Finances & Money

Examine Your Motives Series: Going to College

So you want to go to college, or maybe you have a teen preparing for university. What are or were your motives for going to college?

Why did I go to college? I have a few answers:

  • My family told me I should go
  • The guidance counselor told me I should go
  • My sister was in college
  • I could get student season tickets to football games
  • I didn’t have anything better to do after high school
  • I didn’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life

Probably only one of those responses could justify spending tens of thousands of dollars on my education, along with my parents picking up my room and board tab for 5 years  (I changed majors). Can you guess which one? Yep, the last one.

Are you reluctant to go to college, and the main reason you’re going is you would feel guilty by not going? Would you feel like you’re letting your parents or teachers down if you just went to work directly after graduating high school?

Honestly, college is not for everyone. If you’re going into a field such as technical, medical or engineering, you need a college degree, or else you’ll hit a ceiling pretty quickly. My friend is 8 years older than I am, and we’re both in the exact same field. With this last raise, I have surpassed his salary (we share this information because we trust each other). After high school, he went to work in a grocery store, then as a tech support temp, and then got hired full-time with the company where we eventually met.

We both left that company over 2 years ago. While there, though, he was making about $10k more than I was. We both made job moves around the same time, so he stayed ahead of my salary, until this last job. We both settled down at our respective employers, and while he was told he was at the top of his pay scale, I got 2 raises. My boss has stated I have more room to move in my pay scale considering I’m an expert in a hot field.

An example of a hot field is information security. Currently, a degree related to this field can set you up with jobs in a variety of different industries and provides endless opportunities for growth. Schooling in this industry can take two different paths: Management and technical. If you go with a management focus, you could end up in charge of a company’s security systems, keeping all of the organization’s data safe from intruders. On the technical side of things, you would take a more hands-on role in preventing hackers from accessing the organization’s information. Either way, this is a career that is sure to grow in the coming years as more information is stored virtually.

A few months ago, I posted a discussion I had with another coworker. This coworker had been a hiring manager several times, and stated that “hiring managers are looking for employees without college degrees”. In short, the employee is on the losing end, as exhibited by my friend. But not all is lost!

There are many fields in which you can earn a very nice living without a college degree. Most are specialized fields with apprenticeship programs such as plumbing, auto mechanic and carpenter, but they’re always in high demand, and cannot be outsourced. I personally consider myself handy, but nowhere near enough to change a transmission or even build a bookshelf. My father-in-law is a master of his craft (carpentry), and never lacks clients. He’s more of a handyman, but that title doesn’t do his work justice.

Basically you need to ask yourself a few things when considering college. It’s a major decision and can cost a huge bundle (if you don’t get it fully-funded by scholarships and grants):

1. Am I considering college for myself or because someone else is insisting? Just because someone else wants you to go does not mean it’s a bad decision. You just need to shut off those external inputs and ponder the decision for yourself. Pray or meditate about the pros and cons of college, and what you expect to get out of it. This is going to be a recurring theme in this series.

2. What are my short- and long-term goals in life? What’s the point of going to college for a Political Science or History degree if you really just want to be a mechanic. There’s nothing wrong with blue-collar work. I respect any masters of their trade, whether it’s a distinguished Senator or an amazingly quick burger dude.

However, what do you want out of your life over the next 3, 5, 10 and 20 years? When you’re a 17- or 18-year-old, you may think you’ll be a starter for the Steelers or a top executive of a Fortune 500 company…in a year. But things usually don’t work that way.

3. Do I want to do something for the money or for the enjoyment? I took a basic Accounting class in high school, and I was very good at it. My grandmother knew I did well in that class, and said accountants made good salaries, so I registered as an Accounting major at my university. But then in my senior year, after taking a few high-level Accounting courses, I realized that it wasn’t for me. I changed majors, which forced me into a 5th year. However, I wouldn’t have met Stacie otherwise. But I digress.

I was focused on the paycheck, not the enjoyment I might get out of the work. However, I switched to an IT degree, and that landed me even better paychecks, but I’m still not happy. I never sat down to figure out what I want out of my career.

