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Is college a good investment? 3 alternate-path success stories



January 18, 2011 – Comments (57)

For this post I want to ask openly if college is still a good investment?  To prime the pump for this discussion, I would like to tell the stories of a few of my friends who have done well for themselves without going to college, or at least not working in their degree, and later I will try to think up stories of friends of mine who are working in their degrees.  I live in a normal part of the midwest and have, I think, a normal array of friends.  I'm not even going to talk about entrepreneurs like myself, because that is an entirely different thing, an entirely different animal, its own ball of pain, sacrifice, and opportunity.  

I am a college dropout, and you should consider that when reading this as it may cause me bias.  My longtime biz partner is also a dropout...  being a dropout it could be that my group of friends is more drop-out-ish than a typical group of friends, but...  here goes, excepting myself and my biz partner, the most successful people around 30ish that I know of include:

Excluding entrepreneurs:

-Big Billy.  Big Billy was one of my college-age buddies, when I first got old enough to go to the bars, I probably went with Billy 10x more than anybody else.  He knew everybody and was a cool guy.  At the time he was already a college dropout, and had 2 jobs, one as a manager/salesguy at an appliance store where he made like $35k and one as a pizza delivery guy.  He made like $30k net of gas doing that, as he had a $500 Ford Festiva or some such that got 11,000 miles to the gallon.  He was always thrifty with money and always trying to save money, and always trying to make more money in ways like buying a car and trying to sell it for more.  He got, about a year before I went into business and descended into a decade of not having friends, a job as a car salesman at a local dealership.  He did well and got promoted to a sales manager (the slimy idiot you talk to about a loan if you need one and who tries to sell you overpriced extended warranties and such).  From there, after doing well, he got promoted to sales manager and, after doing well, transferred to another dealership where he now makes $150k.  

I know of no college grad working in their degree who makes as much, save perhaps a few friends who were doctors and maybe an attorney or 3.  But the best-earning attorneys anywhere near this age have their own practice, so they really aren't just college grads anymore, they are entrepreneurs.  

How did Big Billy wind up doing well?  Found something he was good at and worked very hard at it. 

-Happy Hudson.  Hudson did go to college, and may have graduated, but has never worked in his field.  As a college kid he got a job in the mall at a jewelry store and became the best jewelry salesperson in the history of a 6 store chain within 6 months (for sales/month, per day, etc.).  He quit and got a job selling insurance or something for a year or 2, and...  the wners of the 6 stores asked him to come back and manage all their salespeople and expand them into 4 more locations.  He makes six figures with profit sharing and he still gets $20k a year in residuals from his insurance days.  Overall Hudson probably makes $150-200k and he's 28, he may well be offered the jewelry chain one day when the current owners retire.  

How did Hudson wind up doin so well?  Found something he was good at and worked at it.  

-Checklists old squeeze Maya.  When I met Maya she was just a kid of 20, from a terrible home, struggling to adjust to being hot after being a loser in high school (due to terrible family).  She was painfully shy, almost.  She never even had a chance of getting to college, but wound up getting a job at a Bath and Body Works in a mall somewhere.  I ran into here a couple of years ago when she was quitting to become a stay at home mom, and I couldn't believe what I saw.  That painfully shy girl smiled and talked and was so charming to the customers in the store...  I asked her what she'd been up to and here was her story:  she got a job one holiday season at B&BW and wasn't late or whatever, so she got offered to stay.  In working on the job she apparently got over her shyness and became one of the best employees, and wound up getting offered a job managing a Buckle in the same mall because someone from the Buckle was so impressed with her.  B&BW then came back and offered her significantly more money to come back and manage that store as she was missed.  She managed the store, did well, and when she quit to become a full time mom she was apparently told that if she ever wanted a job managing a limited brands store anywhere just show up and let them know and it was hers.  

So how much do you make for that?  Probably not a hundred grand, but in any case a girl from the worst home ever who never even had a chance at college has a lifetime offer for a pretty darn good job.  Better, probably, than the job you could get with 80% of degrees.  

How did Maya wind up in this excellent situation?   Found something she was good at and worked at it. 

-Merry Marvin.  Marvin is a physics major who had a job paying like $25k a year and decided to become a financial advisor.  15 years later he has the biggest book of business in his office in a very big city by A DECENT MULTIPLE, and frequently tries to get clients to go to other advisors to free up his load.  He makes HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars a year and will die a multi, multi millionaire.  He is very smart, works very hard, does the best he can to help and guide his clients and apparently they all love him.  

How did ol Marvin wind up a millionaire at a young age without ever starting a business or inherting a dime?  Found something he was good at and worked his fanny off at it.  

-Tall Tom.  Tom dropped out of college and got a job driving trains.  So he's in the railroad union.  The hours are bizzare and I wouldn't like it, but he can retire at 55 i think with full pay and makes like 80 grand.  

How did Tom do so well?  Jumped onto the biggest, slimiest, easy money wagon in the country:  union work.  I'm not knocking it, I love the man, but lets face it the easiest way to get a grossly overpaying job that doesn't call for alot of skill or hard work is to join a union.

