College Lies Told To Kids

I was inspired by the following cartoon (click image or this link). I hated student loans. I have slain them.

In a flurry of tapping keys I wrote long and bitterly. Find a teenager and make them read my post. Possibly tattoo it on their ass.

Recently I was talking with some kids and I realized every damn thing adults had told them about college was bullshit. I thought about my youth, had it happened to me? Yes! Yes it had! By God everything I was told about college was bullshit!* Here (in no particular order) are some sage bits of advice I wish I’d received:

  1. “Work your way through” is dead: Grandpa paid his way through college? Good for him. It won’t happen for you. People who told me I could “work my way through college” were myopic assholes who didn’t realize times had changed. It’s currently impossible because the endless flood of government loans inflates tuition while a recent high school graduate’s labor remains roughly worthless. Young adults don’t earn enough to pay in real time for a university any more than they can fund a Lamborghini. Grandpa is recalling a financial picture that’s dead and if he persists have him put in a home.**
  2. You may discover that you’re poor: High school seniors and helicopter parents page through lists of “best colleges” like it’s magic. Bullshit! When I went to college I discovered, shockingly, I was poor. I was from a poor town, in a poor county, with a poor background, and my statistically likely lifetime earnings was less than it might otherwise be if I’d been vacationing in Kennebunkport with the Bush family. Who knew? What that means to a high school senior is that the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings is likely to point toward colleges that might very well never pay off. Mimsy Rockefeller and her fellow Harvard legacy program upper class twits have financial calculations that are different than yours. Unless your dad is a senator that owns a yacht, you need to focus on the mundane. College is for an education, so you can get a decent job, so you can avoid spending your life freaking out over the electric bill. If you made it all the way to teenager without discovering life ‘aint fair, you might as well know now.
  3. It’s OK to sample the real world: I was told I must go to college immediately. Once I’d tasted post high school freedom I’d never drag myself back into a classroom. I might “fall through the cracks”. I accepted this at face value and hustled into college. In retrospect I’d received terrible advice. Suppose I’d stumbled across a sufficient living doing something like trucking or welding or scrubbing bedpans or whatever? To an educator that’s “fell through the cracks”. Fuck them! It’s a reasonable life path. If you find something better than a McJob and it makes you happy, why prostrate yourself before the tuition bills of college? Because you’d disappoint your high school English lit teacher? Is that a good reason do do anything? If you’re self supporting and happy, enjoy it. Raise a family, see the Grand Canyon, train a dog. Forget the eggheads. Conversely if your foray into the real world is nothing more than a series of demeaning shit jobs and grinding poverty you’ve received nature’s hint to better oneself. You’ll hit the books with a lean and hungry motivation you heretofore lacked. You might want to find out if the real world truly sucks before you hand over fifty grand (at least!) to briefly flee it.
  4. Getting accepted to a college is not the big deal you think it is: Paying for college is a big deal. Getting accepted is not. You’re dancing because you got a letter that they’ll lower themselves all the way down to your level and deign to take your filthy money? Whoopty shit! It’s your money. Those bastards work for you. Go where you belong and don’t be impressed by a letterhead and a fancy name. Another crop of high schoolers graduates every year and Yale can live without you more than you can afford to pay for Yale.
  5. The opportunity cost of earning nothing is huge: Imagine you skip college and get a shit job… say minimum wage floor mopping. Unless you’re a drooling moron you’ll earn $15,000+/- a year; which sucks. Compare that to a kid who takes five years inching through a Bachelor’s program. When you’re both age 25 you’ve skated by on the dull end of a mop while he’s been cribbing book reports from the internet and pulling all nighters. Shockingly, you’re ahead by $75,000! Imagine that! College kid hasn’t made dime one and racked up God knows how much in loans. You (presumably) have used your time to land an apartment and a life and maybe a second hand car that runs and maybe you’re chief executive mop pusher (which is still a shit job but slightly better than ground zero). It’s going to take college kid years and years to make up for all that time earning zero. You’re going to be pissed off when he’s hired to be your assistant mop pusher and you discover he can’t even do that right. Eventually, maybe, if he’s lucky, he might possibly surpass your lowly shit job. Or he might not. Doctors, surgeons, lawyers, and engineers will catch up and blow past. Even then it’s not a big money dump, expect a gradual crossover in your late 40’s or 50’s of age. Often college kid will never surpass the several years of job abstinence if he picked majors poorly. Even for the high fliers, it’s not uncommon to see a 40 year old surgeon who’s been working like a dog forever and is currently poorer than dirt. Every moment you’re in college you’d better be learning your ass off because you’re earning squat.
  6. Teachers are a bad example: I grew up in Bumfuck nowhere. Teachers (and oddly the veterinarian) were the only “educated people” I knew. I assumed they had unusually wise counsel. Was I an idiot or what? The common way to become a high school teacher is to take out largish student loans and forgo four years or more of work to land a modest paying job. Yee haw that’s a barn burning great idea. For a truer view of the job benefits of college you should talk to other college educated people; accountants, surveyors, pharmacists, meteorologists, or whomever you can find.
