I Failed To Prevent My Kid From Going to College

I failed.

I dropped off my kid at college the other day. I didn’t want her to go to college.

In 2005 or 2006 I wrote a column in The Financial Times that nobody should go to college anymore. I then wrote a book, “40 Alternatives to College”.

For a long time that book was the #1 seller on Amazon in the category of…”College”.

A lot of people were upset at me about this. Everyone had an argument why college was a good thing and that kids should go.

Then people said to me, “Well you went to college so now you are trying to keep people beneath you by not having them go to college.”

And one person threatened to kill me. When I tracked him down it turned out he was a senior at Brown University. HIgher education.

And other people who had spent a lot of money on college stopped returning my calls because I was calling into question the decisions they had made for themselves their entire life.

One friend, who got a really great job at a top magazine wrote me, “I never would have gotten this job if I didn’t go to college” and that was the last I heard from her even though we had been good friends.

I don’t know why I feel strongly about this. Maybe I feel it’s an important four years. Why spend it doing homework and learning nothing and getting in debt?

I was the worst student in college. And began the first of many bad relationships. And got into debt. Ugh.

A few weeks before she left, I told Josie, “I will just GIVE you the money I would have spent on your college.

“All you have to do is watch one movie a day with me and then we can talk about it and then you can do whatever you want for the rest of the day.

“Work a job, go on auditions, hang out with friends, heck, I’ll even hire you to help me with my podcast.”

She said no.

So last week we dropped her off.

I’m a little sad about this. Why wouldn’t she want to watch a movie with me every day?

I will try to summarize all the reasons people give me for going to college and what my response is:

“You have four years to learn the liberal arts: literature, history, soft sciences, etc.”

My response: Reading is free. It doesn’t have to cost money.

I didn’t fall in love with reading until I was about 22. After college. I read and I wrote every day and I haven’t stopped since.

Because I wanted to be a better writer, I’d read books by great writers and then usually go to the library and try to find the literary criticism on each book. I didn’t take a class.

I read what I wanted, when I wanted. And I still love it.

“Well, what if someone never likes to read. College is the last chance for them to learn these things.”

Answer: No. If you don’t like something, you will NEVER learn simply from reading about it.

Maybe it’s just me. But I have never learned about anything I wasn’t interested in. I can only learn when I am passionately interested in something.

Even now, when I read a book, I only remember about 1-2% of it a month or so afterwards. Imagine if I wasn’t interested in the book. I’d remember 0%. Or worse, I’d start to hate the topic.

“But isn’t college a way to learn what you are interested in?”

I’m not sure why this would be the case. You’re forced to take 4-5 classes a semester for 8 semesters (at least). Then you are overwhelmed with homework.

There’s no real time to say, “Oh my god! I’m so interested in this.”

I majored in Computer Science. But I didn’t get interested from class. I got interested because while a Freshman at college I started a business on the side that forced me to learn how to program.

By DOING something that it turned out I was good at and I saw the immediate results how it helped people…only then did I figure out what I was interested in.

Am I still interested in programming a computer every day like I was then?

Heck no!

My passionate interests have changed 30 times since I graduated college.

I went from programming to interviewing prostitutes in the streets to building a business to poker to investing and on and on and on.

Maybe I’ve been too much of a dilettante. Some people do the same thing for 30 years and still love it and become great at it. I am envious of that. But I wasn’t one of those people.

“I want to have a safety net so I can get a job.”

This is what my daughter said to me. Where did she learn the phrase “Safety net”?

Fewer companies are asking for a degree.

if you spend those four years starting a company, or obsessively learning a craft, or working with a charity that helps people, etc, this is far more important for most jobs that are meaningful.

Heck, spend it painting in a garage. Spend it as a waitress. You will still learn more discipline and more about life than college.

Sometimes I hire people to help me. I have never once asked for a degree. Or a GPA.

I want to know what SKILLS someone had that could help me. And then what real experience do they have that proves they can use those skills.

“Doesn’t College teach those skills?”

I majored in Computer Science at college. I programmed every day. I went to graduate school for computer science. I programmed every day.

My first job: I was a computer programmer at HBO.