I do not know of anybody who is a college grad working in their degree who is better off, age for age, than Marvin, Hudson, or Billy.  These three gained little for going to college if anything.  They do have natural talents.  Billy is exceedingly interested in money and morally passive enough to be ok with the intrinsic slime of the car business.  Hudson is one of those fantastic natural salespeople that could pick up any girl, strike any conversation, etc.  Maya is very pretty, and I must say now that she's over the shy thing, very charming, which lends itself well to her job.  Marvin is extremely intelligent.  

Throw in some other examples.  Hudsons wife works in a high end female clothing store and is the best selling salesperson in her region for the chain and makes alot of money, maybe high 5 figures?  Didn't go to college for that.  Etc, Etc, Etc.  Throw in entrepreurs and the top 10 or 20 most successful people I am aware of anywhere near my age don't do anything related to their college degrees, and I know a few doctors.  


And here is what I am getting at:  is the much-marketed standard routine of A) go to college then B) getting a job in your field really good sense?  Or would trying to find something you like and are good at and working very hard at it wind up a better path for most people?

I am a parent, you know.  My son will be able to go to college, and I've also set aside cash for all his half-siblings and all my neices and nephews and so forth, they will all be able to go.  And smoking weed and making friends and getting drunk and chasing boys/girls is alot of fun, but aside from the investment in life experience, I do seriously ask thee...


Is college actually a good investment?   


57 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On January 18, 2011 at 4:07 PM, Valyooo (34.43) wrote:

I think that college is unneccessary if you don't want it (I am a senior in college, my mom offered to pay and I had no passions when I came I would give my sould to be a professional trader/investor and I will be successful one day) but one thing you did not include is that in some of your stories (like the insurance one) even if it was an unrelated field, he may not have been hired if he didnt have a degree.  A lot of places dont care what degree you have, just that you have one.  Stupid, but thats the way it is.

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#2) On January 18, 2011 at 4:40 PM, binve (< 20) wrote:


I agree. College is not necessary for either a good job or a high paying job (or both). Character and determination will always outweigh education.

But like you mention above, some professions require a degree. Being a thermal and structural analyst in the aerospace industry, I could not grasp the concepts needed without a degree in mechanical engineering. And I like my job, so that ended up being a good investment for me :)

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#3) On January 18, 2011 at 4:44 PM, TMFBabo (100.00) wrote:

The correct answer to me is "it depends."

I went to school to be an engineer and you absolutely need college for that.  You'll also need college to become a pharmacist, doctor, dentist, psychologist/psychiatrist, professor, and a ton of other professions I'm not going to name.

However, I've seen plenty of people go to college that shouldn't have gone.  Moreover, many of them chose majors that would never get you a salary high enough to justify the school loans (I won't mention specific majors, but there are many).  The one exception is where people know the salary is low but the job is what they want - and you absolutely need college to get it.

Anyway, to get a job in a related field with many of these majors, you need a doctorate - since only a small subset of the people of each major will get that far, that leaves the vast majority with a lot of debt and an unrelated job for which they did not go to college.

I've seen enough evidence that suggests that a 2 year associate's degree is actually the best bang for your buck. If what you want to do can be accomplished after the 2 year degree, I'd say go for that.

I won't go into what you can do without a degree, because I think it's absolutely possible to make a lot of money if you show promise or entrepreneurial talent.  

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#4) On January 18, 2011 at 5:06 PM, lemoneater (58.46) wrote:

College was a good investment for me, since I only had $6000 in debt when I graduated. I qualified for the maximum amount of the Pell Grant--a benefit of poverty; had an academic scholarship--a benefit of an insatiable desire to learn; and was able to get Stafford loans that were interest free as long as I was in school. I postponed having interest on my loan by going to graduate school and having a lowly paid position which covered board and tuition and not much else! 

In spite of have a quiet wedding, with only a few officially invited guests, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the gifts. We put a good chunk of what we got to paying off my debt. My husband had professional well paying summer jobs so he had no debt upon his graduation.

Neither of us are wealthy yet, but he could not do what he does without his education and I would have never met him without mine.

I cannot put a value on the hope and personal enrichment my whole college experience brought me.

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#5) On January 18, 2011 at 5:12 PM, thecherryz (84.49) wrote:

checklist34, i think that you're grossly overestimating the cost of college.  I understand that state schools aren't the best, but the cost for me roughly is $2500 a semester.  With work paying $1500 a month, it's only $2000 a year then, and i only need roughly 5 years total if i was to go to a state college all 5 years.  I actually went to a community college for my first 3 years and lagged a little bit, but i'm back on track.  When you look at that cost though, ($5000 a year x4) $20,000+opportunity costs, you're looking at a very small cost.  That being said, I do work at a union job and have full benefits and have them paying $1500 for school.  That was my backup plan.  I've been there for about 3 1/2 years just part-time.  I only work 2 hours a day! it's awesome.  My plan is to become a financial planner after i get my finance/econ degree while working at UPS longer just for the benefits.  Was college needed? No, not probably not.  But i have to imagine it would be initially hard to find people to give you their money unless you had it.  Just my thoughts.

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#6) On January 18, 2011 at 5:13 PM, russiangambit (28.97) wrote:

It makes a difference what college you go , what classes you take, what skills you get and what you want to do at the end. I found it intresting that most of people in your example are salesmen. Salesmen don't add anything to economy, they are overhead. To do something that is actually useful you need to go to either college or trade school. I think many people going to college these days could've done no worse if they went to trade school instead.

