Why I don't always recommend college

A nice piece summarizing the problem of kids with degrees (often graduate degrees) ending up working at a coffee shop. Not that there's anything wrong about working at a coffee shop. There are no unworthy jobs. But if you spent 6-8 years of your life, and borrowed tens of thousands of dollars, to acquire a degree in something unrelated to coffee-shoppery, let's just say earning minimum wage serving java was probably not your career plan number one. It's going to be a while before you're debt free... So, now what? Honestly if you're in that situation already, I don't have much by way of practical suggestion to offer. Develop marketable skills and do your best. But if you're thinking about your options near the end of high school and aren't really sure what to do with your life, here's what I would suggest you try.

Instead of going to college because everyone tells you it's the thing to do, take the time to take a good look inside yourself and figure out who you are. What do you really want to do? Who do you really want to be? A fantastically rich and successful rock star? Good. How do you get there, and what else could you do in that vein that would make you happy if your Plan A fails to materialize? Would working in a band at weddings make you happy, too? If so, then work on your music. Hard. And have some kind of other marketable skills ready to go in case the music gig doesn't work for you. You want to be an accountant? Great! You should head straight for that college program. You want to work in the construction industry? Awesome. Head for the technical college.

You're 16 and have no idea who you are and what you want to be? You're exactly like I was. I had no idea either. I finished high school (by the skin of my teeth, yes, but still), took a few years off school and went to work. I started at McDonald's then moved to retail then started a small business, then wrapped it up a few years later and decided, at that point, that I wanted to go to university to study law. I got in, and worked in a bar to pay for my tuition so I wouldn't end up in debt. A good thing, too - for at the end of my degree, in my mid-20s, I realized I didn't really want to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a writer. I worked all kinds of odd jobs (research projects, translator, editor, ghost writer), worked for free as a columnist for an online magazine for a few years (nothing helps you get a job as a paid writer more than being able to put "published" before "writer"), wrote a few books, and here I am today, with a steady well-paying job in a major media company. If you'd asked me 20 years ago what my chances would be to end up where I am today I would have said roughly zero. (And no, I never went to j-school.)

Yes, I worked low-paid and low-skilled jobs. A lot. I sold shoes, beer, cars, insurance, clothes, food and fashion accessories. I even learned to make pizza. Once I worked the night shift in a convenience store making sandwiches. It wasn't glamorous. But the experience I gained in those years serves me to this day. So does my law degree (amazing how often it comes in handy). Plus of course all the things I learned along the way reading books, going to lectures or speeches, and just listening to smart people. And you know what? All this bizarre twisted unrelated random experience is helping me be a better journalist.

Today I tell kids to get an education, absolutely. ALWAYS LEARN SOMETHING, no matter what you do. But don't necessarily go to college - at least not until you have a pretty good idea *why* you're going there and have some kind of plan to pay for it. Earn yourself a scholarship, find a job you can do while you study, even if that means it takes you two extra years to finish your degree. Real-world experience counts, and a future employer will probably favour an applicant who was able to think ahead and had a plan for staying out of debt while gaining real-world experience over some slack-jawed kid who has no idea who he wants to be and still doesn't know why he majored in English.

So there. That's my advice. Figure out who you are, always learn something, stay out of debt as much as possible, and be prepared to work hard. And don't you dare think that a job is beneath you. Good luck!

Your brain on a low-fat diet