Why I Shouldn’t Have Gone To College

Kyle Reed // @kylereed

I have learned more in the past 6 months than I have in the past 6 years” is probably not a good conversation starter that you want to use on your parents any time soon. But the simple fact is, I am learning so much about life, leadership, and business right now that I have a hard time keeping my excitement to myself.

Do not tell my parents this, but College was a huge waste of time. Forgive this obvious ignorance, this is not to be a blanket statement. Not all of college is a waste of time, but there were aspects that seemed rather pointless. The money spent, the time wasted and the pointless classes all have led me to believe college isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. College can be more like a place to hide rather then a place to excel.

Dream with me here, what if instead of going to college right after high school we started a business, traveled the world, moved to a different city, or even invested the money in the stock market? What if we did it all different then what we were told to do?

I remember when I was a junior in high school. Me and my friends would often listen to the Michael Savage show. Mainly because we liked to see what was happening in the world, but often because he was just a crazy guy that yelled about a lot of stupid things. If you have ever listened to the Michael Savage show you can remember him always talking about investing in gold. That was his thing, and because it was his thing we wanted it to be our thing. Now you have to remember that this was 2003. Gold was starting to make an appearance on the scene of things to invest in and turn a profit on, but nothing like it is today. I remember a couple of months ago talking to a friend about Michael Savage. He told me that the day before he was looking through some storage and found a packet that he received from the Michael Savage show. Inside of this packet was an advertisement for gold. As he laughed about the past memories of listening to the show he also laughed about the fact that if we would have invested some money in gold our junior year of high school we would all have made a good chunk of change several years later.

I do not tell you this story so that you go and invest in gold, I tell you this story to show the missed opportunity. The ridiculous that was a bunch of 17 year old guys investing in gold.
I tell this story to show the ridiculousness of the system.

What is the system? The system is the very thing that you and me grew up in. The system is the structure that forms our lives. And the system says that 17 year old guys should not be thinking about the future but rather focusing on parties and girls. Sometimes I feel like college is a part of that system.

Listen to what Peter Thiel, founder of paypal, has to say about higher education: (ht to Christian Hage)

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

As we know with any bubble, it can only get so big and can pop at any time. And inside this bubble of higher education we have a lot of people full of hot air saying that education is the safe way to go. Take for example what Steven D. Levitt, wrote the book freakonomics, recently said about college: (read the rest here)

The numbers that people have come up with over and over are that every extra year of education that you get will translate into an 8 percent increase in earnings over your lifetime. So someone who graduated from college will earn about 30 percent more on average than someone who only graduated from high school.

Here are two conflicting reports, one says that college is a bubble about to burst the other says that the more college you attend the more money you make. One can I argue that they are both correct?

College is simply a choice. A choice that everyone (unfortunately this is not a reality) should be able to make. After a time of examination and reflection, I have decided that though going to college was a great experience, it was also a great hinderance.

This challenge of going to college is not for everyone. I said earlier that often times people go off to college to extend high school, 13th grade. It is a place to hide from the haunting reality of having to grow up. For others it is a step in the direction of a goal. But it does not always equal success.

I think we equate going to college with producing formulas for success. Like there is a secret code that is hidden in our diplomas and upon graduating we will receive the mystery of life. But I would argue that one might need the very opposite to find all of these things, that not attending college could be the very thing that could produce successful people. But I want you to notice something. Not everyone is meant to not go to college. See what I did there? It use to be said, not everyone is fit for going to college, but I think we can now reverse that and say that not everyone is ready to take this step of not going to college.

3 things that you don’t need a college education for:

Why do I think I shouldn’t have gone to college?
Here are 3 things that I am noticing that I am learning on my own away from college and on my own.

1. Drive

Every day I wake up around 7:30am. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Like most people who rise early to go to work, I wake up early for work as well. The only difference is I work for myself. I have learned that if I wake up early and start working I am more productive throughout the day. This does not necessarily mean that waking up early gives you drive, but it does mean that drive helps you wake up early.