4 year BA programs are a waste of money in my opinion, they spend less than 50% of time or more on fluff from what I observed. If you want to be an engineer why are you paying money to take history or art or photography or swimming? This kind of education system is beyond me . I am glad I didn't get my education here. But US has no alternatives at the moment. It is an education mafia.

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#7) On January 18, 2011 at 5:34 PM, umps15 (84.71) wrote:

For some people college will be a much needed kick in the ass, for others it will lead them to a path of self righteous poverty and four years of stunted growth in maturity . 

 I think many of the degrees (humanities mostly) is completely worthless and would advise anyone going to college to avoid them like the plague (unless you family is really rich and have connections). With the economy in this state, every students have to focus on developing a skill that people will pay you money for.

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#8) On January 18, 2011 at 5:43 PM, kdakota630 (29.41) wrote:

checklist34, it sounds like with your stories you've pretty much answered your own question.  I agree with Babo's answer most, especially his third paragraph saying that some people just shouldn't go to college as it's just not going to make enough of a difference for some people.

Maybe you'll get something out of this video:

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#9) On January 18, 2011 at 6:18 PM, Option1307 (30.45) wrote:

I agree with what was said above, it depends completely on the circumstances/person/desires.

For me it was absolutely necessary, as it is required for medical school.

However I definitely get your point and think too many people blindly enter college without thinking things through. Trade school, junior college, etc are all viable alternatives depending on what you desire.

I know a decent amount of my peers from college (private) have ~100-200K in student loans and are working dead end jobs for ~50K/yr. They are never going to pay off their loans, and for what? Nothing in my opinion.

There is something to be said for the experiences you get while in college, coming of age, etc. etc. However, for many professions going to a private college, and arguably any 4 year college, is just a bad idea plain and simple.

I wouldn't give up my experiences in college for anything, and as I said it was 100% necessary for me; however I strongly believe poeple need to seriously think about the pros/cons of college before blindly attending. Admittedly that can be difficult for most 18 yr/ old kids.

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#10) On January 18, 2011 at 6:28 PM, Option1307 (30.45) wrote:

I do not know of anybody who is a college grad working in their degree who is better off, age for age, than Marvin, Hudson, or Billy. 

One thing I'd like to point out is that this really isn't an entirely fair statement imo. Marvin, Hudson, and Billy have been working at their professions for ~10 yrs. by the time they are 30. Whereas someone attending college and grad school won't even begin working until they are ~30 e.g. me!

Essentially M, H, and B will be better off financially at age 30 simply bc they have had a significant head start. That's not to say all of them will be overtaken in the end by professionals, but there is something to be said of delayed gratification.

I can honestly say that I learn more from your rambling blogs than any financial website/book/article I've ever read. Keep up the good work Checklist!


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#11) On January 18, 2011 at 6:48 PM, Option1307 (30.45) wrote:

Just for kicks lets take your thought experiment one step farther...

The average US medical student comes out with ~200K in student loans. The interest rate on those loans is ~7-9% depending on which program etc. but likely a combination of both.

The average salary for a family practice doctor (read "typical" doctor) (which the US is currently short on and only will become shorter on as Obamacare is introduced) is ~100K. That leaves you about 70K after taxes to pay off your massive student loans with sky high interest rates nevermind a mortgage or family etc.

That begs the question, who in the hell wants to go into family practice much less medicine in general?

Higher education in the US has become so out of touch with reality it's not even funny.

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#12) On January 18, 2011 at 6:58 PM, XMFConnor (97.44) wrote:

As noted already, there really isn't one answer. It depends on a person's circumstances, goals, etc.

That being said, I think that college for most people is a smart investment. Many jobs you have absolutely no chance of even getting an interview without a degree. While there are certainly stories of people doing extremely well without degrees, statistics will say that they are the exceptions, not the norm.

One thing I would also add is that the value of college is not just about the future earnings potential. It also has to do with the social aspect. Finally, just because people do very well without degrees does not mean they would not have done just as well (or even better) with degrees.

Interesting thread. Just my $0.02

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#13) On January 18, 2011 at 7:08 PM, badnicolez (< 20) wrote:

Get rid of government subsidies of higher education and the cost will fall dramatically.

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#14) On January 18, 2011 at 7:24 PM, eldemonio (98.24) wrote:

It's all about how you measure the quality of the investment.  Happiness?  Wealth?  Power?   

If you are talking about return on investment, and money is the only factor in measuring return, then college isn't the best investment. Finding something you're good at and working hard at it brings a pretty shatty return too (by comparison.) 

If you want super high returns for little up-front money and low effort - move to a state with lax medical marijuana laws and start growing crazy dank weed.  Pound for pound, the best investment

**Warning** The above statement is not offered as advice - and you're friends won't consider you successful even if you pull six figures growing and selling dope.

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#15) On January 18, 2011 at 8:27 PM, TMFTypeoh (85.72) wrote:

Great post connor!


 I have often said to my family/wife "you know, i have NEVER once said to myself, "based on what i learned in college, i will do XXX" while on the job"


I have learned 100x more on my own in my car listening to books about business & investing than i ever did in class.  My degree didn't even get my my first job, it was one of our family friends that hired me.

 Its sad, but true.