  7. College without a return on investment is just mental masturbation: It feels good but you’re not accomplishing much. Ask adults about college. Your first question should be what was their return on investment from their personal choices in education. If they spout something about “making friends” and “life experience” immediately ignore anything else they say… on any subject… ever. You might want to key their car and kick their dog while you’re at it. If they say something like “I paid off my loans and now make $X more than I otherwise would have earned” listen to them because they have valuable knowledge.
  8. You probably don’t need education at the foot of the masters: You are not on a Kung Fu journey of enlightenment. An expensive college theoretically has better professors but a recent high school graduate isn’t ready for that depth of study. It may be wise to start somewhere cheap and knock out a wad of college credits. Later, if you merit it and you want to, you can always transfer those cheap credits to the overpriced land of braniacs. Hint: what’s the difference between 3 credits in Freshman Literature at a community college versus MIT? Answer: The cost of a used Honda and nothing else.
  9. If all you want is an easy “A” then drop out: I can write “A” on a piece of paper and charge you sixty grand. Is that what you want? Will that validate your feelings that you’re an extra special snowflake of awesomeness? Student loans make for a very expensive form of external validation. Don’t pay for any education that exists to expand your self esteem. It’s unearned and therefore false.
  10. If you’re going to college to avoid getting a job stop it this very instant: There’s an easy way to avoid getting a job. Don’t get one. Sit on your ass, go fishing, get drunk, play Nintendo, watch TV. I don’t care. You can waste time for free. Dropping huge bucks on a college to justify doing nothing is the absolute most expensive nothing you’ll ever buy.
  11. If you drop out of college, get a job: Any job will do. Don’t whine to me that you can’t find a job. You just can’t find a job you like. This is nature’s way of telling you to either lower your expectations or improve yourself. Either solution will work.
  12. If you don’t get a paycheck, it’s not a job and you probably shouldn’t do it: If someone looks you in the eye and says the following: “This volunteer opportunity / internship will increase your job prospects” you’re getting hosed. Translation? You’re majoring in something that doesn’t merit a salary and the job prospects suck. Why in God’s name would you pay a college to teach you a skill that idiots will do for free? Furthermore why would you be that idiot? You should limit your lifetime intake of working for free to as little as possible. Like none. God has a word for time you spend not getting paid, it’s called leisure. If they don’t offer cash, go fishing instead. Fuck them.
  13. Nobody gives a shit about sports: Once you’re about twenty three you’ll realize sports are games. Aside from Lebron James and Nike nobody makes money playing games. Don’t piss your education time away at a game.
  14. Life is hard, go for the kill: In every college group there are a few real winners and a herd of undifferentiated scrum. If you’re the scrum either work hard to rise or you’re probably not going to get a big bang for the buck for your tuition. What I’m suggesting is not so hard. It’s college, have you seen how dumb your fellow students are? Suck it up and study. If not you’re just buying a credential. There are exemptions. If you’re the last native English speaker in Advanced Calculus amid fifty South Korean prodigies, perhaps average is indeed excellent.
  15. Education is best used to prepare you to do things of value: Look at civilization. Notice that we’re not living in mud huts and starving to death? Huzzah! That’s because smart people make engines run and sewers operate and keep the lights on and deliver the friggin’ corn flakes. If they go away we’re all screwed. The economy rewards them with money. Notice what I didn’t mention? If everyone who can deconstruct Descartes suddenly vanished, nobody would give a shit. The economy doesn’t reward those people so they do things like protest and/or talk to their cat. Your future salary will reflect how much you’ll be needed during the zombie apocalypse. Your college choices should too.
  16. Servants are expensive: Imagine someone really rich. Daddy Warbucks and his 1% cronies are sitting around ruling the world. How awesome is that lifestyle? Someone cooks their dinner, someone mows their lawn, someone maintains their house. If you’re a college student in a dorm with a meal plan you’ve got the same servants as Daddy Warbucks but you’re paying for it with loans. The cafeteria cooks your food so you can show up in your jammies for a late breakfast. Really? Rich senators and brilliant brain surgeons have to cook their own meals. Your parents don’t have servants. That’s how the economy sorts itself out. If your personal claim to fame is a B in Freshman lit and you have servants cooking you breakfast is it any wonder your student loans spiral to infinity? Every inch of lifestyle beyond hunkering in a box under a bridge is banking on you being awesome after college and it’s not without risk.
  17. Student Loans are deadly serious, like owing Tony Soprano: If you buy a house or car you can’t afford you’ve got an asset that partially offsets your mistake. Maybe you can sell the car or house and get out from under it. Failing that you might faceplant into bankruptcy. Either way you’ve got a fair chance to emerge in one fiscal piece. Nothing, not God himself, can save you from Student Loans. This is serious, Congress wrote special laws just for student loans specifically for the purpose of hounding you to hell and back. They’ll never ever quit. When you die the IRS will dig up your corpse and sodomize it with a student loan bill. Loans might be unavoidable but picture Tony Soprano with an ice pick every time you sign a student loan. Frankly the mob is probably a lot more reasonable than the IRS.

