.

    I agree with you that college tuition has gotten out of control but the value of a really good education is that it can help people to learn to think critically, to be curious and to never stop wanting to learn.  Good teachers can ignite the passion to learn and to do good things with one’s knowledge.  Unfortunately somewhere along the line education may have become disassociated with those things.  We don’t see the value in it anymore other than getting us the good job.  But really, it’s oh so much more than that.  Of course, like therapy, you have to be open to that “so much more” for it to work for you.  And sadly, many people are not, or they are going to schools that don’t ignite them with the passion for learning.  Learning in many ways to me is like love – It’s its own reward.  Of course I still agree with you that a college education has become very overpriced.

    I wish I could be the kind of person who didn’t need to go to college.  Unfortunately the world works  the way it does and without a degree you’d have to be a superstar in order to get anywhere.  Either you’d have to be a genius at something or have a dynamic entrepreneurial personality or both, and unfortunately I was not one of those people.  Today not having a college degree is like not having a high school diploma 50 years ago.  The degree now means nothing but without it you are not allowed through the door.  It sucks and I relate to your frustration with it.

  • Alex

    I’ve found this Tao / Chi Kung exercise to be very effective in helping me feel more loved and more loving:

    1) Step 1:  sit straight, put your hands over your heart, close your eyes.  Visualize an infinite source of smiling loving energy in front of you, between your mid-brows.  Slowly deeply breathe in, visualizing the smiling loving energy coming in through your mid-brows (“third eye”).  Slowly breathe out, sending the smiling loving energy into your heart, like a waterfall, feeling how the heart is filling with it.  You can do this for one or several minutes as soon as you wake up in the morning and just before you fall asleep at night, and also during the day whenever you feel you’d like to “recharge” with positive loving energy.

    2) Step 2: after you do step 1 for several minutes, you can visualize breathing out the smiling loving energy into the heart of another person.  You breathe in like in step 1, but you breathe out the smiling loving energy from your heart into their heart.  This creates a positive-energy loving connection between you and them.  You can do this exercise with people you love and also with complete strangers on the street, on the train, before/during/after business meetings, dinners, everywhere – after a while you may notice that you start perceiving yourself and other people differently, more lovable and more loved, and they start reacting to you differently.

    • I like this, Alex, (and have even written a similar exercise in an earlier post) but I’m wondering if it’s more practical to have an intermediate state between hate and love/compassion. Its very very hard for me (I would imagine for most people ) to visualize love towards someone who has done them wrong.

      My first goal with such people (i’m not saying this dinner had these people, but in general) is to simply feel non-hate towards them. To love the people who love me. And to practice non-hate towards the people who possibly hate me. I have tried often the exercise you recommend and sometimes it feels like I’m not being honest with myself when I am projecting love and compassion towards people that I don’t really love.

      • Alex

        Honestly I haven’t tried this with people to whom I had strong negative feelings because, as you say, it would not be genuine – if there’s resistance inside, I guess it’s better not to force it.  But I tried it with people towards whom I had neutral or (for no reason) slightly negative feelings, and it kind of worked – the interaction was suddenly more pleasant.  But in most cases if I get to step #2 I focus on people I love.

        As I understand this meditation, the key is to activate the inner feeling of love and connectedness to such extent that it becomes like a waterfall, compared to which the disapproval or hatred of any people we encounter is like a trickle, weak and irrelevant.  In a sense, the way to neutralize negative energy from outside is to activate much more powerful positive energy from inside.  I am far from being there all the time, but I notice that when I start doing this meditation every day, something shifts within a week.  It’s like it opens a “magic shield”.

        I’ve learned this exercise from “Healing Light of the Tao” book by Mantak Chia:


  • JH

    So they didn’t like you. Big deal. Don’t lose sleep over it. Just because they rejected your ideas doesn’t necessarily mean they hated you, and maybe those who hated you did so because they secretly agreed with you.

