Let’s face it… we live in a world that’s drowning in student loan debt. According to Debt.org, at the time of this post, total U.S. student loan debt is around $1.4 trillion. With the average student debt being $37,172. That’s insane.
The investment necessary to go to college has been continually increasing year-over-year, yet the education college students receive is not increasing at even close to the same rate. This is going to be the underlying theme for today’s ultimate question…
Is college right for you?
The debt you acquire and the education you receive are both key factors in answering this question.
There’s definitely a trend, or rather a movement, of organizations questioning the idea of college. Is the traditional 4-year university an outdated model? Some would say so, and I personally agree that it’s outdated for many career paths.
Some career paths absolutely need formal, extended education. For instance, we wouldn’t want our doctors and surgeons to go to a one-year trade school before performing open-heart surgery. These aren’t professions where “learning on the job” would be acceptable as the primary educational process.
With this said, since my focus here is on the technology career path, we’re going to stick to a tech theme from here on out.
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Questions You Must Ask Yourself
Before you take the plunge and enroll in a 4-year university, you should strongly consider the following questions.
- Why are you choosing to go to a 4-year university?—Are you going because that’s what everybody else is doing? Are you going because your parents told you to go? Or, are you legitimately going because you feel that a 4-year university is your best possible option for the education you need to be successful with your technology career?
- Does the company (where you want to work) require a 4-year degree?—If so, then it may be time to look elsewhere. More-and-more companies are removing the college education requirement from their job descriptions.
- Could a 2-year college degree provide you with a better technology education?—Many small colleges are much more nimble than large universities. This means that they will be able to update their curriculum to better align with the continually trending technologies. Plus, 2-year colleges don’t require the same level of general courses that rarely provide any value.
- Have you considered following an apprenticeship model, and could it work to achieve your career aspirations?—An apprenticeship is very much like an internship, and it can be a great way to gain real experience. When you're sitting in an interview with the company of your dreams, they’re going to care more about the projects you’ve been involved in than the college coursework you've completed.
4-Year Universities Aren’t All Bad
It’s not all bad to go to a 4-year university. If you earn a full-ride scholarship to one, then it can make sense to attend. It may also make sense if the school has a great technology program that is recognized by the IT community at-large.
However, you’ll still have to determine if the opportunity cost of your time is worth the value of the education. Essentially, you’ll be delaying your entrance into the workforce by four years. What is the value of your time in the workplace during the 3-4 years while you’re in college—both financially and in work experience?
And, will your 4-year degree honestly increase your earning power significantly?
Regardless of whether you receive a full-ride, a partial scholarship, or no scholarship at all, you’ll still want to run the numbers to see if it’ll be worth your time.
Don’t overlook the opportunity cost of your time and growth in your earning potential. These are both necessary to ensuring all factors are taken into consideration.
The Bottom Line
Don’t go to a 4-year university if you’re not doing it for reasons that you can justify. There are so many more options out there for you in the world of technology.
Many tech start-ups (and other companies) are willing to take on apprentices without degrees. And, even if you decide that you want to get a 2-year Associate's Degree instead, you could always find an apprenticeship that could run in parallel.
And, if you do decide to head to a 4-year university, be sure to line up an internship to build up your real world experience and project portfolio. Without this outside experience via an internship, it’s really difficult to justify such an expensive investment in schooling.
Remember, this opinion is coming from someone who has both a 4-year Bachelor’s of Business Administration and a Master’s of Business Administration. So, I’ve gone down the traditional schooling path, and I’m still taking this stance.
Ultimately, you are the master of your life and future, so you need to take the time to evaluate all of your options and make the best choice.
If you need help with your decision, I'm always available to talk through your options and help you along your journey. You can head over to my coaching and mentoring page to learn more.
Ryan has been heavily involved in the world of Information Technology and entrepreneurship since the early 2000s. From small business consulting to Fortune 500 IT leadership, Ryan has a wide array of tech industry knowledge. Ryan has his BBA and MBA from the University of Iowa. Connect with Ryan on Twitter or Instagram.