I’ve said a lot of negative things about college. I’m not worried that I’ve gone overboard. American kids are steeped in bullshit about the value of education starting when they’re a wee tadpole in pre-school and ending when they’ve got a half million sunk into a PhD in puppetry. There’s plenty of room for counterbalancing. Now I’m going to say two positive things about college. TWO. That’s all the positive you’ll get.

  1. It’s OK to go for it: Are you lean and hungry? Do you want to hone your mind like a weapon? Do you want to get in there and outshine your intellectual competition and be better, faster, stronger, than all of them? Do you love it when they grade on a curve? Do you wreck the curve for everyone else? Do you think it’s funny when you do it? Will you hit the job market like a friggin tornado the instant finals are done? Can you back your shit up with hard work and a steely eyed resolve. Do you think sleep is for pussies? Do you think a 40 hour work week is laughable and luxuries like taking a relaxed crap on Saturdays and seeing the sun during the month of finals is excessive? Under those circumstances and only those circumstances college might, just maybe, pay off handsomely. Go ahead and take modest student loans, the smallest you can possibly bear. Use the investment to venture into the den of iniquity that is college with the intention of getting right back out as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  2. Intelligence is desirable: There is nothing particularly noble about stupidity. The human mind is what separates us from the apes and if you wish to use it, to really push the boundaries and develop that incredible organ between your ears, then college is one place among many where you may seek it’s fullest potential. This doesn’t mean pissing away a zillion dollars that you’ll never earn back. It means you can use that evolved monkey brain of yours to make college work for you as one path to true intelligence.


* For more non-bullshit advice I’d suggest Aaron Clarey’s Book: Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major.

** Since this is the internet, someone is going to comment that they really did work their way through school without being a coke dealer. Those few are the one in a thousand and usually sixty years old. Don’t bet on it.

*** In the interest of full disclosure I’m not against learning. I went to college(s) just like the rest of the seething throng. The difference is that I saw debt as the enemy and colleges as a drooling beast to be harnessed for my purposes. When I think of my alma mater(s) I smile and think “I made that bitch do my bidding”. Kids and their helicopter parents won’t read about that in U.S. News and World Report College Rankings.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

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31 Responses to College Lies Told To Kids

  1. Cloudbuster says:

    . Teachers (and oddly the veterinarian) were the only “educated people” I knew.