    I’ve actually seen your list of alternatives to going to college in several other places. Whether the authors “borrowed” them from you or came up with them independently is beside the point. At 18 and just out of high school, you have no idea what you want to do. At the end of four or five (or more) years of college, you’re older, you have a piece of sheepskin that says you’re smart, you have thousands of dollars of debt that you’ll spend most of your life repaying, and be just as likely to be as clueless about what you want to do as you were when you started. What’s the point of that? Youth is a terrible thing to waste, sitting in a classroom listening to someone who could care less about delivering a lecture and just wants to get back to his research, just because “everyone else is doing it” or because “Mom and Dad say I gotta go”. College is a great thing, and certainly, if a kid want to be a doctor or a lawyer, he should go. If he doesn’t, maybe he needs to think about what it is that he wants to accomplish before sending in the application. He might just find that there’s no need.

    By the way, my mother taught grade school for 37 years, and said that for most of that time she was nothing more than a babysitter…

  • Satish Avhad

    Most of them will not like you, they feel secure in the herd…You are actually shaking the ground on which the herd stands… and ‘so many people cannot be wrong’ ..majority wins not the truthful person
     and you said “I shouldn’t want to be liked so much” for that to happen the “I” in the brain, needs to disappear. You are already on the way … you dress not to impress, you speak not out of self-interest most times, you have a sense of humor. Maybe you just need to let go of some of your past hurts. if you want to walk alone, better be a lion, be the king, just roar and forget about appreciationWhich reminds me I have to do the above things myself ;) 

  • Sous

    In the UK it is common for kids to take a year or two before embarking on more schooling.  It doesn’t always mean traveling, many just work a small job for a year or two until they figure out what they might want to do.  In London there are many students who start their studies at 20, 21, 22, it is not at all unusual.  Singapore requires a years mandatory military service so those kids are usually 19 at the least when they start.  

    Homeschool your kids!  Save them from the hell of institutional learning.  Teach them maths and another language and leave them alone with a pile of books.

  • Ralph Havens

    this is awesome!!!!!

  • Perhaps instead of saying “don’t go to college” you should be saying “you don’t HAVE to go to college.”

    That way, you will be getting out your message to those for whom it will be helpful/inspiring etc. yet (maybe) without creating a heavy wave of negativity from those who don’t agree.

    I didn’t go to college and everything worked out amazing for me so far, including being CTO of big exciting companies.

    But, for many people, college is the right choice.

    Love your columns!

    • anders

      This would help a lot:

      >instead of saying “don’t go to college” you should be saying “you don’t HAVE to go to college.” 

  • Many people are only capable of seeing two potential realities. They are either a stay at home mother of five or they got their dream job. How much grey is between those two realities? How many possibilities might have made that woman even happier had she known they existed? 

    I am guilty of this at times. I’ve been very guilty of it lately with my own dilemmas regarding where to live and how to address issues with my son and his father. I’d like to be able to see all the shades of grey in between.

  • NB

    Hey James, I’ve been reading your blog for about a month or so now and
    I’ve really enjoyed your writing. I’m not a financial guy but am an
    aspiring entrepreneur. Your honesty is refreshing.

    I think I found you through a friend posting on Facebook or something
    like that, and I might have have just skimmed it and never returned had I
    not read your opinion on college. It’s spot on, and it’s something I’ve
    been saying for years. Once I read your post I had no doubts: I like
    this guy.

     I’ve been railing against college for years…ever since I emerged from
    the murk of the depression which I picked up in college and has clung
    to me every since, in the form of student loan payments and some
    outstanding credit card debt. I am a victim of my own lack of conviction
    at the time as much as anything, I accept that, but back before college
    I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I wanted, and going to college
    didn’t have anything to do with it. Trade school yes, college, not on
    your life.

    Parents, friends, teachers; everyone told me, “You have to go to college to have something to fall back on.”

    I should have fought back and said no but I didn’t. After I graduated
    with a worthless piece of paper I had too much debt to take the beyond
    low-paying entry level job in my desired field. My parachute had turned
    into something of an anchor.