However, college was the best waste of time/money i have ever had.   I learned about social situations & how to live "on my own" (yes, i realize that evernthing is provided by college, but you've got to start somewhere).


What will college look like in 18 years when my son goes?  I don't know.  I just hope he has a good time.

 Between now and then, its on ME to get him interested in investing and teach him about money.  I know ill do a good job.


Great article!

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#16) On January 18, 2011 at 8:48 PM, russiangambit (28.97) wrote:

Many people comment on the social value of going to college and living independently. I find it bewildering. If that is worth that much why not take a job as 16 or 17 y.o. during the summer and live on your own?

I was in Austin over the summer and was frankly disgusted with the number of young college students out there looking for some sort of trouble - getting drunk, durgged and so on, all on their parents dime probably. Opportunties wilfully wasted, these kids are too spoiled. Of course, I couldn't see how many were at home studying so may be my impression was not entirely correct.

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#17) On January 18, 2011 at 10:42 PM, Option1307 (30.45) wrote:

Of course, I couldn't see how many were at home studying so may be my impression was not entirely correct.

Nope. As someone who graduated recently (2007) I can tell you that is spot on analysis.

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#18) On January 18, 2011 at 10:59 PM, Mstinterestinman (< 20) wrote:

Yeah I go a to s Public univesity and finding people with any form of motivation yeah its

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#19) On January 18, 2011 at 11:03 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

valy, that may have been true for the insurance job, but it wasn't for the jewelry job, and thats how he wound up making a fantastic salary (almost enough for Obama to hate and vilify him) well before 30. 

I hear what you are saying though...

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#20) On January 18, 2011 at 11:05 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

Binve, those are definitely jobs you couldn't get hired to do without a degree. 

Could you find the information needed to do the math/calculations/work somewhere online and therefore circumvent the need for a degree?  I accept that you couldn't actually get a job without a degree regardless of knowledge, I'm just curious.

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#21) On January 18, 2011 at 11:08 PM, Mstinterestinman (< 20) wrote:

Hey Check what business /Company did you start? I'm Saving up to start two one is Media and the other is an Investment Partnership

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#22) On January 18, 2011 at 11:15 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

Babo, I am now going to be argumentative and difficult.

One of my old businesses involved me being a chemist.  Most of the work that was done was to support other companies we owned that needed something that didn't exist.  I have never had a chemistry class, but, say, 7 or 8 years ago I think it unlikely that anybody in the country had substantially more knowledge about the crosslinking of waterborne carboxyl functional coatings.  I have never had a chemistry class, but millions of pounds of my creations have been produced and sold commercially.  

How?  Alta Vista and yahoo and later google.   All the information in the world is there if someone really wants to learn. 

Impossible?  The founder and inventor at the PCi Group has had a great career and has no formal chemistry education.  I've had a few conversations with him (god at least I think it was him, 95% sure).  

Another of our companies did engineering work.  Albeit in a very new field that hasn't remotely attracted the kind of heavy commercial interest of, say, mechanical engineering or whatever. Most successful company we ever owned, and I never had a class in that field either (but I did have a mob of math and physics classes). 

I think that the education system is lagging, badly, technology.  Once knowledge was power, today its a commodity, its free, practically the sum of human knowledge and MUCH more than you could learn in a class is online just waiting for someone patient enough to search for 28 straight hours to find it.  

Many hundreds of times someone has said to me "did you go to school to learn how to invent that stuff?".  I have said in return "you can't learn how to invent anything in school, they can only teach you stuff that is already so well known nobody is protecting the knowledge anymore".  

I am done being difficult now, lol, and I thank you for the comments.

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#23) On January 18, 2011 at 11:18 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

lemon, as a white male I wonder if I hadn't gotten an academic nerd-ride (free ride for test scores etc.) if I would have been able to get any help?

We were told, by a cantankerous (sp?) old guy at the local SBA office before we went into business that we weren't likely to qualify for anything unless we became a "minority" of some kind, but good luck kids...  for real.  That was monstrously annoying.

I am glad that for you and yours it worked out.

Don't ask why it just came to mind, but both my parents and the parents of my longtime biz partner are college grads.  Never had a job, any of the 4, in their field.  

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#24) On January 18, 2011 at 11:21 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

Cherryz, I think the universities around here are like 6-9k/year tuition (not sure if that includes room and board). So you'd wind up in 30-60k by the time you finished a 4-year.

Financial planning/advising can be an extremely good field for sure, good luck with that.  

Don't slap me for my stab at unions above, I just can't stand them is all, nothing against any one person.

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#25) On January 18, 2011 at 11:23 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

umps, you said

For some people college will be a much needed kick in the ass, for others it will lead them to a path of self righteous poverty and four years of stunted growth in maturity . 

 I think many of the degrees (humanities mostly) is completely worthless and would advise anyone going to college to avoid them like the plague (unless you family is really rich and have connections). With the economy in this state, every students have to focus on developing a skill that people will pay you money for.

That would have taken me 2 pages to say, but you said it brilliantly.  The liberal propaganda machine that is college life does indeed stunt alot of people, sometimes for alot mroe than 4 years.  

I am not a conservative, btw, a libertarian perhaps.  

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#26) On January 18, 2011 at 11:23 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

dakota, thanks, i'll look at the video if i'm still awake after replying here.  :)

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#27) On January 18, 2011 at 11:26 PM, TMFBlacknGold (79.29) wrote:

Great post!