I was so bad that they had to send me to REMEDIAL school for two months to learn enough about computer programming to be as good as their WORST programmer.

Why didn’t college, after all that money spent, teach me how to be program correctly? I’ll never know.

“People who go to college get higher incomes over their lifetimes.”

This statistic is true if you went to college in the 1970s. When tuitions were much lower and debt was much lower.

Now employers know you are desperate. Trust me on this. I worked with a billion revenue staffing company. They know that college graduates are desperate to pay debt.

Incomes for people age 18-35 have gone down since 1992 at the same time inflation has gone up.

And the situation is worse than ever. Incomes are at a low for that age group, while student loan debt is at an all time high.

In fact, student loan debt has gone up every year since 1977 faster than inflation has gone up. It’s gone up at a rate 10 times faster than inflation.

The only other major expense that comes close is healthcare. Another side effect of a scam industry. Healthcare has gone up 3 times faster than inflation in the past 40 years.

We’re graduating a generation of little children that have more debt than any generation before them.

Because it has never happened before we can only guess if the outcome is good or bad.

They will have to take jobs rather than be innovators or artists.

The government has made student loan debt the only debt you can’t escape without confiscation.

Our children will become puppets of the machine rather than the future creators of the machines to come.

I don’t know. I really don’t. I told Josie: spend four years figuring out what you want to do before you spend this kind of money.

It’s not mandatory to spend this money to determine what you want to do. And your interests will change anyway.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

She said that because she loves me. Or because she didn’t want to argue about it. Too much already, Daddy. Too much!

I wanted to see her her first day of college.

My parents didn’t go with me on my first day. I just took a plane, unpacked my bags and walked around by myself and watched all the kids with parents.

I felt lonely and I missed home.

Josie told me, “I’m scared I won’t make friends. I’m scared I won’t get good grades.”

I told her, “Don’t worry about grades. Not a single person ever will ask you about your grades. Just learn to be a kind person. And make friends with good people.”

“What if I don’t?” she said.

After her room was unpacked we walked around the campus. We had a coffee. And then there was a meeting for parents.

“How to make the most out of college for your child.”

It was titled something like that. Maybe my memory is bad since that seems oddly worded.

I didn’t want to go to the seminar. So I told Josie it was time for me to go.

We hugged. I love her. And I miss her. She kept hugging me. Like it was the last time I would hug her while she was still, in my eyes, a child.

Maybe the thing about college is that a child is not yet ready to be an adult.

It’s the last time they will ever hang out with people their own age. My closest friends are not my age. In college though, they were.

It’s scary to be an adult. To survive. It’s a jungle. College is still a walled safe city for kids just like you.

I would pay a lot to be a child again. To not make the mistakes of adulthood. To not have those fears.

So maybe that’s what the college tuition is. The cost to extend childhood.

And the cost of childhood is going up.

One time I was getting home from work. It was 2003. I got off the train and there’s a long path to walk down.

She was all the way at the end of the path and she saw me. She was five years old.

She ran. She started yelling, “Daddy!”

She ran and ran and other people who got off the train kept looking because they didn’t know what she was running towards.


She was running towards me.

I lifted her up and hugged her and kissed her. She was my little five year old.

No more.

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  • James, I’m gonna recast what you said:

    You didn’t fail to keep her from going to college. What you failed at what explaining in terms she understood why there were other choices that in all likelihood will serve her better somewhere down the road.

    College is the default next step for kids who can afford it. Yours could. Her failure to understand what you were trying to tell/teach her is reflective of “get outside your comfort zone” being too complex an idea for most 18-year-olds to grok.

    And your somewhat oblique communications style (brother, can I ever RELATE!) didn’t get her there.

  • Lun

    Relieved this wasn’t a rant against how colleges and universities “indoctrinate” the youth of our country. It’s not like colleges of the past taught us any differently or better, it’s only that employers valued it more as a signal. But now it seems that everyone entering the workforce has that signal, which de-values it. It’s as simple as you said : the value proposition of college is dwindling.

  • burner-acct

    College is where I tested myself against other people. I thought I would be bottom of my class (a fancy hard-to-get-into school) in things like computer science and math. I sat with other people in labs and study groups and realised I was actually pretty good. That would have taken me years to figure out in a less artificial context (this was in the days before pair programming etc in CS… you pretty much worked alone in those days).

