Obviously, I am a big supporter of the skilled trades as a career path. It is the path I have chosen, even after I spent four years getting a bachelor’s degree in General Business Management.
My college education did get me a job working for a fortune 500 company, making around $42k/year. This is somewhere around the average income for the U.S. But in order to achieve the level of wealth I'm looking for, this wasn’t going to cut it.
It wasn’t until I went back to my skilled trade (the one I had left after graduating from college) that I found my financial success and personal fulfillment.
Do we need a degree?
Somehow, as a society, we have decided that the ONLY path to success is to go to college. We have pushed the younger generations towards college as the only option for a successful life.
We have convinced ourselves that spending four years and tens of thousands of dollars on a college degree is better than spending four years learning a specific skill.
The problem is that the college degrees that much of my generation spent four (plus) years and 30 (something) thousand dollars acquiring don’t prove you have the skill to excel at much of anything–besides finishing what you started.
Of course, some professions require a specific education in order to pass the tests required to participate in that field. For example; a lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc. I’m focusing on the millions of students that get a bachelor’s degree that sounds fun or is easy.
The degree our parents and society told us we must get or we will not succeed is the ultimate doppelganger. It looks like it will make us successful. But it doesn't guarantee the success adults are promising their teenagers.
What should be considered a necessity is constant continued education, whether that be at college, a trade school, or apprenticeship? And what do you do when you’re done with that? You continue to learn and grow in that particular field and in every facet of life.
“Once you stop learning, you start dying” – Albert Einstein
Why do we go to college?
I believe there are a few reasons we go to college. We go to learn work-related skills, build a network, and grow personally and intellectually. Well, I believe those skills can be achieved while learning a trade and skipping out on the frat parties and late-night dorm room kickbacks.
- Work-related skills–In the real world, learning work-related skills looks a lot like actually working because, well, it is. Yes, actually working in a trade, apprenticeship, or internship, is a better way to learn work-related skills than to sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher. Perfecting skills in real-world scenarios for four years will be much more effective than learning a lot of stuff that won’t apply to your particular career choice.
- Building a network–There are a lot of relationships that can form in college. We can meet friends, significant others (I met my wife in college ?), and maybe even some future business connections. Although college may help build a network, I believe networking within your own industry will get you much further along the path of success. Spending more time working in an industry instead of sitting in a classroom is more conducive to building a long-lasting and powerful network.
- Growing personally and intellectually–I will go into more depth on this in another post, but I believe someone that is committed to growth can do a better job educating themselves than to go to a lecture hall for ten hours per week. The amount of free resources on the internet is astounding, from learning languages to legit MIT courses. Combine that with reading books about your industry, business, money, psychology, etc. I think a greater overall education can be achieved with the self-taught method while working full time.
Where did I learn more? College or the real world?
In 2008-09, I was working in a skilled trade job (paintless dent repair) while I was going to college. After college, I set out for the white-collar, college-educated work. After years of struggling and not finding satisfaction in my sales jobs, I made my way back to dent repair.
With a new-found passion for using my hands and body instead of my phone and pen, I set out to make this work. While continuing to learn my skill, I consumed audiobooks and podcasts at a ridiculous rate.
I listened to podcasts about my specific industry, Tim Ferriss Podcast, Impact Theory, BiggerPockets, Freakonomics, Jocko Podcast, Ted talks, and so many others. I also consumed financial podcasts such as radical personal finance, Money for the rest of us, Mad Fientist, and of course our beloved ChooseFI Radio Podcast.
Over the last two years, I have listened to over 70 books on Audible. The amount that can be learned from a single audiobook for $10-15 is impressive when compared to an expensive college course.
Because of my consumption of great and worthy content, I believe that my years after college were more educational than my years spent in the classroom. This may be anecdotal, but I have a feeling it isn’t.
Was it worth it?
I believe I could have been in a better position in life had I skipped the college education (except for meeting my wife of course). That time could have been used to continue learning my trade.
I do have a degree in General Business Management. However, I have learned more about business, sales, finance, and dealing with people from listening to books, podcasts, and working in the real world than from my classroom education.
Where we have succeeded as a society is that we have decided that continued education is important for young people and for our society as a whole.
Where we have failed as a society is that we have determined that college is the only option for continued education. We have simultaneously made college more expensive, given out insanely high loans to teenagers, degraded the skilled trades, and created laws that hurt apprenticeship.
By all means, get your college education, but please be smart about the degree you choose. Be aware of how much of your future earnings you are willing to bet on this four-year education. Do not expect to be successful in life just because you got a bachelor’s degree in business management.
Do you think college is necessary for everyone? Why or why not?
- Podcast Episode: The Trades Path To FI
- Why Skilled Trades Can Help You Become Financially Independent