Although they lived in different times, here's my list of inspirational business men who grew up poor and never made it to college graduation. They all had determination, the willingness to learn from mistakes, the ability to tell doubters to shove it and prove them wrong, and one hell of a work ethic (which seems to be lacking here) - not to mention other admirable attributes. The list is (growing):

     Art Rooney, George Eastman, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, The Facebook Nerd, Phillip Armour, Davif Mulholland, Henry Ford


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#28) On January 18, 2011 at 11:37 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

Valy and all:  Hudson is not a college grad, I just asked him.

Option:  good comments, and THANKS!  I mean salary, not savings.  Anybody working in their degree at 28-30 making $100k?  Making $150k?  Admittedly Billy is now 35, but he was making $100k at his late 20's.  I haven't any idea what Maya was making, but its the coolest story up there.  Quiet story, hers, not all loud like mine, but same against-all-odds kind of deal.  Gorgeous family she has.  Good for her. 

also, I just talked to Hudson, he quoted monetary figures kind of like yours, he says "kids ar eleaving college with $50 or 100k of debt, just to get a $30k job if they can land one. 

I think back in the day college was more of a big deal but today its more of a business that will accept and encourage any idiot to attend, simply to make more cash"

 Maybe low-cost schools is the way to go... be as thrifty as possible when paying tuition?

 And, Option, you NAILED it with your comments on doctors.  Its the doctor/entrepreneurs that wind up doing really well for themselves.  



they are entrepreneurs, not just working in their degree.  Although, clearly, in that case the degree made it possible for them to become entrepreneurs.

Maybe thats how college can be a big winner?  Teach you a way to be an entrepreneur thats less painful and travels down a better-greased-slide than what can be done by someone with no education?



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#29) On January 18, 2011 at 11:39 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

Conner, I think big-corporate-america loves the degree, any degree, but some degree.  you are right.

The social aspect is huge, as I mentioned.  Its a place, unlike high school, where kids can be something on their own (and not just on their parents or athletic ability (which, in high school, is considerably just a race to puberty.  first to puberty, good at sports, because you get to play in jr hi etc)).  

I got some of that in college, and a big dose in restaurants/bars.  oh to be a waiter, and 22, for one more year.  lol

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#30) On January 18, 2011 at 11:40 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:


I don't know any facts but...  it sure seems to me also that the costs could be curtailed significantly...

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#31) On January 18, 2011 at 11:41 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

eldo: you may not be a social success, but you'd sure enjoy movie night w/the familiy, lol

cool post

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#32) On January 18, 2011 at 11:43 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:


    I agree.  Thats what I got out of it:  for the first time I got to have some friends, a girlfriend, some beer, etc.  some fun.  

    I had more fun, more beer, more friends, hotter girlfriend as a waiter while making money.

just a thought

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#33) On January 18, 2011 at 11:45 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

Gambit, most kids I knew in college spent more energy on weed, beer, girls/boys, music, and friends than on their classes. 

In all honesty, its a gigantic social explosion more than an institute of higher education, from my experience.  I think what you saw is the norm.

I offer that you could get alot of the same kind of experiences (but also very different) making money in some "social" jobs... if you aren't going to graduate or graduate with a degree thats useful.

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#34) On January 18, 2011 at 11:48 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

interestinman:  It may be that I can't answer that, due to non disclosure agreements, and it definitely would be that I wouldn't answer that out of respect for my former businesses.

The opinions that I offer here are my own, and do not reflect the businesses, which I no longer own, and which employ alot of good people, and I would hate for my public ramblings to ever cause any one of them any trouble.

I will say that its overwhelmingly likely that someone reading this thread has used something one of them made, though.  Tahts kind of neat.  

Once in a while in Vegas or LA or somewhere I run into somebody who has heard of me.  Thats kind of fun.  

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#35) On January 18, 2011 at 11:49 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

blackngold, larry ellison also...  probably hundreds more.

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#36) On January 18, 2011 at 11:51 PM, checklist34 (99.06) wrote:

awesome discussion, people, I am going to argue heavily on thursday with some educated friends and bring up your points.

they are going to become perturbed, perhaps, but I will learn something, definitely.

I appreciate it very much.

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#37) On January 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM, rebello15 (< 20) wrote:

I had went on yahoo to read some news articles, found this link about college and education and then came on here and read this blog haha, great timing.


I was also talking to Valyoo about how a lot of investing and aspects of business isnt even taught in school and how alot of what is taught is just text and not really useful so to say, the best  is acquired knowledge from experience and reading other kinds of books as well as from internet sources like the Fool, if you have the motivation you really don't need college from a knowledge standpoint, as you said much of what you need to know can be found else where without having to pay for it, in my opinion its definitely needed for social development, and its also a great time haha

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#38) On January 19, 2011 at 12:44 AM, umps15 (84.71) wrote:

Maybe I'll add another dime to the bucket since I am a recent graduate.

If you want to know how valuable your degree is, ask the percentage of people dropping out or failing out of it. If there are smart people in the degree studying 15 hours a day and still getting B's, then you know the degree is valuable. Because a good degree is supposed to be cut throat. 

