Is College Necessary?

I know a lot of people who are thinking about going to college. If you are one of them, this is for you. Unless you are interested in medicine, engineering or other studies that still require college degrees, remember there are alternatives to school.

I’ve often heard people say they want to go to school (especially a liberal arts school) to “figure things out”. With college costs at an average $35,000 a year using school to “figure things out” seems like your highest risk option. Unless of course, your parents are willing to pay in full.

If you don’t have such parents and you would like to explore a career, you could do something as simple as volunteering/working somewhere you find interesting. If you like plants, find a greenhouse or botanical garden to help at. Interested in animals? Go to a local farm, vet or zoo. Want to be a lawyer? Find a nearby office and give your time. The list goes on and on. Instead of paying $$$ for your education you can get paid or volunteer to see if that career is for you.

I think it’s tragic that so many kids out of high school are funneled into college without discussion of other options that don’t end with debt.

Here are several college alternatives:

Personal Experience– If you are interested in learning to speak French, instead of paying $100,000 for a 4-year degree, live in France for 2 years. Find part-time work at a coffee shop while you achieve your goal of learning a language in much less time, at a fraction of the cost and 5 times the adventure.

Mentorship– Let’s jump back 100 years and imagine that you would like to become a plumber. You could likely find a successful plumber in your town and help with his plumbing business. In exchange for only your time (also probably less than 4 years, and with no debt) you will have absorbed many of the lessons, and tricks of the trade from someone who can answer the questions you have. I think we are afraid of mentorships these days, but most highly successful people that talk about their learning process mention one figure in their life that taught them. Most of us are able to locate a role model in our ideal profession. This goes for songwriters, painters, photographers, carpenters, dancers, yoga teachers, or any type of business owner.

Self-Education– Possibly one of the greatest skills to learn is… how to learn. The internet has democratized access to knowledge. The phone we have in our pocket is capable of providing access to more education and communication than any single source in the history of humankind. It gives us more power to gain information than any government or president could ever dream of before its invention.

Yet, the vast majority of us with this inconceivable luxury, watch cat videos and post selfies instead of learning.Somehow, college is still the standard for higher education even while the internet provides access to far more resources than one school could ever offer. Some of today’s moguls (Steve Jobs, Ellen DeGeneres, Tony Robbins, Steven Spielberg) never earned a college degree.

Ultimately, the answer to “is college right for me?” comes down to self-awareness and weighing all your options. There is no best option for everyone, just a best option for the individual. Those who choose to step outside of the system may see some great results, although daily discipline, and hard work are required since you are only accountable to yourself.

Most people at 18 don’t know exactly what they want from a career, how could they? They’ve had little experience tasting any of the world’s options in high school. Unless you know for sure what you want to study AND, think college is your best option…then think of your alternatives. I believe that our late teens and 20’s are the times to try as many things as possible. During these years we can see what we are good at, and what excites us so that we KNOW what to pursue. The college system is backwards, asking us to choose a study and then see if we enjoy it.

For any parents reading this, please take this opportunity to sit down with your kid and talk about what debt is, and although we are told that college provides us with ‘good debt’, that seems like an oxymoron to me. Perhaps it would be helpful to map out how much college will cost, and how long will it take to pay it off.

For most of the baby boomer generation, going to college was no biggie, and was a cool place to test things out, party, make great friends, learn, fail, succeed etc. Back then if you got a degree and didn’t use it, no worries. But today cost is too high for such a gamble. Perhaps online courses or a community college education is a good compromise!

People think it is risky to forgo college. I think it is the reverse. Instead of college, you could start a business, teach yoga, travel the world, work on farms, or hike through Europe. There are a dozen different things to help you learn who you are. Workaway, Peace Corps, and internships are all great ways to do this. If need be… college will always be there.

It may seem funny to hear that I went to college… and enjoyed it. But I am part of a small percentage of college students who actually knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn how to be a better songwriter. My school attracted incredible talent that gave me wonderful opportunities. I had access to professors who worked at a high level in the industry which offered me incredible mentor-student type relationships.

But looking back, if I was given guidance to learn outside of the system, I could have skipped school, the massive debt and still been successful. I would no doubt be on a very different path, but I could have surrounded myself with similar influences and gained knowledge on my own terms. I have no regrets about school personally, but since graduation I have met countless alumni frustrated with debt, and many who are not using their degree. For artists especially, debt is dangerous. Most of us don’t start out with much paid work and the stress of owing money along with finally being exposed to ‘real life’ can cause some to give up their passion.

The reason I’m so interested in talking about college is that one of my main goals since graduation in May 2017 has been to destroy my student debt. I owed $27,000 and am happy to say that I’ll pay it off by next month, almost all from earnings playing music. I have chosen to live with family with cheaper rent in order to do this. (Thanks fam!)

I often think that if one thing went wrong, a car accident, a sickness or any tough personal loss, it could have turned the tables. There are plenty of stories about people falling down the rabbit hole of debt due to the cost of college.

My thoughts reflected here are in relation to the system of non-individualized, monetized education, and in no way diminishes my appreciation for the hard work of great professors!

Quick Takeaways

  • If you are paying out of pocket for a degree that will leave you with debt, make sure you know what you are going to study. When you buy a shirt at Target you can return it, a degree does not come with a refund
  • College is neither good nor bad, it is an option that should be weighed with all the others, (mentorship, volunteer/work, self-education)
  • Make sure if you are going to college, you are not going simply because it is what your friends, your parents, your high school advises you to do. If they disapprove of your choice not to go to college that’s fine, they will still love you in 5 years when you prove them wrong by following your path
  • If you really want a degree look into online classes, or community college
  • Iwent to college with a lot of people who mostly partied and learned very little to help them find their career path. Going to college doesn’t mean you get an education
  • I know people who never went to college and will be enjoying success in their career, and others who did not and could have benefited from the structure
  • You could pay for 4 years of college, or you can do something for 4 years and get paid for the experience
  • Unsure what you are interested in? Listen to podcasts, Ted Talks, and visit your local library for FREE to learn about all your options. You could travel the world for a year for much less than a semester’s tuition
  • If I was an aspiring photographer, I would find a successful photographer in the area and work for them for free. I would carry their equipment, make their business cards, or help with whatever they needed. The knowledge gained would be priceless
  • Really want to take classes from an expensive college? Move to that town and audit them for a fraction of the cost
  • If you chose to go to college be wary to not fall into the average work ethic that often exists there, work hard for what you pay for.

A good friend of mine,(and neighbor growing up) Winslow Crane Murdoch has created an amazing film series about student debt. He traveled across the U.S documenting all sorts of people, and how debt has affected them.

His beautiful film work can be seen here:

Aside from having college on the brain I’ve had a crazy summer of successful shows! I spent some time with my family in the Adirondacks and other fun stuff. Here’s my proof:

My biking/swimming partner Emily =)

Played hooky on a gig to see John Mayer in Albany. Killin show

Setting up for my weekly show at Harvey’s rooftop in Saratoga Springs

View from a cruise boat show this July

My friend/incredible singer Gabby Hammond at a concert on the Lake

Saw lots of this, and plan on seeing a lot more

Side of the road waterfall up north

Cascade Mtn in the Adirondacks

My amazing brother Garnet with his doggie Nioke!

My soon to be sister in law, Autumn taking in the view =)

The whole family on a cool lil bike ride in Essex County

Garnet and Autumn and Nioke!

On music, here’s my most recent video of my song Good Reason

Thanks to my family for supporting my goals and helping me along the way, and thank you for all reading this.


P.S please share this with anyone thinking of going to college, or in college. And, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on this to help me learn more about such a controversial topic!

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