    It’s all total B.S.: Colleges are nothing more than big financial
    institutions with nothing more than money and profits on their minds.
    They’re just as bad as the Wall-street crooks. They sell our nation on
    the idea you “have” to go to college an in return churn out mediocre
    students disillusioned with life and saddled with debt from tuition,
    books that will never be needed and might not have been used in the
    first place, and no real useful skills beyond partying and taking tests.

    Obviously there are some exceptions. There are some great schools and
    some occupations which require that time in school. But for people like
    me who hated it and weren’t so sure we wanted it in the first place, who
    have our dreams crushed by being shuffled into the fold like cattle,
    it’s a bit of a death sentence.

    The argument that people who aren’t sure what they want to do in life
    should go to college and see which courses pique their interest, but it
    really should be the opposite. Live your life and figure out what you
    love most, then pursue it hell-bent for leather. If that means college
    great, if not, everything is exactly as you say: You’re not saddled with
    debt so you can pursue your true dreams. 

  • earl

    elitilst college professors are the most annoying people in the world, especially the new ones who have no life experience.  My ex wifes friends were all these wanna be intellectual phd’s and they would end up staying in our apartment in NYC multiple times a year.  At first it was cute, but after like the fifth year I realized that they make $30K/year in their stupid teaching job in Pittsburgh at some no name colleges like WVU and Wash/Jeff?  They were too cheap to ever get a hotel room, and we had to put them up year after year.  I would rather have a monkey teach my child any class than an annoying whiney middle class new phd. 

  • Rick

    James, you were set up.  It sounds like this group of people just wanted to prove to themselves that college is wonderful (were they educators?) and they wanted someone to take the other side so they could enjoy defeating that evil person and crushing that person’s obviously bad ideas.  Claudia was right.  You should have run it by her first.  She probably would have realized what was going to happen.  BUT … you do seem to want to make a point of bashing college and I’ve wondered why. (I do like you, by the way.)  I assumed that you were doing it for the publicity it would bring — that you want to say things that seem outrageous … Don’t go to college, quit your job, don’t vote — so that people will interview you and buy your books.  Otherwise, why say all these things?  Statistically, college works.  In general, people who go to college make more money that those who don’t go and you can certainly make the case that college-educated people have more satisfying lives.  Plus, it’s a class thing.  You’re more of a “somebody” if you can say you went to college.  Parents want it for their children.  Yes, the huge amount of college debt is shocking but if you took most 18-year-olds and told them, “Don’t go to college.  Here’s the money you would have spent on college.  Use it to start a business.” … well, most of them would just lose the money.  Their business would fail because they wouldn’t know how to run a business and they wouldn’t have any marketable skills to serve as the basis of the business.

    Maybe they would have liked you more if you had said at the outset that going to college is the right thing for MOST people but you just wanted to make the case that not everyone should go to college, that’s it’s just not right for SOME people, and that people should consider that before deciding to go to college.  That way, you could have kept making your points while at the same time telling them they were right about all of their points.  If you want to keep being the “don’t-go-to-college” guy, that’s something to consider.

  • James. I love your blog (I’ll say that in all my comments so as to encourage you to write more… feel the happy thoughts coming your way from Tokyo!).

    As an experiment, what if a college education was free (as it is in many countries around the world)? Would you still say don’t go to college? (Me not being an American means I don’t really know what it is you guys do there but still…)

    • Thanks Tokyo. Even if college is “free”, it means the taxpayers are paying for it. I’d rather take that money and instead of having the govt misallocate it on bad professors I’d rather send my kids on a trip around the world or force them to intern in a hospital for a year or so before sending them to college.

  • Anonymous

    Horrible selection bias in your audience.  You had it pegged when you called them the “masters of the universe” (does anyone get that Tom Wolfe reference any more?).  They played the game, and they won, so of course they like the game.  It doesn’t matter to them if the game was fair or not, just that they won.