You need to find out what makes you happy, and do THAT as a career. If you like selling cars, then be a car salesman. If you like yelling at people, be a drill sergeant. If you like dancing, don’t be a stripper. Find something else to do. Personally, I hate computers, but they pay the bills. I still need to find something that makes me happy. I personally think selling cars would be just right for me, but it’s a major leap right now in my life.

In summary, don’t go to college until YOU know that it’s what YOU want to do. Don’t do it for the extra money it may bring in the future, because you still have to work to make that salary increase. And for goodness sake, try to do something you enjoy!

Photo Courtesy of Lost in Scotland

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I went to college because it was expected of me. I’m going to ask my daughter why she is going (she’s a freshman this fall).

    Good post, thanks.

  • That’s actually why I’ve made up my mind that I won’t pay 100% of my kids college educations. I want to know (and want them to know) why they are going to college. Plus I want them to WANT to go to college for their own reasons,.. not mine. So my plan is to match every dime they save or earn towards their education. This will also include scholarships.

    The thing is, I know that since my parents paid for all of my education that I didn’t value it as much as I should have. I slacked off, enjoyed the “experience”, and pulled off halfway decent grades. And honestly,.. my job reflects that mentality.

  • We have quite similar paths. I also went to college ensuring I get a degree that paid well and selected IT. I am in a growing but specialized field within IT that has even more potential as it is fairly new. My salary is very competitive for where I live. However, I am still wanting more and have been moving from the IT side to the business/project management side slowly within my company. It takes a lot of time to figure out exactly what you want out of a career. People our age change jobs many times throughout a career, and most will even change careers at some point. It is all a growth process and with each year understanding more of what you want is the key.

  • Rob: I agree. I paid for my tuition only, and I was still a slacker. I get excellent grades (finished with 3.6 or so) even though I didn’t study much. And I happened upon some good jobs that kept me competitive. However, I know there has to be something I’d be happier doing than my current career.

    Saving: Yep, we’re definitely alike. I’m moving into project management, especially with the masters degree I start next week.

  • […] Saving With Me on Examine Your Motives Series: Going to College […]

  • Great series. I went to college b/c I didn’t want to work in a factory, but also because I need to be challenged. I have a hard time being satisfied with the status quo. I get bored without a challenge, and for me, college was a gateway to other opportunities. That’s also why I am researching MBA options right now. Because of the doors an MBA will open for me.

  • I went to uni because I really wanted to study my subject (in the UK we specialise particularly early). I am fortunate in that it can lead to very well-paying jobs. Sadly it didn’t lead to one of those, but I have found that the people who chose subjects that they loved at uni have done well for themselves. Enthusiasm is a good trait I guess.

  • There was a report in the Irish papers last week about the trend of some of the highest achievers in the high school system (who could almost have their pick of college courses) choosing to take trades apprenticeships, which I found interesting. I hope the jobs/boom are there for them in four years. And we have taxpayer-paid education, so there’s not much risk in going to college.

    It was certainly expected of me by parents and teachers that I’d go to college, because I was good academically. I had a ball, which probably wasn’t their intent – lots of booze, bad boys and coffee drinking in the student union – and I loved my bartending night job. The study? Not so much. That piece of paper did lead to a lucrative career too though.

  • Tip: if you can pay for your kids future, and don’t, you are cheating them out of their future.

    Look at the cost of college, and think how many years they will have to work just to dig themselves out of debt.

    You should always want to give your kids a better life then what you had…and if you can afford to pay, and don’t, then you are not helping your kids out, but hurting them more then you can imagine.

  • I went to college because my parents told me I’d never make enough money to get by otherwise (they both had college degrees – so really it’s not like I knew much better).

  • Realist: Then why didn’t you finish college? (yes readers, he’s a long-time friend of mine). My parents didn’t pay for my school, and I’m doing fine. Stacie paid for her own education, and she’s doing fine.

    There’s no cheating about it, because I think that kids would get more out of their education, if they get anything, if they have to work for it. As a parent, hold reserves if they really need help, but hold back until they do.

    I wasn’t spoiled as a kid, and my kids, if we ever have any, shouldn’t be either. They’ll do better than I did, but paying for their college doesn’t automatically guarantee that. It takes alot more than just shelling out cash to be a good parent.

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