OK, enough is enough. In 2006 I wrote an article for The Financial Times on why I won’t send my kids to college. I’ve written, more or less, the same article for several publications including AOL, Yahoo, one of my last books (I forget which one) and the Washington Post wrote an article on my opinions on the subject.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t really like anyone to disagree with me. I like 100% agreement to all of my proclamations. When I wake up in the morning, I want to open the newspaper and see big headlines, “JAMES ALTUCHER WAS RIGHT AGAIN!” and quotes in the articles like, “Why are we always so stupid? Why don’t we listen to James the first time he says things?” Maybe when I walk outside I want people to throw flowers down on the street in front of me and beggars and homeless people to run up to me and say, “I might be homeless but I love the way you think. If possible, can I touch you?”
But I don’t like to be touched so I would hold up my hand, take out a pad, write down some words of wisdom, rip out the piece of paper from the pad and hand it to them.
So it disturbs me when people cling to the notion of going to college like its the holiest water down from God, come to bless them. Seriously, you could walk around and say, “Jesus never lived,” and people nod their heads and say, “ok, there is religious freedom in America and what he just said is fine,” but if you say “kids should not go to college” its like you breached the highest, holiest, divine hymen of American religion.
Say it again. Say it loud and proud: “college is the divine hymen of American religion.”
One person wrote on a Yahoo message board (where the elite post their thoughts):
“the government should take his kids away.” Please, that would be great for me. Maybe I can visit my kids on holidays inside their government compounds. I hear that inside the Department of Commerce there are lots of jungle gyms my kids could play on. And there are 3D video games projected onto the walls of the State Department where Chelsea Clinton’s future kids will play. But until then, my kids who were taken from me by G-Force Government Agents can play the games. When Chelsea Clinton’s kids are old enough my kids can babysit them. That would help them build their rolodex for when they later on want to work at hedge funds or the world famous US Department of State.
Another person wrote:
“Mr. Altucher, who went to his prestigious ivy league school, wants to now keep everyone underneath him so he can reap the benefits of their poverty.” Yes, I admit it. I need everyone to be less educated than me so I can feel good about myself. If you didn’t go to the same school as me then its a gurantee you are less intelligent than me. As I write this I see I misspelled “guarantee” in the sentence before mine. I’m not even going to correct it. Because in the next version of the American Dictionary they will include “gurantee” and say as the definition: “see ‘guarantee’ “. Because thats the way I roll.
Ok, those were the spurious disagreements with my article. I don’t even honour them with an official number, like many of those “list” blogs that people hate. But now I’m going to make a list blog anyway. Who cares?
10 More Reasons Parents Should Not Send Their Kids to College
1. People say: Kids learn to be socialized at college. Are you kidding me? I’m going to spend $100-200k a year so my kids can learn how to make friends with other people their age? Let me tell you about how your kids will be socialized in college and you know this to be true:
— Your kid should put a dime in a glass jar every time he or she has sex in his first year of college. After the first year of college, he or she should take a dime out every time they have sex. They will never empty that jar. I might be exaggerating (its hard for me to do the maths on numbers in four digits like this when I look back at my own experience). So assume that’s step #1 on the socialisation of our children in college.
— Do the same exercise above with the dimes but replace “sex” with “vomit”. Thats part #2 with the socialisation.
— You can also do the above exercise with the dimes (give your kid lots of dimes before they say, “ok, Dad, see you LATER!” when you drop them off in the parking lot of college.) but instead of “sex” or “vomit” say “classes I will skip because of either sex or vomiting.”
2. People say: Kids learn how to think in college. This argument was said to me by Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong”, a good friend and author of an excellent book. But she knows more than anyone that no matter how much you think you “think”, you’re going to be wrong most of the time. And by the way, does it really cost several hundred thousand dollars to learn how to think?
I would argue that college is a way to avoid learning how to think. If I want to learn how to play tennis, the best thing to do is go out on a tennis court and play tennis. If I want to learn how to drive a car, I better get behind a wheel and drive. If I want to learn how to live and how to think, then the best thing to do is begin living my life and thinking my thoughts instead of still having my parents pay for my life and my professors giving me my thoughts. See below to see how I learned how to “think”.
In a related blog post, I will also write “ways people can learn how to think”.
3. Statistics say: College graduates make much more money than non-college graduates. Clearly anyone who states this has failed “Statistics 101” in college. We might know correlation but we don’t know cause-and-effect here. Since our generation (post-baby boomer) basically everyone goes to college except people who absolutely failed high school, then of course it makes sense that achievement-minded people make more money than individuals who are not achievement-oriented.
A better statistical study, which nobody has done, is take 2000 people who got accepted to Harvard 20 years ago, and randomly force 1000 of them to not go to college. Then, at the end of 20 years to see who made more money. My guess is that the 1000 who didn’t go to Harvard would’ve made more money. They would’ve been thrown out of the nest to learn how to fly that much earlier and a 5 year head start would’ve made enormous difference (I say 5 years because thats the average amount of time it takes to finish college. Not 4, as many think).