  • Drrichjlaw
  • I think that you are correct, but you could be more correct. Instead of ‘People shouldn’t go to college’ the correct stance would be ‘People shouldn’t pay to go to college’. Why deny people the privilege of enjoying their memories.

    I put myself through college for free…no debt…didn’t pay a dime….no loans…no grants…no help from my parents.

  • Well if you ever need a real life example, I will be more than happy to back you up.  I went back to finish my degree in my early 30s.  Finished in about 3 years, graduated with honors, and $50k in debt.  The degree has done nothing for me except get me an entry level job at Enterprise rent-a-Car (left after two years of constantly unfulfilled promises).

    This was my own fault for listening to the mob-mentality of the necessity of a college degree to be successful.  It is a total fallacy.  I would like nothing better than to give back my diploma and receive my money in return, or at least the cancellation of my debt.  But that is not an option, so I will pay all of my loans in full.

  • Anonymous

    They can’t understand your point about college because they lack the compassion to see the world from any point of view other than their own. Kids in college today just don’t get the same deal I got. In round numbers, twenty years ago:

    Annual tuition: 8,000
    Debt at graduation: 2,000
    Starting salary: 20,000

    My first year out of college, I got a year end bonus that allowed me to pay off the loan. So one year repayment was within my reach. Now, today, I’m not sure of the average numbers, but it is not unrealistic to see something like:

    Annual tuition: 40,000
    Debt at graduation: 100,000
    Starting salary: 30,000

    Paying that off in a year, even ten years, is not possible. Don’t get me wrong, education is a great thing. But at this price it becomes a crippling burden.

  • ChrisKurn

    I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how college could be better executed.  One of the fundamentals I keep coming back to is that college is supposed to be the entryway into the work force, my teachers always said to “treat classes like a real job” (HAHAHAHAHA, seriously that’s one of the stupidest things I heard throughout college.)  But college itself is so divorced from what working life is like it’s mind bottling.  How is a two hour commitment in the afternoon preparing anyone for the “real world”?

    I’ve always thought college should be 10-4 Monday through Thursday, 3 weeks on 1 week off, year round.  The first year is spent in classroom learning general knowledge, the second is specialized knowledge, and the final is all out of classroom internships.  The fact that college in it’s current form drags out over 4 years is the definition of inefficiency.  All my classes could have been completed in a single year if redundancies were eliminated, probably even less.  I actually would have enjoyed college much more if it was about SERIOUS learning.  But for me it wasn’t, I could skip class and do all of my papers and projects the night before they were due and still get an A.  What a waste…

  • inkerton

    It seems to me everyone on both sides is oversimplifying, most you:

    1)  You:  TONS of kids get TONS of financial aid, and relatively few pay the full price tag of college, particularly at the really expensive places.  Those who choose to take out $200K in student loans to get an anthropology degree from some third-tier liberal arts college are stupid, but that does not make college bad.

    2) Them: their experiences are irrelevant to what people are paying now.

    3) You: for people who want to be engineers, or anything scientific, NO, they cannot learn everything they need by going out in the real world, and your inability to acknowledge this is a testament to a bias towards “finance” and “business” careers.  For hundreds of thousands who want to be physicists or computer programmers, they likely need college.

    4) You: for minorities, college is a ticket past discrimination.  Sure, your kids likely don’t need college to get a great job, but for a kid who comes from the Bronx and who is a bit browner, even a non-technical degree from a great college is a huge leg up.  (And, this kid likely gets tons of financial aid.)  I think your whole view on this is incredibly elitist and at the same time provincial.

    5) You:  why don’t you try to distinguish between colleges and degrees?  This is touched on above, but really — there is a real-world distinction between paying this amount of money to go to Harvard and paying a nearly equivalent amount of money to go to Dennison.  Get real.  There is also a major distinction between paying this amount of money to be a comp-sci major and paying this amount of money to be a women’s studies major, I’m sorry, but in the real world, it’s true.  How about a little nuance?

    6)  You:  only 33% of kids go to a four-year college anyway.  Is that too many?  WHat say you to the recent NYT piece?