    And country vets, in my experience tend to be idealists or madly in love with what they do. When I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian. The education is harder than becoming an M.D. (and about as expensive), but for most vets, especially rural vets with large animal practices, the compensation is comparatively low and the hours are grueling. My vet is on-call 24/7. It’s pretty much common practice for him to still be at it at 10 o’clock at night — he’s been out at my place that late just for a non-emergency farm call because his day was so non-stop busy that was the only time he could get to me. It boggles my mind that he’s been doing it all these years and I can’t think of any other explanation except that he really loves what he does. I have also met a few vets just in it for the money and they tend to be sour sorts.

    • Mutti says:

      Dude – I love my Vets and they love their Jobs. We’re talking “Big Animal” vets who sometimes have arms in places which produce Haggis in The Old World. With 2 in College (skewing the results entirely by following their Parents advice / example by working their asses of to pay for Schooling) – it is possible. Just really really hard.

  2. Cloudbuster says:

    “Since this is the internet, someone is going to comment that they really did work their way through school without being a coke dealer. Those few are the one in a thousand and usually sixty years old. Don’t bet on it.”

    Unfortunately, that someone is Belle Knox (best I don’t include a link).

    • I had to look it up. Some skinny chick does porn while going to college and this was apparently a big political newsworthy event? No wonder I go on periodic new blackouts. That said, she at least is upfront about what she does, choose a job that’s safer than coke dealer, and (depending on her major) using the money for tuition is better than some other options (like buying coke from a dealer).

      • Cloudbuster says:

        You call Belle Knox’s job safe, and later you call her a “good showman.” You should give this a read.

        I have a little inside experience with the porn and stripper industries and the lost girl depicted in that article is utterly, tragically typical. It’s a corrosive, toxic world and very few leave it undamaged and unscarred. It wasn’t until I experienced it that I realized how awful it would be if any woman I cared about became involved in it. Because one did.

      • OK so porn is a shitty job that jacks you up. No argument from me on that. I agree with you. It sucks. Also she seems, from the article, to be messed up… which happens and is tragic.

        But I’m not about to lay the mantle of victim on her and also soul killing jobs are not unique to porn. Anyone who wasn’t born rich must make their choices about the job’s they’ll do; especially if they’re at the low end of the job skills totem pole (which is certainly more true of a porn actress than a surgeon or pilot).

        We all must decide. Does one seek a safe, boring, emotionally easy, physically undemanding job starting out with the attendant shitty pay? That’s the option most people chose. They start their “career” by mopping floors and stacking boxes. A smaller cohort make the opposite choice. Mrs. Knox is among them. She undertook a brutal and demeaning job in the hope that high pay makes up for it. The article says it’s taking it’s toll. She’s not alone. There are many folks out there with bad backs or cynical hearts from one job or another. I would suggest that men are statistically more amenable to “make big money by taking a beating” jobs but there are plenty of female risk takers too.

        The only reason Mrs. Knox is in the press is because she uses her money to pay tuition, seeks publicity, and Americans are hinky about porn. If she spent the cash on a sports car nobody would notice. If she did her “job” and then acted quietly ashamed as a college student nobody would care. If she chose some equally (if differently) brutal job without the sex angle nobody would care. She could be on an oil rig in a -40 North Dakota wind, slopping pig shit in an Oklahoma feed lot, putting out fires, driving a truck in Afghanistan (or Detroit), working a high voltage electrical system, climbing high towers, mucking out a nuclear reactor, dealing with gory aftermaths in an ER, retrofitting trashed crack houses, etc… None of these would make the papers but they’re all harder than the average job with greater risks and higher chance of burnout. Once you’ve mopped up the detritus of a gunshot death or froze your balls off messing with the winch on an ice breaker at 2:00am… you’ll have a certain amount of cynicism that an easier job won’t inflict. Doing something hard and miserable and demeaning is not an easy path… and that’s why most people don’t take it.

        The article suggests she has regrets. I don’t doubt it. Regrets are unfortunate but they’re part of free will.

    • Samrobb says:

      Eldest Daughter is approaching college age, and coincidentally, we were talking possibilities and finances last night. Absent scholarships, there is probably no reasonable way for her to work her way through even a less-expensive college. Just as an example: University of Pittsburgh, in-state tuition is about $18k/year – which doesn’t include room and board (or, if she lives at home, transportation expenses).