I graduated with a B.S (and M.S) degree in computer and electrical engineering. Computer science / Computer engineering is currently the most lucrative bachelor degree you can get , if you graduate from one of the top schools in the field or if you  are top of the class in a lower ranked school, you can get a 80k salary easily from microsoft, google, etc as a software engineer. 

The stuff they taught me in school is extremely difficult. There's just no way I could have learned that on my own by reading a book, and definitely no way you can learn this stuff off the internet. Not with the shitty math/science education you get in high school. Unless you are borderline genius or  your parents hired very good math tutors.. forget it. 

But the truth is... for the typical job that most people get after they graduate, they don't need most of the stuff they learned. Most of the hard stuff is there to filter out the students that are too stupid or too lazy to merit a degree. So when companies come to our school looking for computer science graduates , they automatically know that the student must be smart or hardworking (usually both) because they went through the gauntlet and made it out alive. 

Investment banks know this well, and they typically favor students with engineering, math, or science degrees instead of something like business or economics. This is because majors that are hard tend to graduate people that are smarter.

  I guess the single thing that was most important to me was realizing how dumb I was when I entered college. In high school I was towards the top of  my class without putting in a lot of work. It was a small liberal arts oriented private high school. But when I went to college, I realized that in my major I was probably in the bottom 40% intelligent wise, and in the bottom 10% effort wise. That was quite a shock to me when I saw that I was getting 50's on tests where one of my good friend was straight up acing it. I knew that the if I didn't put in 100% effort I was not going to make it through the gauntlet. So for me college gave me a swift kick in the ass. 


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#39) On January 19, 2011 at 12:53 AM, umps15 (84.71) wrote:

Oh yea checklist34...

Believe it or not, top Investment banks will typically pay 100k  for a fresh out of school graduate (bachelor's) if they deem him worthy. I know a couple of dudes like that (however, these jobs are in new york and the interview process is very selective) . This was 2008 but I doubt things have changed. 

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#40) On January 19, 2011 at 1:38 AM, TMFBabo (100.00) wrote:

As a fellow Googler, I do appreciate your point on looking stuff up.  I've had a lot of people ask me how I learned this or that and my answer is very often "you'd be surprised what you can find on Google." 

I agree that for many (not all) professions, what you want to learn can be learned without going to school.  I think what matters here is the person.  I believe talented people with some initiative can get incredibly far – they’re willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. 

Even if you are able to learn what you need to know, I agree with the general consensus that you still need the degree sometimes just to be considered.  Think of it from the hiring manager’s point of view – if you can pick from 100 people for an interview and 25 people have supposedly been taught a widely accepted curriculum for your field, I think I’d probably pick a much higher proportion of my interviewees from the degreed people (this would be especially true in engineering). 

The people without degrees might know the material, but I wouldn’t consider them for an interview unless someone within the company vouched for their knowledge.  No, I’m not saying every person with a degree interviewing is smart – some of them will be morons.  I’m saying the level of subject matter mastery will be higher on average among those with degrees and when I’m trying to whittle down a large list of applicants, it is quickest to narrow down first by only considering candidates who have at least formally studied the subject matter. 

I believe there are exceptions to my arguments and exceptions to yours, so I’m not going to go cherry picking examples to try to argue against you.  I think one can succeed and become wildly successful without a degree and there are many more that are wasting their time at school. 

One problem about college is that a lot of people go without really knowing why they want to go.  Many of these people then stumble through school without purpose and don’t know what to do when they graduate.  I think people who go to school after working in the real world a while are much more likely to do something useful, since they know what they want and know that they need a degree for that field. 

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#41) On January 19, 2011 at 2:50 AM, Mstinterestinman (< 20) wrote:

Hey Check I totally respect that no biggie P.S. when I get my partnership off the ground my email should be on my profile to discuss my strategy and your potential interest. I think mentioning this would only have been illegal if already started since you can't advertise a hedge

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#42) On January 19, 2011 at 8:26 AM, lemoneater (58.46) wrote:

@ #7 umps15, one of the enduring questions about a college education which you brought up is the whole matter of liberal vs. servile. Does one study a variety of subjects including the humanities or does one focus on simply learning enough to gain a living in a chosen career?

One of the thinkers I studied in college was Cardinal Newman. I'm linking the section "Knowledge Viewed in Relation to a Professional Skill" which directly relates to this topic.

I think the strongest argument for the value of a liberal arts education is the very existence of the Motley Fool. Tom and David Gardner had liberal educations. They have transmuted and woven Shakespeare's genuis with Horace's vision to get the idea of the wise fool who entertains and instructs us all to a better financial understanding. We are all the richer for their inspired application of their liberal education to a servile end.  

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#43) On January 19, 2011 at 8:37 AM, mbdulka (< 20) wrote:

College education may or may not be good for you, depending on your own personal motivations and your natural intellectual abilities.  They hand out B.A.s now like highschool degrees, so not having at least a B.A. is almost a death sentence in the US, UNLESS you go into trade skills (much better money) or you are self-motivated and start your own business of some-type.  It's nothing more than a passport of sorts.  Overseas, my experience is they care less about your education (unless it's a speciality field like being a Dr. or lawyer naturally) and more about your skill and experience.  If you work on at least 2 of the 4 types of capital (social and individual (cultural) capital), you can really succeed. ;-)  If you have a personality like a dried prune, good luck ;-)

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#44) On January 19, 2011 at 8:38 AM, russiangambit (28.97) wrote:

#42 - my argument is really whether they should be a rquired part of college education for everybody? You can learn liberal arts on your own for free or at least very cheaply . If we take them out of the college programs for technical degrees then you could easily significantly compress the time and money expensed for the education and seeing how many people cannot afford the education in the US I think this should be done.