    7)  Them:  college costs have skyrocketed; Bill Gross had a great piece on this, and I think there is truth to the point he has made that colleges are being run for the benefit of tenured, largely babyboomer professors who teach there, and for the sake of the pensions of the union-member-services staffs they whole-heartedly support, and NOT for the sake of the students.

    • Inkerton is correct. Most people, even people with parents making somewhere over $100K, do not have to pay full price for college. In fact you can even get free rides to grad school at Ivy League institutions. The people who have to pay full price are people with parents who are important law firm partners, senior investment bankers, VC, PE, etc. If you’re making $1,000,000 a year or sitting on a few million you’re paying full price.

      I should clarify that – most smart people who are good at school get lots of aid to go to good schools. Most people aren’t that smart AND good at school. (I think most people are pretty smart.)

      It may be more fair to say – if you want a technical career, you don’t have to pay much due to financial aid, and you’re driven/good at school, you should definitely go to college.

      On the other hand if you have to pay full price, unless your parents are loaded, you may wish to really consider if you’re going to the right school. You may be unqualified for the school, but they’ll accept you because they want the money. If your school is a no name private school, say not in the top 50 or 100 in the country, you probably would be better off going to a cheep public school. If you do well you can transfer to a top public school or private school for the last two years. Those no name private schools are probably all toast anyway – they’ll be squeezed out by internet learning and other cheaper options. Why pay $200,000 for no name college when you can pay $20,000 for online. (I’ve heard institutions like LSU and University of Liverpool offer online degrees – those names sound way more prestigious than a no name private school.)

      While the system is skewed and biased against most of the population – for those people who know how to work the system it is seems incredibly meritocratic. If you’re one of those people you’ll be getting great offers and not paying for anything or much. Even better if you’re black or latino, but it doesn’t matter your color.

      If you’re getting a lot of financial aid, but don’t need college, it still might not be bad spending four years goofing off, especially if the school is listed on the top 25 list of Universities or liberal arts colleges. You may meet some good future business partners or your wife. If you end up with $10,000 in debt you’ll be able to pay that off. 

      Unfortunately there are many people who think they have to spend a ton of money to go to school. Those people need to learn otherwise. It is unfortunate that people who aren’t really interested in school have it pounded in to their head that they have to go to school forever. They try but their heart isn’t in it and they don’t do well. They probably shouldn’t have even been in K-12 all that time. However smart hardworking people who aren’t good at school are actually very successful in this country. There are lots of technical and mechanical trades with a deficit of smart hardworking people. (I read about people who went in to the business of running wharehouses because they realized all the other people doing it didn’t understand business very well.) A good carpenter, plumber, or mechanic does quite well. If you run a business maintaining HVAC for buildings you’ll always have demand – even if the economy tanks they’ll still need heat and ac.

    • fabian

      It’s important to make the distinction. Effectively you have degrees and degrees. There was a lot of press lately about former students drowning in debts and without a job. You read their stories and all the whining and at the end they tell that they graduate in cross religion studies, women studies or middle age dance. If gov doesn’t hire, these people are doomed. The problem now is that you need a master degree to teach math to 8 year old kids but amongst the richest people I know, one was a baker the other was selling meat balls on the streets of Adam. 

  • Keiren Mac

    L’esprit de l’escalier

  • Anonymous

    You are ignoring the fact that government student loan dept can be paid back using income based repayment to calculate the payment and then the balance  forgiven after 10 or 25 years depending on whether you are working for the government/non profit or in the profit sector. 

  • K_

    here goes cnn “my degree isnt worth the debt” 

    the Altucher effect? haha 

  • Kevin M

    I graduated with no student loan debt and got a “good job”, but I still regret not taking a gap year. Even just to learn to live on less, or just having some real freedom. Instead I fell into the trap – spoiled upper-middle class kid who thought he was entitled to a house, 2 cars and all the other “stuff” Americans consume upon graduation from college.