I develop this drive because I learned what it means to make a difference, to have some success, and to want to help others. I have a reason to wake up each morning. Not to go take a test, write a paper, or make an 8 O’Clock class, but to grab ahold of the potential each day has to and to hustle. It sounds very rainbows and sunshine type of an attitude, but I have learned very quickly that you never know who is watching or what email will be sent to you that could lead to great opportunity.

2. Determination

Getting a D on a paper does not have the same power of hearing no. If drive comes from having motivation then determination comes from having vision. Determination develops over time and does not follow far behind drive. Determination is the thing that pushes you forward, that forces you out of bed, that helps you see patience will pay off, and that fights the fear of rejection.

Determination does not come from getting a grade, determination comes from being challenged.

3. Detection

I will be honest, I wanted to make these all start with a D, but detection fits in. Detection is the skill of being able to see things. Detection is often thought about in the line of investigation, but in this case detection has more to do with seeing things that are not really there. Detection is all about accessing a situation and having a gut reaction. As important as drive and determination can be, without detection all of these skills are pointless. Detection allows you to see the future, it allows you to make important decisions, and it allows you to see things happen before they actually do.

Often times following the system or the status quo is simple more about hiding then succeeding. Sometimes it is easier to do what everyone else is doing in hopes that you might be that lucky person that gets exactly what is promised. This can be true for college, your job, or simply life. Sometimes it is easier to go into auto-pilot mode and follow the necessary steps when all we really need to do is step out and create our own steps.

College is not for everyone, neither is not going to college for everyone. But challenging the system must be done by all.

What have you learned by yourself in the last 6 months?


For an interesting experiment and article about not going to college check this article out here
For readers response to the question: “Would you encourage your kids not to go to college click here

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Kyle Reed

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I create websites, conversations, and ideas. Advocate for the 20 somethings. Looking to connect everyone to a mentor. Married to my best friend, Ginny. I like my coffee black and my dog Jack. I currently live in Nashville and work at Sony Music/Provident in Nashville
  • http://joannamuses.com Joanna

    I am still in college so a lot of what I do is somehow connected to that at the moment. One of the valuable things I did for myself was to scrape together enough money for cheap airfares and staying a few weeks in Singapore. I had lived in Singapore for 5 months a few years ago but going back was quite a different experience from which I learned a lot. Because I had no commitments I could take the time to really pay attention to what I was observing and experiencing. I had time to slowly walk the streets of the city and ponder things whereas when I was living there I would usually have a task on my mind, something I was on my way to or a reason I couldn’t have a late night that distracted me. In addition to learning about the place, I learned the value of slowing down to pay attention to what is around me.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      it sounds like you are an explorer which is great. And I think that makes college a bit more valuable, learning how to explore and not just go through the motions.

  • http://www.davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    Glad you finished this bro :) An important post, for sure! College prepared me for a lot of great things musically, but it didn’t prepare me for the leadership I would be stepping into. Love this man!

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      thanks man, there is still more to be processed and I have made some great friends in college, I just wonder if I could have made the same great friends, learned the same principles, and made bigger strides towards the future without it.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    College is about lots of things. What you learn is only one of those things. Credentials is another part, and that is what Leavitt is talking about. The degree does nothing to really show what you learned, just that you followed through enough to get the degree. The increase in income is about the credential processes as much as anything else. When you have a number of people applying for the same job, the college degree is one way to sort them (probably not the most effective way, but probably one of the easiest ways.)

    Theil is talking more about value. There are lots of places to get a good education that are cheaper than others. I think many colleges really are pricing themselves out of business. And a lot of students are really not ready to take advantage of college. My mom went back to college after we were in school and said she knows she got a lot more out of college in her early 30s than she would have directly out of high school

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      exactly, that is the interesting thing. Adults who are in college seem to get a lot more out of it. I remember having night classes with adults and being annoyed with them because of how hard they worked and how bad they made all of us look. Kind of stupid, but it was frustrating.