      Looks like you can juuuuust about pay your own way at Penn State working a minimum-wage job, *if* you attend a satellite campus, *if* you live with your parents, *if* you can find a steady job that will give you 40 hours a week, and *if* you can arrange to work around your college schedule.

      That’s a lot of “ifs”.

      • Cloudbuster says:

        No, problem, Dad, Your daughter can work her way through college as a porn star.

      • Ouch. I’m approving this comment but it doesn’t mean we need to light the fuse on a (virtual) street brawl. I’m just sayin’.

      • Cloudbuster says:

        I apologize for how my previous comment might have been taken. I certainly meant nothing personal to father or daughter, but obviously it might not seem that way. I was referencing back to the mention of Belle Knox, and I really think it’s sad that a girl would feel the need to go to such lengths to pay for her education (thought I think there was more going on in that case than simple financial need).

        I know I think the world of my daughters and wouldn’t want someone implying that they were future porn stars, and obviously I know nothing about Samrobb’s daughter to justify such an implication — and even if I did it would be rude. So, again, my apologies.

      • No worries. I grokked your point and so did everyone.

        As for Belle Knox, I consider her simply a good showman (no pun implied). She had a choice between being covert (which is unnecessary for a legal job) or overt (which gained her plenty of notoriety, some of which will no doubt lead to financial gains). I have no problem with anyone doing whatever they want to earn a buck but it’s hardly “shocking”. She hit upon the “gestalt” more for being a porn star than she would if she were a trucker or a night shift nurse, that doesn’t make her historic or brave… but many points for tweaking the media to her benefit.

      • Samrobb says:

        (Can’t reply elsewhere on this thread for some reason, so… certainly no offense taken, Cloudbuster. Did make me snort, though.)

  3. Mark Matis says:

    Of course, if one is a Preferred Species, the calculations are somewhat different. What’s wrong with having a good paying job where you don’t have to do shit because those who have no standing on the Preferred Species ladder have to cover for you? As long as you get a degree in an appropriate field. And understand that even the TOP universities will add 30 to 40 points to each test score in hopes that will be enough to let you graduate. If that’s not good enough, there are always the HBCUs, where you don’t necessarily even need to show up to get the degree…

    • One’s calculations should include preferred species status but I don’t know if a free ride is really a blessing. It probably comes at it’s own cost. Do you want an “earned life” or do you want to be a pet? Deep inside us, we all know self esteem must be earned or it’s false.

      In the long run, life outcomes are a heaping load of karma delivered good and hard and reflect one’s life experiences (or lack of them). An easy ride to a “good paying job where you don’t have to do shit” can easily trap one into a “boring life of sitting in a cube growing old and fat and counting the days until you retire or die”. They’re two sides of the same coin. Conversely, the same can be said for those of us “honed by challenges”. We might be “lean and hungry” or “battered and bitter”… or perhaps a combination of the two. Certainly too much adversity can break a man.

      Most importantly I’d warn young non-preferred species to stay the hell out of arenas where they’re not wanted. If you’re a white male you might as well accept that certain fields are almost certainly dead ends. Who wants to burn your years being a reverse Rosa Parks? I entered the workforce totally misinformed and nearly got crushed. I’d spare young folks (or at least advise about) the labors of Sisyphus.

      • Mark Matis says:

        If you works your Preferred Species status properly, ya does not need to be “sitting in a cube growing old and fat“. Plenty of PFs merely need to show up some time in the morning, leave some time after lunch, and can be anywhere they want in between those times. Especially if they are smart enough to take a job with a government contractor who has mandatory quotas for Preferred Species.

        I expect there are even PFs who don’t even have to show up at all to get that paycheck. The quota only requires them to be on the payroll. It does NOT require their presence on the job to flaunt their superiority to the troops actually DOING the work. And if management works it right, the real workers might never even know they are covering for a leech!

      • Yeah they can get a free ride. Occasionally they can get a “free” paycheck. I suppose there are a few that might use all that extra time to compose an opera, build a steam engine, or become a master gardener… but in general there’s a price to be paid and recipients of “free” make the payment. It is pretty damn easy to be miserable and well paid at the same time.