My own kids get educated in the liberal arts but I tell them that if this is what they want to do they can do it as a hobby on their free time, they also must get a profession that will pay their bills.

In Russia and Europe also the liberal arts are learned mostly at the secondary education. And I do believe this is where they are the most beneficial. In Russia we have education which is a carry over from USSR times - no frills. You have to declare what you are going to study at the entrance exams. Entrance exams are different per profession. If you are going to study math, this is what you study every day for 5 years for 6-8 hours. The same with everything else. if you are going to study economics you entrance exams include geography, which is not included for math for example. Math students have physics exam instead. For foreign language the entrance exams don't include any of technical disciplines, but instead all kinds of liberal arts. This system of education is very efficient.   This is why on average a russian graduate will have higher skills in their area than their american counterpart. It is because they spent 3 times more time on it,

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#45) On January 19, 2011 at 8:49 AM, russiangambit (28.97) wrote:

> Many hundreds of times someone has said to me "did you go to school to learn how to invent that stuff?".  I have said in return "you can't learn how to invent anything in school, they can only teach you stuff that is already so well known nobody is protecting the knowledge anymore".

Yes, they can if they  teach you right. I remember in 8th grade our math teacher made us to prove all the geometry theorems on our own and then compare them with the textbook. It is just nobody does in most schools. But there ways and ways to develop creativity. But most schools all they do is make you emmorize what is in the textbook. Why do they even need teachers then, kids can read the textbook by themselves.

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#46) On January 19, 2011 at 8:51 AM, OneLegged (< 20) wrote:

7.5 years of college for me.  I never made one single dime from it.

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#47) On January 19, 2011 at 9:09 AM, ForgetTheDay (20.65) wrote:

Just for some background on myself I obtained a computer engineering degree in 2008 and have had a string of solid jobs both in and out of school since of $35-45/hr. However, I truly believe based on my work experience that college was necessary to get into the door but not to learn the material.

 My jobs each consisted of skills and programming languages that I had not learned in college but rather at work or through personal study. Was college worth it for me... I ask that question with great frequency. I hope that the social skills and connections I made will benefit me in the future, but sometimes wonder what I could accomplish if I took an alternate path.

 Unrelated but still interesting given this commentary is the following article on the first 2 years of college:

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#48) On January 19, 2011 at 9:14 AM, ETFsRule (< 20) wrote:

If the question was, "is college necessary?", then I would say no, and I think your examples would be good supporting evidence to show that you can succeed without going to college. Especially if you are naturally a good salesperson, because sales is one field where you can make a lot of money without a degree.

However your question was, "is college a good investment?", which is very different. The answer is "yes". College grads generally make a lot more money than people who didn't go to college. For each success story like the ones in your examples, there are going to be ten times more people who became burger-flippers making $8/hr.

Yes, some people are better off without college, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

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#49) On January 19, 2011 at 11:18 AM, lemoneater (58.46) wrote:

@ #44 My husband, a college professor who teaches electrical engineering, believes that there is a place for trade schools. It is too bad that there seems to be an unjust prejudice against them currently in the U.S. (Don't tell anyone, but he would be one of the first to say college is not for everyone. He has seen too many students unsuited to academic life torture themselves with the attempt to get a degree, when their time would be better spent doing something they have an aptitude for and an interest in.)

Sometimes even trade schools can have a liberal aspect. My mother taught English at one and her class gained communication skills, social skills, and cultural exposure from her shared experience, dedication and enthusiasm:)

Education doesn't determine your worth, but it should develop your gifts whether college, or trade school, on the job training, or Motley Fool :). A successful education gives one the tools to make self-learning a more efficient and rewarding process.

My abyssmal lack of mechanical ability and technological insight would have made trade school a poor choice for me:). Although I studied in the humanities, I quickly realized that there were areas of knowledge I would have been too ignorant,  undisciplined, and discouraged to have plumbed on my own in spite of my curiosity and avid reading.

For instance, having an instructor greatly assisted my exploration of Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics, and Anthropology, etc. Based on their expert guidance, I knew where to look for information and how to judge the information I found. They challenged my thinking and introduced me to ideas whose existence I had never even imagined.

Another factor that affected my own educational experience was that I had an undiagnosed, severe, learning disability--some kind of ADHD--which I have only understood recently. It was uncomfortable, but helpful to have my professors tell me that I didn't think like others did. My brothers had told me that I was strange, but my professors were kinder and gave me useful strategies in spite of their frustration with someone on a totally different wavelength. I was fortunate to have attended a college with a good professor to student ratio and a higher than average amount of caring. Without their help and encouragement, I'm convinced that I would have hit even more brick walls in life.

My learning disability has led to extreme ironies in my life. I graduated with an advanced degree in English, but I never fully internalized correct grammar and mechanics. Proper punctuation has never been automatic for me. I think that a teacher should lead by example so I have avoided using my degree directly to avoid pitfalls and potential hypocrisy. I greatly enjoyed my literary criticism courses, but who ever heard of a literary critic with poor writing skills!?!?!