    I thought I would be pretty great at things like creative writing, since I was a reader. Turns out I was solidly average and lots of people ran circles around me.

    I also worked for startups while I studied (so didn’t have much debt) and was happy to get B-minus grades for classes I didn’t care much about (this is totally possible in liberal arts at any school if you’re a reader and willing to cram before exams when necessary).

    I also audited a lot of lectures in areas that interested me. When you’re on campus you can pop into lectures when you want. This would not have been easy or possible elsewhere.

    In other words, I picked up the structured bits that I couldn’t find easily elsewhere, focused on the education I wanted, and got a ton out of going to college. I’m glad I did it.

  • Quentin Crain

    yes, the current shibboleth in the valley is you don’t need college, ugh.

    1st and plainly, anyone with passion, college or no, surpasses otherwise.

    but, after that, i take anyone with college/theoretics over experience/practical every time. my experience is that people w/o this knowledge are generally worse programmers than those with. this includes, and is in fact made evident, when i am lucky enough to hire a younger person who has learned theory, vs someone who has been “programming” for 10yrs and can not design a well thought out library/module/class hierarchy or a comprehensible and understandable API.

    “Reading is free”: this is a supremely stupid. start asking around and there is a near perfect correspondence between those that read, especially fiction/lit, and those that are better programmers and generally more interesting people; and unfortunately you will find very few of these people. if only we could legislate mandatory reading!

    “If you don’t like something, you will NEVER learn simply from reading about it”: still stupid. this implies all those lit books teach you nothing.

    “I was so bad that they had to send me to REMEDIAL school for two months to learn enough about computer programming to be as good as their WORST programmer”: sorry your school sucked; mine didn’t.

    now to end on a positive note! ha! i agree with not going into debt (excessively). basically, my recommendation to my children is to go to at least 2yr of community college. try lots of shit out. if you find something you like strongly, then move to a university. plainly college wouldn’t offset the day-to-day experience of oppressive debt, so don’t do that. but to suggest — which this and all other similar blogging does — that college is easily replicated “for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library” is, well, stupid.

    • instructorp

      Yeah best move saving tons of cash was attending community college oh and I checked out books from the library that I happily read on public transportation.

    • aikimoe

      Beyond “asking around,” if you have any links to data that support that idea that programmers who read fiction/literature are superior to those who prefer non-fiction, or those who don’t enjoy reading, that would make your assertion seem more plausible.

      Also, we actually do legislate mandatory reading, usually for people aged 6-12. For some, it’s a positive experience, but for others, many others, it’s not only unpleasant, but it discourages them from reading for pleasure in adulthood.


      College, like all formal schooling, is great for some people, and bad for others, for the simple reason that people are different.

      • Quentin Crain

        hi! excellent! im often one asking for citations, so thanks!

        * Much from Steven Pinker cites reading’s usefulness:
        * Basically, 1st study off a google search; an MLS thesis. Importance are the references:


        * https://open.buffer.com/reading-fiction/

        * http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2342635/Readers-literary-fiction-better-thinkers-according-new-research.html
        * https://simpleprogrammer.com/2016/11/25/will-reading-fiction-make-you-a-better-programmer/

        all this though, there are very few actual studies that have shown anything improves (critical) thinking beyond improving a number of characteristics that are presumed to be components of critical thinking, including those mentioned in the links above: theory of mind, memory, vocabulary, etc; and not because they show the opposite but because doing such studies are very hard and there are few.

        i do think it is overstating and too easy to say that formal school is good and bad for “some people”; that makes it sound even. also, while you can get a PhD in literature for “$1.50 in late charges” as said in Good Will Hunting, you can’t do that with the sciences; i have never seen any possible replacement.

        • aikimoe

          Thanks for those links, I will certainly dig into them!

