Choosing a College

Having my college days long past and not having to really worry about college for my kids for another decade, I don’t know why I’m thinking about college choice so much. Maybe it’s the Internet Mike Rowe stuff or something that I’ve heard on the news. I really don’t know.

Here’s the basic scoop: college costs a lot of money. Way more than it did when I went to college 20 years ago. And not just more money because of inflation, more money than it should with inflation considered. What was $1200 per semester for full time studies when I was a student is now over $4400, not including course fees. And that’s at little Morehead State University, which is an inexpensive state school in Kentucky.

In the Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) sense, there are lots of jobs out there that do not require college. Technical jobs that aren’t easy or boring or stupid. Things like auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, and other skilled trades. You have to work hard to get good at them, and they do pay well in the long run. If you’re an artist or a musician, you can do those things on the side, while you do something else to pay your mortgage. So for many, not going to college is a great choice!

My question, though, is if you are intending on doing some professional work for the rest of your life, EVEN THE KIND THAT REQUIRES COLLEGE, does it matter what college you attend?

Nurses, physical therapists, teachers, lab technicians, speech therapist, social workers, and more, all professions that require college. They are all honorable professions that are lifelong careers. However, going to an expensive Ivy League school, or even the most prestigious state school in your state, doesn’t mean one hill of beans in terms of your career in these fields. You can be the best damn nurse in the hospital without going to the University of Michigan or IU or UK….just go to one of the smaller state schools and save your money.

This can be said for everything up to and including lawyers and doctors. Once you pass the bar, you’re a lawyer. Once you pass the boards, you’re a doctor. I remember an episode of ER in which Dr. Carter was giving a new doctor grief over having gone to medical school in Mexico. The guy responded (and I’m paraphrasing), “Yeah, and they call me Doctor”, as they both wheeled in another patient.

I think business school is the only one where your college choice might mean something in the long term. If you really are looking to become the CEO of some major company someday, then you’d better start working early to get yourself into Harvard. Even that isn’t 100% true: Jack Welch was one of the Illini faithful.

Note that I do not think students should aim for the lowest required schooling to get into a job. Those for-profit colleges in strip malls are a scam. I don’t want a kid from one of those every poking a needle into my arm. But if the choice is between going to the “real” Indiana University or one of the remote campuses, if the kid wants to be a nurse anyway, point him to the remote campus. If possible, live at home and save those 1000s of dollars, too. If a kid is really bright and has scholarship offers to go wherever she wants, then CERTAINLY GO TO THE BEST AVAILABLE! When there’s an economic decision to make, though, consider the cost with the choice.

Written on March 28, 2018