Read an Excerpt
Just the Facts:What Your Guidance Counselor Isn't Telling You About College
“You can do a lot of things if you don't know you can't.”
Sam Brownback, U.S. Congressman
You had about ten years of bliss. From six to sixteen almost no one asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up. Junior year of high school hits and whammo! Suddenly you're supposed to have all the answers. And you don't, do you?
Well frankly, if you did it would be a miracle. At sixteen it's doubtful that your work experience extends beyond the local mall. The truth is, it's a rare person who's sure what they want to do with their life at age thirty, let alone thirteen.
OK, so here's the problem. Just because you don't know what you should do with your life doesn't mean no one else does. We're talking parents, grandparents, guidance counselors, the mailman . . . everybody's got an opinion. Unfortunately, your uncertainty makes you a prime targetyou might as well be wearing a sandwich sign scrawled Please Advise. In other people's eyes, you're like a fresh lump of clay, waiting to be molded. Your Uncle Morris wants you to be a lawyer. Your mom tries to convince you that accounting is making a comeback. “Plastics,” your neighbor winks.And then it comes, like a life preserver thrown over the edge of a sinking ship . . . the college option. Four heavenly years of keg parties and career postponement. A sticker from the college of your choice slapped onto the bumper of your proud parents' car.
There's no doubt about it. In this day and age, going straight to college is the obvious choice. Soobvious, in fact, that few people consider doing otherwise. Before I shatter your illusions, let's get one thing straightthis book isn't meant to convince you that college is a waste of time. I spent four years behind university walls and I don't regret it for a minute. What this book is meant to do is open your mind to a sea of options you may never have considered, so convinced were you that college was the only ride down the rainbow to the pot of gold. Let me throw a curveball your wayyou can succeed in life without a college degree. Almost 20 percent of this year's Fortune “400 Richest People” did.
Heading straight to college may seem like a given now, but this wasn't the case for most of the century. Before World War II, only one in six Americans went on to college. Then along came a little thing called the GI Bill, meant to make it possible for former soldiers to get an education. Suddenly the college gates were thrown open and the stampede began. It's only in the past fifty years that college was transformed from the exception to the rule. Since the end of World War II, the number of entering freshmen has shot up from 15 to 65 percent. College is being touted as the new necessity.Which would be fine if it were true. News flash: 70 percent of all jobs in the United States only require alternative education and on-the-job training. Don't get me wrong. I'm in no way trying to say that college is useless. Higher education is a wonderful thing. But be aware that it's also a two-hundred-billion-dollar industry. It's no accident that the national opinion about the necessity of a college degree has changedit's the result of years of hard-core marketing.
Never before have so many students been told that college is the way to go. A study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that a whopping 65 percent of 1990's high school sophomores reported being told by their guidance counselors that they should apply to collegetwice as many as in 1980. Even students who scored in the lowest quarter of their high school class were being pressured to applynever mind the fact that they showed little interest in hitting the books.The Big Lie
When I was a kid, my mom would never make me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She told me I didn't like them. I grew up eating peanut butter sandwiches and jelly sandwiches, but never mixing the two. Truth is, I didn't try a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was about twenty. Strangely enough, I loved it. All those years my mom had told me that I hated PB&J. And I believed her. Turns out it was my mother who hated it, not me. I had been subtly brainwashed . . .
So big deal. I ate tuna fish. In this particular case, the consequences weren't drastic. But college is another story. All across America, high school students are being told that college is their admission ticket to life, as if their diploma will pave the road to certain success. The truth is that there are more college graduates than there are jobs that require a degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 28,983,000 college graduates in the labor force in 1990. Twenty percent of them were “underemployed”working in jobs that didn't require a degree. And despite the contention that college will land you a fat little paycheck, statistics from the Bureau show that more than one fifth of college graduates earn less than $23,317the median for kids with no more than a high school diploma. It's true that college opens doors for a lot of people. But be aware that each year a large chunk of college kids graduate and wind up working behind the same Starbuck's counter as their GED brethren.
This isn't meant to depress...