          I should have been clearer about my “some people” comment. I do believe that’s much more true in primary and secondary schooling than college, since college is completely voluntary, and the paths laid out are much clearer and (somewhat) more sensible. I’m not going to say anything about how terrible I think primary and secondary education is, since that’s not what the article is about, and I don’t need another stranger thinking I’m a complete crank! :)

          • Quentin Crain

            hi! i strongly recommend anything by Nicholas Carr, specifically _The Shallows_. It does provide a ton of evidence for the impacts of tech on human minds: In short not good. 2 favorite bits are: (1) GPS is killing our ability to know where we are (see the near extinction of wayfaring (eg: Moana), the shrinking of london cabbies’ hypothalumuses (a major site of memory) as they dont memories the city any longer AND (2) the impacts of understanding a story/book when read on say a kindle, where even the digital flipping of a page breaks up the ability to hold the linear story in youth’s minds (with studies). basically, im in tech and i think it suck as a learning tool.

            as for being a crank: ive participated in a recall of school board memebers AND served on the school budget committee. i was hated by the administration; and while i dont hate people, i generally thought they all need (and still need) to go. the problem in american public school is the administration.

          • aikimoe

            I haven’t read the book, just (mostly positive) reviews, but I really ought to. I think it’s very compelling in that it seems he’s trying to keep us on our toes, so that we’re paying attention to the inevitable changes coming our way. I’m not convinced that the changes some people undergo are the changes all or even most people will undergo, or that the evidence is pointing to a net negative effect on society. I’m also not convinced that our concepts and understanding of “intelligence” are sufficiently advanced to be of any use, whatsoever. But I do think that people like Carr are valuable reporters.

            I tend to agree that administration is a primary problem in education, but more than that, I tend to agree with Roger Schank, who says the only two things wrong with education are: “1. what we teach and 2. how we teach it.”


  • Gary

    “Maybe it’s me.” James, your argument is grounded in your own unhappy experience and suffers from a small sample size. Josie chose college instead of something else (watching movies). For now. Lots of people change their minds after experiencing the first year. Many leave for the wrong reasons (poor grades resulting from disinterest or debauchery); some leave for good reasons (found something better to do). Give her space and keep encouraging her to be aware and evaluate. College is indeed an extension of childhood, but it also can be a bridge for transition.

  • Linda Sand

    I didn’t go to college. The thing I miss about that now is the connections I didn’t make. I didn’t learn how to live in a community. Now, I’m a retiree living in a community of lively but old folks and I don’t know how to interact with them.

  • susana flecher

    The logical and reflective mind of these painters called for the reduction of the instinct to order, of the impulse to the calculation, reducing to the essential, not only the subjects of the modern life or the landscape, but also the impressionistic method to present them .
    Is considered to be a fundamental figure within this artistic current because he was able to provide a series of novelties or singularities with respect to, for example, the previous painter. Thus, in his case, he chose to bring greater dynamism to the works by giving him greater body and size to the points.
    With reference to the teacher Gabino Amaya cacho

  • Daniel Barnes

    It is commendable that your daughter accepted responsibility for her future. I hope that my daughter will be as independent and self-reliant as she is when the time comes.

    I’ve read a number of these “anti-college” posts lately. They all seem to revolve around a negative experience the author had with college and sound more like an unsubstantiated rant than a reasoned opinion. They also focus on the same tired arguments of necessity (“life experience and on-the-job learning are sufficient”), and cost (“it’s too expensive, student debt is too high, etc.”).

    1) The basic claim is that self-learning is sufficient. I challenge this is rarely true. The whole point of college is to expose yourself to ideas and knowledge (arts, sciences) you would not otherwise encounter. Considering how competitive business is these days, this can be invaluable.

    2) “student loan debt is at an all time high.”
    I believe this is largely due to predatory lending and has very little to do with the merits of a college degree. While administrative costs at some universities are clearly out of control, community college provides a way to avoid these tuition increases. From https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/08/the-debt-crisis-at-american-colleges/243777/
    “it’s possible to get a fine bachelor’s degree at a reasonable cost and without going into debt”

    “Fewer companies are asking for a degree.”
    You didn’t provide any references for this, but it isn’t true: From https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.ES_.Web_.pdf
    “In 1973, workers with postsecondary
    education held only 28 percent of jobs; by comparison, they held 59
    percent of jobs in 2010 and will hold 65 percent of jobs in 2020.”
    A quick Google search will provide many other sources supporting this conclusion.

