Should You Go to College?

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As the headline to this post suggests, I’m not going to write about charts or the stock market right now. I certainly could, because I’m actually enjoying trading more than I have in quite some time, and I am very heavily exposed with 64 positions using over 200% of my portfolio cash value. However, I don’t have anything especially new to say, so I’d rather lay out some thoughts that occurred to me – – when else? – – during a dog walk.

As I was strolling along in the chilly pre-dawn hours, I asked myself how much good college has done for me. It didn’t take me long to conclude: zero. Some of you know that I graduated from college rather swiftly (in just 2 1/2 years), since I was eager to get into the world of work. The information I garnered during those 2 1/2 years hasn’t been useful to me even once during the many years since I graduated, and there isn’t a single contact I made in college that was beneficial to me in any way at all.

Simply stated, I could have gone straight from high school to work without any difference.

Centuries ago, the only reason the tiny percentage of people who attended university did so was in order to join the clergy. These days, the rather substantial percentage of those going to “college” (and those quotation marks are deliberate on my part) have very different reasons for going: namely (1) because their parents or society expects them to do so in order to get a “good” job; (2) to garner useful contacts, particularly if one is attending an elite school.

I was accepted into “elite” schools (Princeton and Brown among them), but I chose instead to go to a more middle-of-the-road school. I suspect if I had gone to a brand-name school, I would have indeed garnered valuable contacts, but frankly, I did all right without them.

Even though there are over 4,000 colleges in the United States, there are only about 100 honest-to-God institutes of higher learning. The vast majority of the others are pretty much what high school SHOULD be, if our standards were higher in this country. If you ever compare the kind of education high schools in, say, South Korea get to what kids in the U.S. receive, you’ll quickly conclude we are a nation of morons. If it weren’t for our geographic advantage and rich natural resources, we’d probably have a place in the world similar to, say, Italy.

To my way of thinking, there are actually are two classes of folks who should rationally go to a 4-year college: first,  those who are planning to enter an actual profession which requires honest-to-God knowledge, such as a medical doctor, a civil engineer, a chemist, a lawyer, and so forth. Some of these may require graduate degrees, and others do not. But clearly we don’t want to have people becoming doctors by figuring it out as they go along, and we don’t want to drive across bridges made by such folks either.

The second class of people are those who endeavor to reach the higher levels of the social order and have been accepted into an elite institution. This obviously has a lot less to do with garnering knowledge than anything else (e.g. it isn’t WHAT you know, but WHO you know). Believe me, the non-famous guys (NOT Mark Zuckerberg and NOT Evan Spiegel) who were early employees in Facebook and Snapchat were very much in the right place at the right time, and these young men are billionaires (or centimillionaires) because they just happened to share a dorm room or occupy the same fraternity as a successful company founder. So if you want a lottery ticket-style chance of hooking up with the next Zuck, then go to Harvard.

I don’t particularly regret going to college – – I have some pleasant memories, and, unfortunately, in our society, you don’t really get taken seriously as a 20-something if you’re just a freakin’ high school graduate (I doubt I’d ever have been employed at Apple when I was 21 if I wasn’t in college at that time). However, I think this is an unfortunate circumstance, and although most of the people reading this are decades too old to even be considering such a question, I at least wanted to go on record as saying that probably 80% of the people who go to college are wasting their time.