Enough about me. I agree that education is an important personal choice. We all have different lives and opportunities. Use the learning opportunities available to you.




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#50) On January 19, 2011 at 11:39 AM, falang1 (< 20) wrote:

Hmm...  since you asked if it is a good investment I guess I would look at it like this...

 Going to college is a bit like putting your money in a safe investment.  You won't make a ton of money most likely but you will do ok. Statistically it is the safe choice to have a nice living.

 Not going is like buying risky stocks.  If you are good or lucky, you can make a ton of money.  If not, you will be flipping burgers.

Either way it is the smarts and hard work that pays off in either life choice.  Most of the people I know have degrees.  Most are doing ok, some very well.  In fact I know people being held back without degrees. 

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#51) On January 19, 2011 at 4:16 PM, Borbality (34.48) wrote:

It's obviously hard to say! Great post and discussion though.

 It's funny how in college you can usually tell which ones are going to do OK and which might end up in trouble or not finishing. I think part of it is that finishing usually takes some level of character (of course, unless you quit because it's holding you back like the original poster!). My friends with degrees are all doing well with steady jobs in their field or related. I must say that my family and wife's family who didn't go to college now have crappy jobs or no jobs, seriously, but I think that has little to do with college. If you want to go to college and finish, you can make it happen one way or another, and not necessarily by ruining your financial future, either.

 I think it's a good point that undergrad education can really hold people back. I've seen people close to me linger forever in the system, constantly making excuses for not getting going in life. The truth is just that it's easy and comfortable and no one expects much from you if youre still just a student. This website obviously doesn't attract many of those types, but you see them all the time.

I got pretty lucky for someone with a degree with low prospects. Took a full time job in my field before graduating and consider myself lucky to still be here and not wasting my degree.

  I think it's safe to say that as parents (i graduated in 2006, no kids yet), it's wise to put money away for college, hope your kids are serious about school and want to major in smoething useful. However, people in that 18-20 age bracket are hard to reach. I know I thought I knew everything then and no one could have told me otherwise, and I was a really lazy but bright student who didn't need to work hard to get by with decent grades. Boy I wish I listened and wasn't so lazy back then! However, i don't think it should be considered a waste if a child wants a liberal arts education and maybe won't get the highest paying or useful job after graduating. My plan is to make sure the kids get some realistic expectations about where they can go and what they can do and what I'm willing and unwilling to help with.

 I graduated with about 12k loan debt and very little help financially from parents and I am pretty satisfied even though I don't make a lot of money now. This whole 100-200k in debt stuff is just bananas. If a child wants that kind of education badly enough,they'll need to put in the work for the scholarships and show how serious they are about the actual education.  

It is terrifying right now to think what state universities might be like in 15-20 years. When I started, tuition was about 750 per semester, I finished in four years and it was already pushing 2000 by then. Now it's about $2500. There's no way the education I got is worth today's prices, but the key is that I could have gotten a much better education if i was serious about it and picked something more challenging and engaging and ultimately more useful upon graduation.

 It is a lot to expect young people to know what they want to do with their lives, and oftentimes class really is the furthest thing on the list of things to do while in college. This kind of stuff really makes me dread the thought of parenting!  

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#52) On January 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM, JaysRage (81.63) wrote:

checklist34 -- I really enjoy your blogs. Thanks for posting another nice read. It's great that other people continue to see college as an investment that should be evaluated in terms of return just like anything else.

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#53) On January 20, 2011 at 3:20 AM, FleaBagger (27.32) wrote:

I didn't read the mess of comments in the middle, so I don't know if anyone else raised this point, but we certainly need to start making the distinction between going to college for practical education and training (engineering, medical, etc.) and going for liberal arts. If you (or your parents) have tons of money you're willing to shell out for a degree that might interest you but won't make you any money, go ahead an get a liberal arts degree. Fine. That's wonderful. But realize that you'll make less money with that degree than you would with the job experience you would have had working at Mickey D's in that time.

When you look at stats that show people with college degrees make more money, that is more than entirely due to non-liberal arts degrees, which bring the average way up, while liberal arts degrees bring it down a little bit. 

To answer your question, "only if you're going for the right reasons, and with realistic expectations." 

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#54) On January 20, 2011 at 6:22 PM, Mstinterestinman (< 20) wrote:

Does Liberal Arts Include Econ? Its through there school but ask the average person what economics is sadly they will go huh?

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#55) On January 20, 2011 at 6:23 PM, Mstinterestinman (< 20) wrote:

I'm getting my Econ degree as a toolkit to start my investment partnership though. I've worked for people before and a typical career isn't for me felt creatively like I was being weighed down.

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#56) On January 26, 2011 at 1:21 PM, BlackSwanCapital (59.12) wrote:

I want to say that Goldman 2nd/3rd year analysts make 125-150k thereabouts.  Maybe they have an MBA, maybe they are high-flying undergrads, more maybe they are not anaylsts but traders... But they are definitely under 30 Y.o.A

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#57) On January 26, 2011 at 1:23 PM, BlackSwanCapital (59.12) wrote:

I can confirm the earlier comment that Ibanking first years can get 100k offers in NY.  I cannot confirm the GS claim though, that's more of a grapevine hearsay.

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