When I say that “most university degrees are worthless” I don’t mean “no one should go to college” or “drop out of school now.”
I mean that the objective value of university degrees is more often than not negative. If governments stopped subsidizing higher education, the vast majority of young people and employers would find a way to match with each other without wasting four years.
By this, I don’t mean “in a theoretical utopia you don’t need to go to school, but in the real world, you better start on your applications.” The fact is that many, if not most young people *are* needlessly wasting four years and getting into lifelong debt for no good reason. The alternative to university is not “apply to the same position four years earlier” — though in many cases college grads and dropouts do end up in jobs they could have gotten out of high school. If you’re determined to be a industrial engineer, brain surgeon, rocket scientist, you currently have no choice but to get a degree. However the majority of students – the business, english, history, education, and other assorted liberal arts majors have no business being there.
The real alternative to college is to find a way to build skills and demonstrate your market value with less time and money than a conventional education. Vocational training, apprenticeships, online courses are all possible paths to a career. People often respond to this argument by pointing out that college grads tend to earn much higher incomes than those with only high school diplomas. But this is a misleading statistic because a university is nearly universally viewed as the only means to a successful career, so highly motivated people are brainwashed into thinking that success means going to school. If these people were aware that another option was open to them, they might be even more successful.
Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, John Mackey, and many more dropped out of school when they realized that the benefit of starting their careers immediately exceeded the return on their degrees. I’m not saying that everyone could be a billionaire if they drop out, but how many people needlessly delay the real world to meet someone else’s standard of success?
Do I regret going to school? No – I regret going to school with the expectation that a degree in itself would guarantee a good career, instead of the goal to become someone who could create value in the market. When I failed out of aerospace engineering as a freshman, I regret not taking a break to decide what career I wanted instead of changing to the first major that seemed interesting at the time. I regret leaving the dot-com I started with a friend as a junior to focus on my grades, instead of working harder to make the business a success. I regret not starting my career with two useless bachelor’s degrees and learning to code instead of getting a useless masters that I never used. I regret not pursuing my passion for web design during my senior year of high school in 1999, when I mastered Dreamweaver and started my first blog.
Here is the mistake that so many make: I delayed entry into the real world for as long as possible based on the lie that what I learned in school would be valued by the market, and my skill at passing tests would translate to skill at doing a job. I was wrong: I spent the first ten years of my career learning for the first time how to be a productive worker. In short – I let my schooling interfere with my education.