    • Ingmar Heinrich

      “In 1973, workers with postsecondary
      education held only 28 percent of jobs; by comparison, they held 59
      percent of jobs in 2010 and will hold 65 percent of jobs in 2020.”

      This however not neccessarily contradicts “Fewer companies ask for a degree”. It only says that more jobs are held by workers with postsecondary education.

  • Richard Muccillo MDDCM

    So very cute and dear–I have 2 of my own –one is no longer a child

  • Stimpy

    Be glad your daughter is on the accepted, if beaten, path. Kids without college end up as food service workers or maybe join the military. It is the rare person who can bootstrap themselves up without a degree. And to do that they would have needed an exceptionally benign environment growing up.

  • Greg

    College is the first “nag-free” environment most kids face. No parent at the dinner table asking if the homework is done. Nobody waking them up because they are late to class.
    Some kids succeed in this environment, some don’t. But for most, this is where they learn to be an adult. I agree that there are alternatives. I also think part of the inflation in tuition is caused by too many kids going to college who have no business being there.

  • Julie S

    Thanks for the article James! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. :)

    While I attended college with skepticism and little expectation, I never regretted the years I spent in it as my brain cannot fathom how my life otherwise would have changed me. I love the person I came to be today and I’m sure the years in college played its part in that as it did with you. Perhaps if I didn’t go to college (which I didn’t want to in the first place, and wouldn’t if my family didn’t insist on it so much), I’d get a head start on my career and discover my passion for design, behavior economics, and technology much earlier. Or perhaps not.

    Even though you haven’t a great college experience, it has taught you hardships in life. Trials in life can be blessings in disguise. That isn’t to say I’m for college. The current education system is flawed in its core in prepping our future generations in the ever-changing societal landscape. It’s in dire need of a revamp and until then I also would try to present college alternatives to my future kids (should they exist)

    What you said about college as the price one has to pay for extending childhood is beautiful. In some ways it is a transitional period between relying on parents completely to relying on oneself. Going against societal expectations always get faced with resistance. I admire your resilience through all this time.

    Thanks again for the pleasurable read!

    PS. “I wanted to see her her first day..” is missing a word or comma?

  • Harriet O’Donovan

    This is such a touching post. I am starting to feel the same way about school. My son just completed 1st Grade and his teacher kept telling us that he lacks focus. They got him a learning support teacher and they both said that he lacked focus. They ‘tested’ his reading level, and gave him very easy books with bad drawings and one sentence on each page. They said I should give him timed activities to do on his own to increase his ability to concentrate for longer periods, and buy a star chart with stickers to reward him for effort. I decided to teach him over the summer holiday. We bought beautiful books. We began reading difficult books for the first few days, and then we switched to easier ones (they seemed easy after the hard books :)). We just read a few pages every day, and after three weeks he has learned to read. All he did was read books – challenging books, interesting books, poetic books, and now he can read. He loves books again now too. Thank you James for your advice about doing things like writing etc. daily to improve. I will continue, and try the same approach with maths.

  • Scott

    When few people could read or write, it was necessary to have someone teach or preach to the masses. That’s not the case today-so much is available. One can seek out a teacher if need be. Types of education need to based on personality and goals. We all learn at different levels and different ways. How many kids drop out of college each year because they don’t learn well in that setting? How many of those would do well learning on the job or a different environment?

  • Frances Niro

    College offers an opportunity to interact with a diverse group of people in some depth –
    this is harder to do in adulthood. In adulthood it tends to be limited to work interactions/lunch groups, clubs/sports and family/friend gatherings. The adult interactions may not challenge a person the same way as a fellow student in a college classroom. It is a golden opportunity to examine your assumptions about ideas and the world.

    It also demands that a person ‘think-on-their-feet’ – not everything will be easy in college – it begins to test a person’s ability to deal with adversity. For many people, it is the first time they will face adversity as they leave the cushion of their parents home.

    • Ahhhcounting

      Cramming two days before a exam isn’t really dealing with adversity or thinking on my feet.
      I’ve been challenged a lot since I’ve left college, probably even more than while in college. Life is what you make it.