      You are right, it is that piece of paper that can literally get you the job or force you to look somewhere else. It is tough. I know currently that I do not need a degree, but my degree is what others have said about working with me. That is my ticket.

  • http://www.cartoonrebellion.net Jenny

    As a college student, I totally feel like it’s holding me back, like i can’t fully think or be on my own. I would of had some really cool opportunities, but have had to say no because i need to finish school. When i’m done with it, will i be happy i finished? Yes. Will i be happy that i did it? I’m sure in some ways yes, there are opportunities in this culture that are given to people who have finished college that aren’t given to people who haven’t. Will i jump into my masters right away like i thought i was going to ? NO WAY! haha. Im excited to be on my own. Im not taking classes this summer so im going to work on a couple projects, dream big dreams, start a business, and start applying for jobs for after i graduate. I am most excited about being able to just read things that interest me, educating my self through books, articles, blogs, conversation and Ted talks.

    I’ve been learning some cool lessons that im having a hard time articulating. Lessons about me, and the world around me. Needs of people and a hope for community. Im hoping for some cool future projects to come out from all that.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      that is awesome. and i see that you are striving to learn and grow. Love that.
      I wonder though if that could have happened earlier? if you could have learned that when you were in high school?

      • http://www.cartoonrebellion.net Jenny

        Well, i think i could have and i was learning some of it then. But being fully on my own, and meeting new people from all over really ignited the learning process. ButMy dad and i did have the conversation right before starting college about me not going, and not being ready… so maybe i didn’t have that drive back then.

        Is it more of a age thing versus a school thing? I mean at 21 i know a lot more than i did at 17, and am still learning.

    • John

      Marry me jenny, you are definitely on point and down to earth. There so much innovation yet to be done and many times we are restrained by our jobs and pointless homework.

  • http://www.bradblackman.com Brad Blackman

    A couple of thoughts… you bring up some really good points. I’ve always maintained that school is more for learning how to learn, especially if you go to a liberal arts school, than for learning specific facts. Chances are most curricula is out of date within 3-5 years.

    Yet some of the smartest and brightest and wealthiest people never finished college. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — two of today’s most revered entrepreneurs — are famous for being dropout kajillionaires. That said, I don’t think either of them have ever stopped learning everything they can about everything. So I think you’re right in that the system is messed up. And college is part of The System. But I wouldn’t rule out college altogether.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      agreed, the system is messed up. But college is not exactly the thing that should get thrown out, just reworked maybe.

  • http://www.jasonvana.com Jason Vana

    In the past few years, I’ve realized that I put more value in a college education than I got out of it. I ended up paying thousands of dollars (and am STILL paying thousands of dollars) for that private, liberal arts education that was supposed to guarantee that I made 8% more per year than a non-college grad, and yet I am working a part time job, making under $8.50 an hour and doing a job that a college student normally does. Granted, some of the jobs I’ve had in the past I was only able to get because I had a college education, but right now it seems pretty worthless. And very overpriced. I was required to pay for classes I wasn’t interested in and that have in no way helped or shaped my life. I would rather have learned about how to start a business, how to freelance, effective ways of fundraising, than learning about dead philosophers and their crazy ideas that we are all the figments of someone’s dream.

    All that said, I am glad I went. I had a great college experience, even came to Christ while I was there, so it was invaluable in that aspect. But if I were to do it over again, I would probably have chosen a different route and saved myself thousands of dollars that I didn’t need to spend.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      ya, and i think that is it right there. I would never trade my college experience, but all that being said, i paid a lot of money for things that I did not need and really wish i could have used that other places and started to explore business stuff and travel more earlier in life rather then sit in a math for life class.

  • http://thegetalifeproject.wordpress.com allison

    Great topic, Kyle! I would say that I got more out of a semester I spent in Oregon than the other three and half years in college, and here’s why… It’s there that I fell back in love with learning for the sake of learning, not as means to a degree or a job. We had no internet, cell phones, TV, etc. Just our peers and excellent mind-stimulating, conversation-sparking books.

