If you’re reading this, then it probably means you have some interest in money. Or, you liked the headline of this post and you’re already thinking about clicking away if I don’t grab you soon.
Those who love money in a Warren Buffet kind of way instead of a Kardashian* kind of way often sneer at the thought of paying a 1000% mark up for a good simply because the label slapped across the front or the notoriety associated with the color/shape/texture – here’s looking at you Birkin bag.
There is so much chatter about not keeping up with the Jonses and being a minimalist and living below your means once you’re earning a living – but why not fixate on an earlier problem?
The college degree problem.
College is important. Perhaps it will become increasingly less so in the future, but right now, a college degree helps springboard you into opportunity. Well, sometimes. College is also an ideal place to network and build a community from which you can later call upon to help you find a job. (That’s what happened for me.)
I’m not about to make a bold claim that you should ditch college entirely – although I will strongly encourage those who don’t find a four-year degree enticing to consider trade school. Why do we constantly overlook trade schools?! But that’s a rant for another time.
Hannah Rounds over on Unplanned Finance recently discussed why a college degree is no longer a safety net and guaranteed job security – even degrees in STEM. She’s right. This fact just fuels my need to scream from the highest Internet mountaintops: DON’T PAY A LUXURY TAX FOR YOUR COLLEGE DEGREE.
The luxury tax on your college degree
We’re far too fixated on where the degree is coming from instead of what it’s meant to accomplish and how well a person is suited for the school. And it isn’t just high school seniors that are the problem. Plenty of parents obsess over wanting their children going to a name brand college. The Louboutin, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Guccis of the collegiate world when a Kate Spade, Tory Burch or Coach will serve you just fine. Heck, why are we overlooking the TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods options?
Opting into the high-end world of colleges means significantly higher sticker prices (for most) and much of that burden gets placed on the child’s shoulders.
Graduating with a piece of paper validating that you were smart enough to make it through Harvard or M.I.T or Yale is great – but here’s the secret: no one is really going to care in a few years. Unless you feel the need to whip out your paper and measure up against someone else to get an elitist feeling of superiority of course.
But sometimes it’s worth it to pay a luxury tax, right?
Sure, I might be willing to buy that argument. If you are highly advanced in a specific field and the crème-de-la-crème professors and peers will help push you to be the best version of yourself at a school – then sure, pay the luxury tax. Well, pay it if you can afford it or are going to get a high-paying job afterwards that will make the ROI for that degree so obvious I should be embarrassed for writing this rant in the first place.
But ultimately, I don’t think it truly matters where the self-starters go to college.
[Insert cliché list of famous women and men that didn’t go to a top school or dropped out *cough* Bill Gates *cough*]
Maybe one argument can be made for when paying a luxury tax is worth it: if you’re planning to get your Mrs. degree. (This is sarcasm…sort of).
It isn’t about the brand; it’s about you (and graduating debt free)
Listen, if you’re going to be a big deal in life, then you’re going to be a big deal. A fancy school isn’t going to be the determining factor. It may help you in certain ways by giving you a valuable network of high-powered individuals. Just remember, you can network at smaller schools too and most schools still have some illustrious alumni. And don’t discount how a school makes you feel – beyond the name brand.
Or going name brand may leave you crippled with debt and therefore clinging to a mediocre job for far too long because you’re too afraid to take a risk.
Graduating debt free turned out to be a huge advantage in my life and a reason I’m far more willing to take career risks.
Is all this just because you didn’t go name brand, Erin?
You know, maybe I’m biased. Most of you have probably never heard of the school I attended. St. Bonaventure is a small liberal arts college “nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains” and “cradled by the Allegheny River” (read: in the middle of nowhere).
I applied to St. Bonaventure out of tradition (21st in the family to graduate from there), but truthfully never really planned to go. I’d actually sent in a deposit to Wake Forest before the fateful conversation with my father changed my mind and instead I switched over to becoming a Bonnie (that’s the mascot, it’s a wolf…?).
Do I regret it today?
Not only did I make wonderful friends, and meet Peach, but I also received a lot of individualized attention that helped develop me as a writer. Frankly, I don’t think much of my success today would’ve been possible without the Journalism department at St. Bonaventure.
It also didn’t hurt that being a Bonnie means an intense network. Most graduates probably say this about their schools, but here’s a little taste of what my “off-brand” school did for me:
Summer internship with CNN’s Atlanta Bureau – Did I have to be good? Yes. But a Bonaventure connection got my foot in the door and my name on the right desk.
First job out of college as a page for The Late Show with David Letterman – This is my closest thing to being in Greek life. A then page and fellow Bonnie from class of ‘10 got me an interview and I replaced him, then I (class of ’11) got another Bonnie an interview there (class of ’12) and he replaced me.
Second job out of college working in public relations in NYC – While I often gripe about how much I disliked working PR, it can’t be overlooked that a Bonaventure alumnus helped me get an interview (and coached me a bit) for my first career job post-college.
Please, just think it through
This may come off as a crazy rant (hopefully it at least made you laugh), but I sincerely hope that current high schoolers and millennials that are now parents themselves, think twice about paying a luxury tax for a college degree. Or hey – maybe college isn’t even the right fit at all.
*But props to the Kardashians for building that empire. They’re laughing all the way to the bank – if their faces can still allow them to express such emotion.