  • Thadeush

    I had a wonderful university experience and would go back in a heartbeat. Sure, you can think of post-secondary as an extension of childhood. I would say it’s a useful introduction to adulthood and life in a community – and an apprenticeship into the methods, connections and human interactions of your area of study.

    Society created the low expectations of “the teenager” only in the early 20th century – a product of high school, ironically. But it didn’t replace the apprenticeships, skills training and rituals that used to be the guidance provided for teens as they become useful adults. So we defer to colleges, universities and surviving parties. If you don’t kill yourself driving home drunk from a party and if you can balance friends, parties and work and still pass your classes, you’re an adult. Sigh.

    IF you’re a focussed student with a love of learning, university provides an entire staff of mentors from which you can glean not just information, but style, workflow and philosophy. Sure, you can read, and now more than ever access mountains of advice and information on the net. But the friendships, both with peers and teachers, and the face-to-face interactions and experiences over the years convey understandings not possible through a book or video.

    Finally, your daughter is finding her own path. You can’t seriously expect a mature teen (sic) to agree to spend every day discussing movies with her father. She needs to strike out and you need to let go. She still loves you, she will probably have a blast (I know, that’s what you’re afraid of!) at college and still do well, and she will learn about herself in ways she never would just hanging out with you. Thanks for the article!

  • dennisneal

    Thanks for the touching post about your daughter growing up.
    College is complete rip off. You get to pay and get into debt to be trained to get a job and learn groupthink.
    The prices never go down and have gone up over 300% adjusted for inflation. Just a waste.

  • Renan Piccolo Colombini

    I wish you were my father

  • Mark

    Your daughter will learn that Western Culture is evil and racist. She will have a higher chance of being sexually assaulted at some point (not as bad as the military but close)and will be around people who think all the morals and values you taught her are hopelessly outdated. If college isnt a good idea then why subsidize it for her? College may have some value for value-signalling for employers I suppose for your first job. I know I learned virtually nothing and wasted many years. I own a business and could care less about the grades or colleges of the applicants.

    • Josh S

      Actually, college is much safer for women than the general population.

  • Joseph Ayeni

    Always thought-provoking James. Lots of sense. Resonates deeply.

  • renee lepp

    Dear James,
    I’ve been waiting for this post for a long time. I knew it was coming the day I heard you tell a guest on your podcast that you were trying to convince your little girlie to opt out of college. Poor fellow, I thought, he has no idea the battle is long over.

    It’s a crazy thing..generally children at this age must do what their parents do not want them to do… parents only have a small chance of getting “their way” about what they do and who they date if 1) the child is a late bloomer (in which case the battle of independence will come later) or 2) if they are very quiet about their preferences and have mastered a Hellmuthian poker face. Generally the rule is the more you protest the more likely you will lose, so an article followed by a book is a no-brainer.

    I was a university advisor for 15 years and observed this parent child dance for 15 years so I grieved for you while you were still in the trenches. The wonderful thing is that you are feeling sad and loss – it means you are a good Dad and it means you are learning how to be a better one. It was a lot easier to fight about “what she was going to do” than to talk about “that she was…. going to do it.”

    SO now you have come to the next lesson… fortunately, for us parents, the lessons never end.

    “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”
    ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


    BTW – she’s going to be great. How do I know, because she could admit to you she was scared… that’s the tell tale sign that your relationship is good and she is brave enough to tell the truth to herself and to the “opposition”.

  • College isn’t for everyone (neither is home ownership). However, for those who can afford it, if they want to go why shouldn’t they go?

    I’ve had a very similar career as James in many ways (I’m a web developer who’s been involved in some fairly big projects over the last 20 years). I haven’t made (or spent) as much money. But I’ve never worried about money either. I’ve literally always had more than I needed.

    Regardless of the fact that I really do the exact same job everyday that I started at 18, I’m really thankful I went to college. And I didn’t feel like a kid while I did it. In college I became more creative. I interned and sought out mentors (a lot easier to do while being “in college”) I became better at relationships. I learned about accounting and finance (I have an MBA that I earned at my local university at night). I’d have never read books on those subjects without the interesting lectures that went with them.