    I got back to college and was so disheartened by the fact that the focus wasn’t on the joy of learning. It felt like all of those students were missing out on what was supposed to make college truly exciting (does that make me sound like a nerd, or what??). I had experienced a turning point in my education…something truly valuable, but it wasn’t in the classic college setting.

    That being said, I had a great time in college, and I had a couple of really great professors who have turned out to be invaluable mentors in my life. Also, I wouldn’t have been able to go to that program in Oregon without being a college student. I think the problem is that college has become all about getting the degree while doing as little as possible rather than being there to learn. And with that being the case, do our degrees even hold any value anymore? Especially since our generation is graduating and getting minimum-wage jobs that don’t require a college degree. Would we be any worse off if we didn’t have degrees?

    It’s a scary question–what if the answer is no?

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      i know i wouldn’t :)

      Here is what I wonder, how do we produce that “Oregon” moment earlier? How do people gain that and see what you are talking about, the joy of learning?

  • http://www.taintedcanvas.com Jonathan Sigmon

    I went to college for something completely different than what I am doing now – and much of it seemed not useful to me at the time. But what college *DID* do for me is teach me how to learn. I wasn’t motivated at all to learn on my own – to read, think…anything like that. But now I feel like a “self-feeder” and someone who loves learning – and I attribute that to my overpriced Christian college experience. :)

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      haha, I am with you on the over priced christian college experience. I wonder what it was that forced you to learn or motivated you to learn? I also wonder why it never happened until you went off to college?

      I was the exact same way. got bad grades in high school and was on the deans list in college.

  • Jeremiah

    I am a pretty big advocate of going to college, mainly because it really was a good thing for me. Your blog did get me thinking though. I definitely don’t think college is for everyone. I think a lot of people view college as a ticket to a bigger paycheck. When viewed simply in terms of getting a job, or earning money, I am not so sure college is always worth it. Nor do I think that is how college should be viewed. I think someone should step into college seeking to be “educated”. And when I say educated, I guess I mean that in a classic sense. I guess I feel that those general education classes that seem so pointless really aren’t. Having some knowledge about Theater (i took a theater education class) actually was a good thing. It opened my mind a bit. I also took a statistics class that I hated. But, I learned some stuff that I have sense thought about. I also took an English Literature class that blew my mind. I loved it. I would have never known how much I like poetry had I not taken that class. I get the feeling from some of the other comments that everyone is in a huge hurry to get out in the real world and DO something. What is the rush? What I am saying is that the overall process of learning new things and coming into contact with new and different people is something that I think EVERYONE needs. College provided me that opportunity and I think that if you go into college looking for that, you will find it. If you just want to start a career, then maybe college isn’t for you.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      i like what you are saying there jeremiah, we all need to be exposed to different things and learn different things. For some that happens through college for others that takes place in other areas.

  • http://www.dirtygirlsministries.com Crystal Renaud

    What I learned in college was that college wasn’t for me. My resignation letter from my job of 7 years at church included the phrase, “I learned more from my years of service here than I ever would have in a classroom. Thank you for that.” Some people need college. Example: I would prefer that my doctor have a college education. But so many times people go to college for 4 years and never end up doing what they went to college for. God has a way of orchestrating our lives in such a way that we could never predict the outcome. That is what He has done in my life and is what I know He will continue to do. College or not.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      Amen, and I wonder how people discover that with or without going to college? Do you think that is a personal thing only that relates to certain people or in some ways a broad way of covering people?

  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony Alicea

    I’ve learned a ton about connecting over these past 6 months. I realize that the reach and influence available today is so much more than it was when I graduated from college in ’02.

    College would have actually been hugely beneficial from a networking standpoint. However, I was working full time with a full course load so I honestly don’t have one single friend today that I met in college. I didn’t join a fraternity or any social clubs. I didn’t make as much as one single connection. For that, I think I missed out hugely.