  4. Titan Mk6B says:

    It was pot not coke. And how did you know that I am sixty? Still sounds scary to say that.

  5. Daddy Hawk says:

    Agree totally. You and Mike Rowe would get along great. Unfortunately, we have an entire generation of liberal arts grads sitting in HR positions justifying their existence by writing job postings that insist a college degree is required.

    • Mark Matis says:

      A lot of those college degree requirements are based on Griggs vs. Duke Power, and are not a mere figment of the liberal arts grads imagination. Their Legal department has instructed HR to write the postings in that manner.

  6. cspschofield says:

    I thought I’d throw in a few observations from the son of a college professor;

    1) My Father was, by avocation, a scholar. College suited him right down to the ground. If you are a natural scholar, it will suit you too. The rest of society may, someday, decide to stop shoveling money to colleges, at which time your prospects will shrink remarkably (my father was continually astonished that people were willing to pay him for what he did). Until then, have fun.

    2) In most disciplines outside of the hard sciences and engineering, a college degree primarily prepares you to study for the next higher degree. For God’s sake, if you don’t like scholarship, and in particular if you don’t like writing, DON’T GET A DEGREE IN THE HUMANITIES.

    3) The idea that a college degree is necessary for a life spent in Acting, Art, or (God have mercy on that silly twit) Puppetry is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on a credulous public. That said, it may be the only game in town, because the scam has been so widely bought. But for God’s sake, check. I can’t believe that Puppet Boy wouldn’t have done better to hitch hike to LA, get a job fetching coffee at Jim Henson Studios, and edge his way in.

  7. Heath J says:

    Where DID my slowclap.gif get off to?

    Well said.

  8. Southern Man says:

    My parents met at college. Dad basically went for free on the GI Bill. I went there as well, “working” my way through (it was a couple thousand a year) with their help. Now they’re appalled that I struggle to send my own kids to this fine school, seemingly oblivious that 26K per year is a rather different ball game than what we had thirty and sixty years ago.

    Fun fact: when my dad was a freshman their morning duty (before 6:30 AM breakfast) was to go to the college stables, milk the cows and deliver the milk to the kitchen.

    • The difference between college “you can work your way through” and college that burns $26 grand a year is huge. The difference between college where you’ve got to milk the cows at dawn and the fresh milk is served for breakfast… and a college cafeteria in 2015 is huge too. There’s probably a correlation there.

      I see that pattern everywhere, not just in colleges.

  9. rapnzl rn says:

    Worked my way through, approaching 60. Danged thing is, a disabled spouse will ‘spend’ my retirement savings, thereby making my gratification moot. Still, glad that no student debt will chase me to my grave.

    Sage advice, AC.

  10. s says:

    “(S)omeone is going to comment that they really did work their way through school without being a coke dealer.Those few are the one in a thousand and usually sixty years old. ”

    I’ll bite. I’m “only” 58, but I’ve been way less than one in a thousand since long before college.

    I worked through college, plus I got a scholarship, plus I took out loans. Every dollar I earned on that job reduced my loan principle by a dollar. So after 10 years at university I had loans that I could afford to pay.

    I could afford to pay the loans not only because they were much smaller, but because I got degrees in hard science and in engineering. I left when the future value of additional education became less than the future value of increases in my expected salary.

    Yes, it was a long time ago. It was so long ago that my job started at $2 an hour. It was also the most expensive or second most expensive school in the country at the time. Full tuition, housing, and expenses was well into 5 figures three decades ago.

    Just because you can’t pay ALL the tuition with a job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay ANY of it.

    Just as going to work for a few years and then going to class will wonderfully sharpen the mind, writing big checks from your tiny bank account will remind you that the experience you are paying for is extremely expensive, and that you should make the most of it.

    It will also convince your parents that you are serious, and that any requests for additional funds are most likely genuine need. if you’re working 40 hours on top of a full course load, you don’t have time to blow a lot of money.

    Evan after all these years, I take considerable satisfaction that my parents made exactly one of my tuition payments. One in a thousand and proud of it.

    • That’s some good advice. I had help with one payment while I was in college and I was mortified. I think my relatives laughed in joy because it was only one.