    I met my wife in college, who actually has a PHD and is a cancer researcher. Trying making money with that knowledge without the letters behind your name.

    It was an awesome experience. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Ironically, I think I read a lot more because I was in college.

    Do I think it’s worth it if you don’t have the money? Maybe. Maybe not. I was privileged. Money wasn’t really an issue. Without college as an excuse I’d have probably been sucked into the family business I had no interest in. My wife didn’t have the money to do it the way I did it. But hard work got her through it with ZERO debt just 15 years ago. Not sure her efforts would have been worth it for something like a ceramics degree or even computer programming. But it was worth it and necessary for her career choice.

  • shuchi

    “I will just GIVE you the money I would have spent on your college.

    “All you have to do is watch one movie a day with me and then we can talk about it and then you can do whatever you want for the rest of the day.

    “Work a job, go on auditions, hang out with friends, heck, I’ll even hire you to help me with my podcast.”

    Damn! I wish my father would have told me this Josie. At 31 I feel that whatever I am, I would have achieved at 21, at least a decade ago though I am yet at the school of life. Adopt me James! PLEASE!!!

  • Sounds like a success. You raised a separate person from you who is allowed to make their own decisions and have any of the consequences than that. There’s no beating personal experience ?

  • Putu Mega Putra

    Hi James. I am a teacher but I really agree with you about the college. Instead spending your 4-5 years in college, it is much much better to spend those years in course or on the job experiences unless you want to work for specific jobs like teacher, medical/doctor or policeman. My years back there were really bad, feels like i have spent those years doing nothing and improve nothing.

  • Esteban Rodriguez

    Clean daily College:
    * Fully agree here with james( burn them all damit)!!
    * Golden opportunity>Playground fore bullys, Highly chance your kid wil(not if) have to defend themself from group bullys. you might say this builds character?thats Bullish.
    *College waist of time unles youre gonna specialice (accountend etc,),if you have the cappasity
    *.Learning experience?you realy learn how to make/halve a prospers life?NOT.Al is wonderful while you have a contract at a company, until they fire your *SS
    Beside the above College is an OUTSTANDING PLACE to spend your day!!

  • Shelley Dawson Yaremcio

    Yes, totally agree James! I spent 6.5 years switching disciplines because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do and my grandma insisted I go. Luckily I had a good paying part time job so no student debt, but because I didn’t care about any of it, it sucked the life out of me…and when one and then another of my friends dropped out to travel..I was SO ENVIOUS! I ended up getting promoted in that PT job and could have moved into management.

    There are SO many opportunities for youth online to to humanitarian work, or even do college in Germany etc where it is FREE! Or do work exchanges or WOOFING or there are things like project world school where you still can hang out with youth, but can experience different cultures and experiences from biodynamic farming, to yoga to endless things. So sure, IF you know you want to be a doctor etc., by all means go! But if you aren’t certain, there are SO many other ways…including online universities…I picked up a hitchhiker here who was traveling the world doing a documentary…he studied international relations in Poland…I said was it because of his studies that he was doing this? NO, was because of watching youtube videos on how to be a film producer, a passion in travel and in arts and culture. Nuff said.

  • Mark H

    As a father of six children (all with my wife) and the sole provider, finances for a traditional college route was not going to be possible. The more I researched it, the more I began to realize that the return on investment for college has steadily gone down, due to the increase in the cost of college relative to inflation. A study put out by the New York Federal Reserve a few years ago found that 53.6% of all recent college graduates were either unemployed or underemployed (at jobs that did not utilize their college degree). If you remove all the computer science, engineering, finance-accounting, nurses, education majors-that number would only go up.

    So what I faced was over $100,000 for a traditional state college education (with dorming) per child, with a possible low return on investment depending on their degree. Since my wife and I did not have that kind of surplus capital, my children would have to take on student loan debt, which could really set them back for years to come.

    Necessity is the mother of invention. I decided to look into alternate ways to substantially lower the cost of college so that we could afford it and not necessitate student loan debt.

    Fast forward to now: my eldest is 19 years old and will finish his BS in Information Technology from a respected state university in 1.5 weeks. He has zero student loan debt and around $10,000 in his savings account. It cost me around $12,000 for his college eduction and there were no scholarships or grants. Crazy thing is that he actually took off a whole academic school year and just worked, which means he could have been done at 18 if he wanted.

