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Going to college is good, though not necessary

According to my mother, it was never a matter of IF I was going to go to college. It was a matter of when. I remember being very young and hearing her talk about my future career in the sciences. (Medicine is what really attracted me, but it was public health that really caught my attention.) In her plans, I was going to go to college on a full scholarship, finishing a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree, and then a doctoral degree. Well, I’m 2/3 of the way there, and the last third begins in a few weeks. My younger brother has also finished his bachelor’s and master’s, and he is contemplating working on a doctoral degree. My little sister is still too young to really plan out the rest of her life.

I have no doubt that this path was the best one for me. It’s proving to be quite fulfilling and somewhat profitable. I mean, I have enough money to pay the bills and buy a few toys here and there. And I’m not in incredible, drowning debt. So I guess it’s “profitable.” But, yeah, it’s very fulfilling. There’s nothing like knowing that you’ve helped people, in my opinion. However, the high school then college then graduate school path is not for everyone. If it were, the rate of unemployment among college graduates wouldn’t be as high as it is right now. All college graduates would have jobs, and those jobs would be within their fields and not in something else.

Two of my cousins are very happy doing welding in West Texas. Another one is an entrepreneur up in Washington State. Another one has his own dairy down in Old Mexico. The same goes for my friends who don’t have college degrees. They’re fulfilled in their professions, and they’re happy with their lives. Anyone telling you that you need a four-year college degree to be happy is lying to you. (Same goes for anyone telling you that you need money to be happy.)

Some of the best jobs right now are in web development and software development. While these jobs don’t require a college degree, per se, you still need the finer details and networking opportunities that a degree (2-year, 4-year, or even a 6-month certificate) in those disciplines will give you. Why? Because any potential employer in a field that requires organization, follow-through, and business know-how will want to see you succeed in a structured environment, even if that environment is a trade school.

Mike Rowe, who is best known for his “Dirty Jobs” television show that showcases jobs that people do so that the rest of us don’t have to (like sorting garbage), recently wrote a blog post about this:

“Consider the reality of today’s job market. We have a massive skills gap. Even with record unemployment, millions of skilled jobs are unfilled because no one is trained or willing to do them. Meanwhile unemployment among college graduates is at an all-time high, and the majority of those graduates with jobs are not even working in their field of study. Plus, they owe a trillion dollars in student loans. A trillion! And still, we push a four-year college degree as the best way for the most people to find a successful career?”

Yeah, I totally agree. Could I have gone into the healthcare or science field without a college degree? Absolutely. Medical Lab Technicians need a 2-year degree. Phlebotomists? Six months, tops. If I wanted to do some research, I might have needed that college degree, but I’m sure I could have worked at a lab as a “go-fer” while I got that degree. But I was lucky to be in a position to go to college into a field that was wide open in terms of employment and opportunities, so the four years was an adequate investment.

So, if you’re thinking that you need a college degree — and nothing else — to be all that you can be, look at what you want to do for a living one more time. Can you learn a little now, start working, and then go to get that 4-year degree? Can you get a 2-year degree whose credits will transfer to a 4-year degree when you decide to go that route? And, if you do want to go to college, can you start at the community college and then go to the big name university? This will save you money in the long run. And you’ll save money by going to a public college over a private one.

[do action=”credit”]Featured image credit: UGArdener / Foter / CC BY-NC[/do]

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

3 replies

  1. The last high school I attended included both college-prep track, and a vocational-tech track. So while I went to physics, some of my classmates in the Health class went to auto mechanics, cosmetology, building trades, etc. At first I was I felt superior, until I got to know some of them and realized they worked as hard as I did, and many were very proud of their craft. Then I felt embarrassed over my naivety.

    And I think back to them whenever I take my car to the shop, call in a plumber or get my hair cut. I am glad these people are there and do a very good job. Because I know we have screwed up trying to do it ourselves. By the way, did you know how much chemistry is required to properly dye hair? It will make your jaw drop (and I am not being sarcastic, it is the difference between a lovely soft color and your hair being green and brittle).

    Also, another track to a career: the military. My nephew went into the Navy and learned radio transmission electronics. He now works for a private company with satellite transmissions (originally in the technical help part). Also another nephew gets college tuition in the present version of the GI Bill for his Army service.


    1. There was this kid in high school named “Sammy.” We all made fun of him because he worked with a sewage management outfit that would clean out cesspools and septic tanks. He reeked half of the time. By the time I graduated high school, he had bought his own sewage truck and was raking in the dough. He drove off on graduation day in a brand new pickup truck, a big deal in West Texas. Joke was on us, I guess.


      1. He obviously reeked of cash!

        And you cannot deny that his business provides a very necessary service.


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