  • Anonymous

    Just read this from Brookings – after thinking through this issue thoroughly.  In the US and other places, a college degree still offers the best return on investment.  See quote by Buffett – he says he´d pay $100.000 just for 10% of income of anyone present at the graduation ceremony.  In fact, I´d like to send my kids through college through this concept of investment – someone puts up the money (not me) and then my children pay an income contingent percentage to the investor.  I worked for this company for a year on setting up a system to support the students so that 1) they graduate and 2) they spend less time looking for a job once out of school. 

    I´d like your thoughts on that system and the data in the report below if you aren´t on to other topics.  For the record I think your dinner party fellow guests were a bit stiff – .


  • anders

    I’d much rather have my kids not go through K-12 and then go to College. At least in college you have plenty of free time to learn however you want and meet interesting people. Way more time is wasted in K-12. That’s the real prison.

    • Yeah, K-12 is a prison. I dont know anyone who was happy with their experience there. 

  • anders

    I’d much rather have my kids not go through K-12 and then go to College. At least in college you have plenty of free time to learn however you want and meet interesting people. Way more time is wasted in K-12. That’s the real prison.

  • SueMC

    Yesterday, I was visiting a friend in the hospital.  We got onto the subject of his daughter, who is 25 and working as a part-time waitress.  It’s the only job she says she can get.  She attended a horrifyingly expensive private girls school for 12 years in NYC, then got a degree in history from an equally expensive university in Washington. Her parents scrimped and saved to put her through school at a cost  (I am guessing) of approximately $350k, if not more. She has not a clue as to what she wants to do with her life.  A job in a dentist’s office and a clerical temp. gig both ended unhappily. The kicker is now they are urging her to get her masters degree “so she can get a good job”.  She would have to take out loans as her parents are tapped dry.  I love my friends, and their daughter is a lovely girl, but isn’t this insanity?

    I have another friend whose son, same age/25, is unemployed, having been fired from a truck driver’s job.  He got his GED and did not go to college.  He is also a lovely boy.  He is certain he never wants to go to college and only wants to work at a job “where his minimum first year earnings will be six figures”.  

    If I was a betting woman, I’d put my money on him to be high earner by the time he turns 40, especially if you count the $350k against the girl, right out of the gate.A college education isn’t what it used to be, if it ever was.  Our society has been brainwashed into thinking it’s the best way to get somewhere.  I agree with the posts/comments that it’s valuable if you have a passion to learn a profession that requires it, such as a surgeon or scientist, physicist, etc.  Maybe a dozen 18 year olds fall into that category.  I struggled to put myself through college while working full time in the early 80s, convinced I couldn’t succeed without a degree.  The best thing that came of it was the self-esteem I gained by achieving the goal of earning it myself.  But then I proceeded to use what I had learned to work, albeit successfully, in a corporate career I hated for over 20 years.  I’ve been out of it for more than ten now, and have never been happier.  People who are threatened or insulted at the suggestion that college is not necessarily a great investment of time and money are unimaginative, insecure, and/or living in a dream world.  

    Take heart James.  Many realists love you.  Unfortunately none of us was invited to your dinner.

    • earl

      more so than the degree, or the college/preparatory pedigree, I would much of the success on the individual and their own passion and desire.  I dropped out of high school, got in trouble, was a horrible mess of a teenager, and recovered to have a very successful career in tech.  today, much like Greece, children are raised to believe that if all they do in life is hold out their hand, someone will put money into it. 

  • James, as a pal of mine once observed in a similar situation, “not very funny but it shows determination..”   It’s hard to tell when a humorist is semi-serious or even reporting faithfully, but  assuming both, you strained too hard and fell flat on your iconoclasm, and the “but seriously. folks” attempt at retrieving an awful evening  in an essay isn’t quite up to your standards, either. (See?  We readers have “standards” for you–“What did you think of Altucher’s latest?”  “Oh, gee,  terrible, I couldn’t even finish it.”) .  What makes it disheartening to die-hard fans is that your humor was rooted in some truth, but not anywhere near enough to carry it..  A crazy-brilliant guy should have given his material more thought.  I hate to say this to a performer I enjoy, but hey, let’s face it, you deserve all the dead-serious death-grip-on-the-obvious comments below, and your penalty for a bad outing (that you should have foreseen) should be to  read every one of them again, several times.  Aloud.  My own suggestion would be to ask the hostess if she wouldn’t like to invite you back.  Tell her you have new material and have reworked your act.  .   