    It wasn’t a complete wash but I definitely can say that I’ve learned more from real world experience and on my own in the past year than I did in college. But it’s a different world just 10 years later. One not available to me then.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      interesting tony, really the only thing I look back on college was the connections I did make. that was about it for me

  • Graham

    When I was in college I was also working full time. (I realize I’ve shared that with you before)… What I’m saying is that I totally agree with you. There are a lot of people that wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if it wasn’t spelled out for them by “the system”. But there are also those of us with the “3 D’s”. Great thoughts Kyle.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      yup. but i wonder if we can change things to help people see outside of the system

  • http://www.felicitywhite.com Felicity

    Totally agree that college should not be the default option. Way too expensive. I personally waited until I was married with four children before I finished my college degree. By that time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and the pursuit was pure joy and intense learning experience. Still could live without the debt, though. : ) Looking at graduate programs now that will help me finish up without any more loans!

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      so then what did you do when you we “suppose to be away at college” and why do you think it was different when you were married with kids?

  • http://www.randrambles.com Rand

    I went to College. Got my BA in Education, which I have yet to use for work. I enjoyed college a little bit but the biggest area that College helped me with was public speaking, the amount of presentations an Education student has to do is insane so I really appreciate that part of it.

    College, as a way of getting a job related to the field I studied, has not helped me. If anything it has helped when people see that I got my BA. I have been doing graphic design for more than 10 years now and never went to college for it. My current job is as a Web Content Administrator for a very large non profit organization. Nothing remotely close to my college education.

    Last year I went and did my Masters Degree mainly because I wanted to learn stuff that meant something for me, so I did it on Entertainment Business. I still have to see if that one will pay off.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      wow, that is awesome. no clue you had a masters in that but it makes sense. you know a lot about the biz :)

      It is interesting to me the people who are designers usually didn’t go to school for that. It usually is self taught and took discipline to learn and grow in it.

      Why did you go to school for your BA? Did you feel like that was the next step at the time?

      • http://randrambles.com Rand

        Yeah, it’s what people do when they get off high school. I actually started my BA in marketing and hated the accounting classes I had to take so switched. Which in hindsight I shouldn’t have done, because I think I would’ve enjoyed Marketing more, but oh, well.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Love this. Totally agree. Grad school can be an even worse place for this type of hiding from the world. I, too, have learned more about life and the professional world in the past six months than in the prior six years. It’s all about having access to great resources and a good community for me. Great post, man!

    • http://www.bradblackman.com Brad Blackman

      There’s some comic strip that pokes fun at grad students’ reluctancy to join the world. When I find it I’ll post it here for ya.

  • http://www.jimgrayonline.com Jim Gray

    We are doing something different, actually coaching/advising our kids on finding something they want to do…We’ve given them a classical education with some really hard stuff for home-schooled kids. This fall my oldest son(16) begins running start where he will attempt to complete 2 years of highschool and AA at once. this helps us financially and fast-tracks his education. I’m a huge fan of him finding a school where he can begin crafting skills early. We are investing in a DSLR for the whole fam to learn on.

    Good stuff Kyle, I’m still a fan of college, but in a non-traditional sense.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    I’ve learned that I don’t need to ask permission to succeed. I don’t need to wait for someone to ask me to influence the world for better. I’ve learned that I can start now.

  • Dionne

    Amen…Amen…goodness..right now im trying to figure out how to pay off my loans…god….I need a prayer! FOR REAL! 50% of me is so glad I went to school and 50% is like WTH!?

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylereed

      That’s the hardest part, because I am glad I went but the debt was not worth it. I am in a job that I never use my degree.

      And that is the worst part, you have no clue how you will pay off those loans.

  • amanda

    You say you look “to connect everyone with a mentor.” How do you do that?

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      I always look to connect people to others I know around the country.
      And I am constantly working to come up with opportunities for future ways to connect people.