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When It Does, and Doesn’t, Make Sense to Go to College

There’s no way around it: Student loan debt has skyrocketed in the US, and millions of students are behind on their payments or even in default. Sky-high interest rates are costing students more money to pay back than they can earn.

College used to be regarded as “higher education” … an innovative opportunity to continue your education in a specialized field. But it’s turned into a machine for universities and banks to generate money through massive enrollments.

Higher ed isn’t what it used to be, and people are waking up to the fact. Online colleges and web-based arms of established universities were created as a solution to budget cuts. As enrollment and tuition costs continued to rise, the quality of education seemed to plummet.

The average student today is $37,000 in debt by the time he or she graduates, and 11% of students with outstanding loans are in default. The average payment for a student loan is $351 per month, and when you add other expenses like mortgage payments and car payments, some graduates don’t have much to live on.

A handful of relatively recent graduates have already had to declare bankruptcy, but student loans don’t disappear in a bankruptcy. So many students are refinancing and consolidating their loans instead.

Is college necessary?

College was originally designed to provide students with the skills necessary to enter a specialized profession that demanded a higher salary, but when such opportunities are offset by a huge amount of debt, college may not be a great solution.

If the profession you wish to pursue requires a college degree, such as a career in medicine, then you’ll have to take on debt to chase your passion. But if you’re not passionate about the program, and you’re mostly going into debt because you want to make money, there are other ways to do it.

Become an expert without a college education

More businesses have begun to value skills over degrees and certificates. Although some firms post openings with hefty degree requirements, that doesn’t mean you can’t work around that — if you have the skills.

If you’re a master of your craft and have the energy of a go-getter, you might be able to bypass degree requirements if you can create an opportunity to demonstrate your skills. You just have to be bold and ask for it.

You don’t need a college degree to be successful

If you need further assurance that you can be successful without a college degree, recall that Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to focus on building Microsoft; and his partner, Paul Allen, dropped out of college to join him.

Oprah Winfrey dropped out of Tennessee State University to pursue her career in media, and Michael Dell built his company (Dell Computers) from his dorm room. When he began making $80,000 per month he dropped out to expand.

Other highly successful people who dropped out to pursue their passion include Steve Jobs (Apple), John Mackey (Whole Foods), Ty Warner (Beanie Babies), Matt Mullenweg (WordPress), and even Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook).

Fields that don’t require a college degree

Today you can learn just about anything on the Internet, and if you’re self-reliant you can supplement your education with books and other courses.

The best way to become an absolute success, with or without formal training, is to pursue what you are absolutely passionate about. For example, website developers are a dime a dozen, but expert designers like Men With Pens are few and far between.

The difference is not a higher skillset, but a passion for design that shines through their work. The question to ask yourself is whether going into debt is worth the degree you’re pursuing, because if you have to live in a cramped studio apartment and with a severely limited lifestyle for years to pay off your student loans, and if you’re not passionate about what you do, you’ll grow frustrated with your choices.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue a college education. It just means you should think the matter through and make sure you’re passionate about what you’re pursuing so you don’t end up with regrets.

Instead, create opportunities to enjoy your life.