    A fan, deported to Panama.  .    

  • James, as a pal of mine once observed in a similar situation, “not very funny but it shows determination..”   It’s hard to tell when a humorist is semi-serious or even reporting faithfully, but  assuming both, you strained too hard and fell flat on your iconoclasm, and the “but seriously. folks” attempt at retrieving an awful evening  in an essay isn’t quite up to your standards, either. (See?  We readers have “standards” for you–“What did you think of Altucher’s latest?”  “Oh, gee,  terrible, I couldn’t even finish it.”) .  What makes it disheartening to die-hard fans is that your humor was rooted in some truth, but not anywhere near enough to carry it..  A crazy-brilliant guy should have given his material more thought.  I hate to say this to a performer I enjoy, but hey, let’s face it, you deserve all the dead-serious death-grip-on-the-obvious comments below, and your penalty for a bad outing (that you should have foreseen) should be to  read every one of them again, several times.  Aloud.  My own suggestion would be to ask the hostess if she wouldn’t like to invite you back.  Tell her you have new material and have reworked your act.  .   

    A fan, deported to Panama.  .    

  • Peter Bradshaw

    I come from a family of educators my mother is the principal of a prep school, my father the former principal at a seminary, my sister and brother are teachers. Oh I forgot to mention that I lived my entire childhood on the Bible school campus so I am not too awe struck by this college experience thing. I basically lived in the campus library so my high school teachers sounded like idiots to me for the most part, most university teachers could not stand me. Peter Drucker Managing in a Time of Great Change page 235 read it Jimmy boy. “Such a society can easily degenerate into one in which the emphasis is on formal degrees than on perfomance capacity.”

  • Peter Bradshaw

    I come from a family of educators my mother is the principal of a prep school, my father the former principal at a seminary, my sister and brother are teachers. Oh I forgot to mention that I lived my entire childhood on the Bible school campus so I am not too awe struck by this college experience thing. I basically lived in the campus library so my high school teachers sounded like idiots to me for the most part, most university teachers could not stand me. Peter Drucker Managing in a Time of Great Change page 235 read it Jimmy boy. “Such a society can easily degenerate into one in which the emphasis is on formal degrees than on perfomance capacity.”

  • Felix Perez

    John Stossel is doing an entire episode supporting his idea that college is a scam. He is even going to face a representative from his Alma Mater, Princeton.


  • Ralikirsch

    I’m with you as to grade school being a baby-sitting service (and one that often indoctrinates 
    children in opposition to what their parents hold to be true and reasonable). Am in agreement
    as well with regard to college in general not being worth the price. Many people seem only able
    to learn the hard way.

  • USCG83

    Or if you plan to go to college there’s always the military.  4 years and 100% tuition paid post-9/11 GI Bill.  Can’t argue with that.  Or, if you live in Illinois, you can attend ANY state school for free as long as you are a veteran (180 days consecutive service).  Certain states have certain benefits.

    I have tons of friends who are insanely in debt from college.  One is a doctor, the other a journalist, who easily have near half a million in debt.  Sure college was fun, but the best part of waking up is not knowing when I’ll have to pay my student loan.

    And if you’re smart enough, which I’m sure everyone is on this website, you can join the Air Force or Coast Guard and not worry about being sent over seas.  This is just assumption as I am in the USCG and have been deployed three times.  All volunteer however.

    People see the military as a bad thing but the benefits are real and they are there.  I don’t pay a dime to attend school at the University of Illinois – Chicago.  And I love it.

  • A.T.