      When I was in college it was common for the parent to contribute nothing; at least for certain social classes. Now I meet a new generation where kids and parents both assume by default that parents will bleed or co-sign for a couple hundred grand. This is an unwise default. The kid gets the education so the kid needs to fund it. That was my opinion at 18 and it remains so now.

      One story on a related note. When I was in college a registrar wanted my parent’s address. “What for?” I asked. “So we can send a report card to them.” I was incensed! I was fully financially independent in word and deed, had lived outside the home in a different state and fully employed for years, and I was friggin’ married. “Fuck them.” I said. “You’re not sending a report card anywhere you don’t send a tuition bill.” The registrar blanched and then broke into a smile. I felt I’d won a victory. Held the tide back just a bit. Colleges tend to forget that some portion of the student body are young men and women and they most certainly not just boys and girls. (Nowadays, Obamacare coined the phrase “adult children” for kids on their parent’s health insurance, the polar opposite of a young man in the registrar pairing report cards to the tuition bills he alone will shoulder.)

  11. m. burke says:

    Interesting comments. I went to college via an Army ROTC scholarship–four years of service for four years of college–and emerged debt-free–your point about grades going to parents is interesting–since the passage of FERPA in 1978, grades have gone to the students, not to the parents. Glad to see you mention community colleges–I teach at one–very good deals. BTW, the ssix-figure student loan debt you read about is relatively uncommon–most people go to college close to them, and most of those are state schools–with a few years at a community college and the rest done at a state college, avoiding a great deal of debt is relatively simple.

  12. grendel says:

    Worked my way through from 1999-2005. I saw the great fee inflation coming on. Idaho land-grant schools have absolutely free tuition for in state students, but “Fees” somehow crept up from $2200 a year to $3400 a year in those six years. Don’t get me started on books.

  13. MadRocketSci says:

    I am currently debt free and in a PhD program. My path, just so you know how it can be done, even in these days of ridiculous tuition:

    I applied for and won an ROTC scholarship. This enabled me to pay for my aero/astro engineering undergrad. Afterwards, I was in the Air Force for four years (though seriously, that’s not that much of a ‘sacrifice’. It was wonderfully interesting work.)

    I left to go back for a PhD in plasma physics. PhD programs, if they are run by people who actually want you there, should offer to employ you as a TA or research assistant. You are supposed to be an apprentice professor/research engineer and nearly free labor, after all. If they don’t, don’t do it if you aren’t independently wealthy. MIT tried that one on me: “Oh, everyone here goes at least a semester or three without an assistantship, but that’s okay, you can take out loans.” Excuse me?! In Boston? It’s a TRAP! /Ackbar. Also, try to pick a program that is actively doing research in something you want to learn how to do.

    I went to another college (that honestly has a larger and more interesting research program in the area). Then I applied like crazy for fellowships. Your odds of winning NSF or NDSEG are small. Something like 10%. But you can apply every year until your second or third year. 2*(1-(1-10%))^3 is 54%, so your odds are good to win independent support as long as you keep banging out the essays and applying.

    I am debt free currently. I nuked my residual student loan debt in the first month of drawing a paycheck from the Air Force. I should end up with a degree that qualifies me to work on interesting stuff.

    • Well done! Congratulations and take a bow!

      You have a good point about the TA/RA angle. If you can’t get funded during grad school then why go? When I was wrapping up a B.Sc. my “advisor” hinted if I couldn’t find a TA/RA after a degree and four years of study (and whatever experience you’ve got by then) it meant either me or my choice in major sucked. Wise counsel. I decided that if I couldn’t snag the slave’s wages of a TA I’d dispense with academics forever and get a job immediately. (Even a WalMart greeter lives a life of luxury compared to a grad student paying his own way without funding.) Why double down on a losing hand? Of course, I got funded, so I went for it. In retrospect it was a mixed bag. No regrets and all but I’m not sure the ROI (which I enjoy now) was worth the bullshit (which I hated then).

      I also had a math teacher explain graduate stipends like this: “they’ll give you just enough money to go broke slowly“. Such a perfect explanation.

      Good for you for choosing a field with a good ROI and paying your way to get it.

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