4. One person said: Not everything boils down to money. Specifically, one brilliant commenter on one of my posts said, “I’d say the overwhelming majority of people don’t go to college as a financial investment. They do it because they want to explore career options in an easy environment. They do it because there’s a particular career they want to be (unfortunately weekend hackers don’t often become doctors) They do it because they want to drink and party on the weekends. They do it because the point of life is not making money.”
I’m going to be angry for the first time on this post, if not this entire blog since its inception. What a stupid statement that is. If its not a financial investment then why has the cost of college gone up 1000% in the same amount of time its taken healthcare to go up 700% and inflation to go up 300%? Its a financial investment because college presidents have scammed most kids into thinking they can’t get jobs without college. So they jack up the prices knowing kids will be forced to pay otherwise suffer the perceived opportunity cost of not going to college.
Also, the commenter above says “the point of life is not making money”. I’d like to thank him for saying that. Otherwise i would’ve gone through life thinking the entire point of life was making money. I’m assuming what he really means by that statement is that its great for kids to read books about philosophy, literature, art, history, etc in an environment that encourages discussion among peers and experts. This is what college is truly great for.
5. My Experience. I think of myself as an educated person so let me tell you my own experience:
College itself was spent:
- meeting and fooling around with girls for the first time in my life. I’m glad the banks loaned me enough money to do this. And fortunately, extreme failure and embarrassment in this arena didn’t effect me at all later in life.
- learning about alcohol and the occasional recreational drug for the first time in my life
- I took an enormous amount of classes in Computer Science. None of which helped me in my first actual non-academic job. In fact, I was so bad at computers after going to both undergrad Cornell in Computer Science and graduate school at Carnegie Mellon in Computer Science that my first non-academic job (HBO) had to send me to two months of training courses at AT&T so I could learn a thing or two about how computers were used in the real world. My first task at HBO was to get some computer they gave me “onto the Internet”. I ended up crashing the computer so bad they had to throw it out and I also wiped out everyone’s email on that computer. I thought they were going to fire me but they just banished me for two months instead. The only way to get fired at HBO, I was told, was to stand on your boss’s desk and pee on it.
- I borrowed every penny of my college education. I took courses every summer (they were cheaper and quicker then) and I took six courses a semester. I still graduated without about 30-40k in loans. It took me 10 years (and selling a business) but I paid back every penny of my loans.
- On top of my courses, I worked about 40 hours a week at jobs so I could afford my expenses. My parents did not pay one dime of my expenses except for maybe my first semester of college. And for graduate school I got a full scholarship and stipend.
The way I got educated in reading, philosophy, history, art, etc. was fully on my own time. After leaving graduate school I took relatively easy jobs as a programmer on campus. I spent hours every day reading books, and then at least another hour or two a day going to the campus library and reading criticism on the books I had just finished.
This was the entirety of my liberal arts education. And it was all for free and has served me well since then. And I was actually paid while I was doing it.
If you can’t read a book without being on a college campus and paying $100-200k a year for the honour of being there then you probably shouldn’t be reading books anyway. Or at least wait until you learn the value of a dollar before making that extreme expense.
6. Parents are scammed. If you are a parent and wish to send your kids to a college then, just to summarize, here is what you are paying for:
- your kids are going to have sex 1- 5 times a day with people you probably wouldn’t approve of.
- your kids are going to drink, smoke pot, probably try LSD and other drugs before you even get home
- your kids are going to cheat on most of their exams. When I first started college I wanted to be a psychologist. I read every book on psychology. In Psych 101 I got a D- on my first exam, which was graded on a curve. Apparently the other 2000 kids in the class had access to older exams which were stored at all the fraternities and the professor never changed the exams. I had to ultimately drop Psych as a major. My dad said, “why do you want to major in Psychology anyway. Girls won’t like you because you won’t make any money as a psychologist.” I said, “but then I’ll never know if the girls like me for money or not?” And he said, “Girls won’t like you because you have money. They’ll like you because YOU ARE THE KIND OF GUY who can make a lot of money.”
- your kids are going to make connections with other like-minded individuals (people focused on drugs, socialism, sex 24 hours a day (not a bad thing), people cheating on exams, and people with rich parents who will help your kids get jobs at Goldman Sachs).
- your kids are going to think they are smarter than you almost immediately.
- while you are working 60 hours a week and borrowing money to send your kids to college, your kids will be sleeping good chunks of the day, relaxing on the weekends, and enjoying the blissful pleasures of the lazy life for another four years until the real world hits.
7. Alternatives. See my just-published post on alternatives to college
And by the way, I know my title said “10 Reasons” and I only listed “7”. I didn’t learn to count in college. But maybe you can help me fill out three more reasons in the comments. I had a great time in college. And although I worked very hard I managed to enjoy the beautiful nature around Ithaca and really appreciate being away from home. I graduated a year early so I could save on tuition. In order to graduate early I had to maintain at least a 3.0 average. Unfortunately, on the last day of classes I realised I was heading for a 2.999 and would not be able to graduate. I had to go to my Fortran (blech!) professor and beg him to upgrade me from a D+ and a C-. Fortunately, he did. And I got my degree.
I’ve Been Completely Humiliated by Yoga (I put this in “related” because its definitely an alternative education for me at the moment)
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