    My eldest daugher (now 17) is on the same track and will graduate from college either just before turning 19 or slightly after.

    My next daughter (14) has already told me she wants to do the fast track college route and will start earning her college credits next semester.

    Do I wish my children would have the normal college experience? Absolutely. I really enjoyed my college years at UCLA. My wife and I spoke about it recently and we feel a bit sad that my son missed out on a normal college experience.

    But here are the other things he missed out on:

    -graduating at age 23 (average time to complete college is now 5.5 years
    -taking on $60-70K in student loan debt
    -delaying adulthood for a handful of years

    I have encouraged him to take a gap type of year and explore different things. Maybe he can find ways to have experiences that might rival the normal college experience.

    I actually don’t advocate not going to college. There are outlier types who can make it work but for the average young person, I am not sure that skipping out on college is a great idea.

    Just be aware of the return on investment of your average college degree (most popular is psychology which is pretty much useless without a graduate degree) and do what you can to balance that equation.

    • instructorp

      Mark smart move. No reason for you and wife to mortgage your family’s future on college degrees of dubious value maybe a high value low cost certificate would be best for your crew. Once they secure employment or launch a business let their employer pay for a technical in-demand degree maybe your children can receive college credit for life experience. There are no more traditional college students the average college student works full-time and has a family to support. Your kids need to learn from people like Altucher and his podcast guests like Anthony Robbins-NO college degree spectacular American style success.

  • instructorp

    So far I have counted at least 10 liberal arts graduates including one from the Ivy League that are driving for a ride sharing service. Sure you are around “diverse” students all heading down a sure path to un/under-employment and deep student loan debt depression with no discernible skills. I am not angry or ranting I am happy because my parents who completed a night school high school diploma did not spend a dime of their working class earnings on my 3 college degrees from a state university. Take a look at the Georgetown Center on Research and Education plenty of non college careers that provide a solid income with salaries that surpass those of college liberal arts grads. I give James a ton of credit for offering alternatives to the traditional college degree narrative. Maybe his daughter will start reading Altucher blog posts and say time to kick-ass and be like dad.

  • James Buechler

    I wonder why you’re obligated to send her to college and pay for it.

  • Robby

    Interesting article, but can anyone verify the claim that student loan debt has increased “at a rate 10 times faster than inflation.”? The college board has every statistic on college tuition you could want, but I can’t find anything greater than 4.5% on average.


  • Ahhhcounting

    College has its place in people’s lives, but it’s not necessary, especially right after high school. Too many people rush to go to college, and end up with pointless degrees or jobs they hate. Taking a few years off isn’t going to ruin a child’s life. Live at home, get a job, and figure things out. College places unnecessary pressure on young adults. Pick a major, pick pointless classes, do pointless homework. Real world skills and experiences are more eye opening than taking American history 101. Do I really need to pay 50k so I can interact with other young adults?? Get a job as a waiter and you’ll meet people from all over the world everyday.

  • What if nobody would go to college to study medicine anymore..
    The what if of the day.

  • panskeptic

    College is absolutely necessary for many people not named James Altucher.

    However high school will suffice for people who can count the number of times the word “I” appears in the above article.

    It’s all about you, right?

  • Josh S

    Agree with everything here.

  • Montresor

    College was a relative bargain 40 years ago when I graduated. The price has been horribly inflated by massive student loans. I’m shocked when I hear what people are paying. Is it worth it? Probably not, except for bragging rights.

  • Izzy Kiver

    Hello everyone! I’ve been following what James had to say against college for a while now. And although I agree with most of it. I feel like I found a happy medium, where kids can go to college even go to Ivy Leagues and finish their Master’s degrees and stay out of debt without spending 4 years on their undergrad. I basically help people finish their undergraduate degrees legitimately over 40 weeks, help them figure out what career they will love and get certified in a skill which closely matches their career and then leverage the degree and certificate for an almost guaranteed entry into Harvard Grad school. I did this without going into any debt and helped a few others do the same. I talk more about this on kiveredu.com