August 04, 2021

O’Day: Don’t go to college, at least not yet

Most high school students should not go to college, at least not right away. Many students end up changing their majors a year or more into their college career. Such changes cost students, or their parents, thousands of dollars in unnecessary additional tuition burden every year.

I attended community college for three semesters after high school, with the intention of becoming a social studies teacher. My grades were mixed. My mom paid for the first year. I took out a student loan to pay for the third semester, during which I dropped one class and failed another, both of which rendered me ineligible for a student loan the following semester.

So I took a semester off in 2012, and that turned into a few years. I sold Cutco for a while, then worked at several restaurants. I was pretty bad at sales but above average at waiting tables. I made great money as a server, and both roles sharpened my communication skills. In a later speech course my instructor was surprised when I told her I needed to stop procrastinating as I had written many of them two nights before they were due, granted I had spent much of the previous four years speaking extemporaneously for work.

I’ve always taken a strong interest in politics and in 2015 I started my own WordPress blog to vent my thoughts to the world. That’s how I discovered I wanted to write professionally. Before going back to Scott Community College in 2016 with financial support from family, I realized alcohol was costing me too much stress, time and money. So I quit drinking.

By 25 I was more mature and better equipped to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities that college offered. I gave myself time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t the most efficient path but it positioned me for a much better college experience than I had when I was 20.

That’s why most high school students should take a gap year, or two. Use that time to build a skill set that will enable you to be financially self-supporting through college. Some great potential options include bartending, restaurant serving and cosmetology. The military also provides great opportunities that will cover your tuition. The ability to pay out of pocket for your own groceries, rent and other bills is incredibly freeing and satisfying. It’ll save you a bundle on student loans.

Student housing is the biggest scam in the university industrial complex. One year of housing and meal costs at the University of Iowa is $11,780. The food is mediocre and dormitories are a terrible value for what you get. You typically share a communal bathroom and don’t have your own bedroom. Off-campus housing is the way to go.

There’s a weird stigma hovering over American society that high school students who choose not to attend college are consigning themselves to a life of second class citizenry. I’ve talked to countless people over the years who chose a career path completely unrelated to their college degree. If you really want to learn about psychology but have not mapped a clear cut path to a career, try taking one psychology course at SWCC recreationally or just buy the textbook on Amazon before committing yourself to a four year degree that could ultimately prove useless.

Some of the most successful business owners I know did not attend college, but completed apprenticeship programs to work as electricians or plumbers. The great thing about trade apprenticeships is rather than extracting commitments to exorbitant student loans, they pay you while you’re learning — typically upwards of $15 per hour.

Many of the degree “requirements” in certain fields are completely arbitrary or easily circumvented.

I have a close friend I worked with in the restaurant industry. He was already tech-savvy and taught himself a great deal about coding on the internet. Then he went to a coding bootcamp in Arizona called DevMountain for a few months, and quickly landed a job in Des Moines after completing the program. He makes over $60,000 a year. He said many of his coworkers got four year degrees to do the same thing he does.