    I think it is worth mentioning that the value of college largely depends on your learning style. I personally can’t learn by listening to lectures so I have always taught myself out of the text-book.

    I just graduated from a 4 year and feel like I wasted my time. I could have learned the same information by just buying the text book. I could have gained more self-confidence by traveling and would have met more interesting and worthwhile people as well. College did however help me gain discipline and taught me how to do research in order to learn on my own so it wasn’t all bad.

  • I gave a satircal talk called “We don’t need no education” once. it went over well, but i had the right audience.

    most of the time, people hate the idea of giving up, as you say, the religion of higher education.

    it’s coming though. Radley Balko says that libertarianism is something that happens to people. It’s the same with the future of education. Sites like KhanAcademy.org, Aleks.com, Wilostar3d, Lynda.com, and even Rosetta Stone are turning everything on its head. 

    let the smug be smug. the future is here for those of us who are ready.

    • link to my satirical talk – http://www.youtube.com/natschat#p/a/u/1/esR9XppNLBU

  • Lori

    my kids are homeschooled. i’ve been actively discouraging them from going to college for years. my older son is 14 this year and determined to go to college immediately. i told him today that i almost don’t hate the idea of going to college if you’re 14 — that seems like a more appropriate age for college. much like my mother when she went to college as an adult, with the social aspect out of the way, i feel like he would concentrate on the learning aspect. especially since he’d have no driver’s license yet and therefore limited freedom.

    i suspect he’ll figure out it’s bullsh*t and quit anyway. better now than later!

    reading your opinions on college cheers me immensely because i know i’m not the only one. my usual speech to my sons and/or anyone who will listen is what an incredible education you could get if you gave yourself the same amount of time (four or five years) and money. you could travel, take classes with experts, apprentice yourself to craftsmen, write books, have life experiences, make art, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. basically homeschooling college.

    you’re just at the front wave of this trend. people hate being told that their way is wrong, and you’re telling them that their way is wrong. eventually it’ll all tilt over to our side, and you can bask. you pointed out that naked emperor way back when.

    this disagreement (you vs. them) has nothing to do with education and learning and debt and everything to do with going along with the group. every single person i’ve asked has said they learned nothing in college and everything on the job. yet virtually all of them want their kids to go to school because that’s just the way it is. they don’t want to make things harder on their kids.

    it’s easier for entrepreneurs to embrace these ideas. we know there’s a whole world off the beaten path and it almost always includes a shortcut. the mass of men only know the beaten path and they are loathe to leave it.

  • rosita

    I’d give you a trophy. I really appreciate the critical thinking and honesty on these “American Religion” topics.

    Our educational system is a joke and I haven’t learned much of anything in a classroom since I stopped being home schooled in 9th grade. I wish I had realized this before I was stupid enough to go to college. I’ve learned a lot, but it was entirely on top of any faux education that I/taxpayers paid for.

  • College is fun. If the fun is worth the money to you then do it. I think even going for a semester would give you an idea of what goes on in college. Make some friends in the dorm, listen to learned people, then you can drop out if you feel the rest of the experience won’t be worth the money. On the other hand there are a lot of great things you can do with your time instead, if you’re creative and energetic.

    Crucial question: is there a way to get the cheapest student loans without really being in college? Because then you could do some really interesting stuff.

  • I’m with you Jame Saltucher. Since I quit from college I have been way more productive. I think majority of the society don’t like to be productive. That’s why u didn’t like them. Now I also regret all the time I spend since first grade, but my parent didn’t really know what I know now. I’m sure I will not send my kids to school when I have them. And they will become like super heroes of the society. I’m going to teach them calculus when they get 6.

  • I’m with you Jame Saltucher. Since I quit from college I have been way more productive. I think majority of the society don’t like to be productive. That’s why u didn’t like them. Now I also regret all the time I spend since first grade, but my parent didn’t really know what I know now. I’m sure I will not send my kids to school when I have them. I will teach them calculus when they get 6. And they will become like super heroes of the society.