At 16, I came to United States from my native country of Poland to seek better education. My father, who had lived here since the early 90’, convinced my mother that America would be the best place for me to study and live. After a year-long process of getting my green card, in the Spring of 2004, I finally landed at O’Hare International Airport.
My father, who holds a doctorate degree, had a vision for me to climb up the education ladder and pursue a prestigious career. Even though he never openly expressed it, it was clearly implied on many occasions. I think that every child of a Nigerian parent feels a strong pressure associated with what’s expected of them in terms of their career and future.
After graduating from Pike High School in Indianapolis three years later, I finalized my college enrollment. My class schedule was finished and a dorm room at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana was reserved and awaiting my arrival.
I was all set to study journalism.
What I really wanted to do, though, was photojournalism (I enjoyed the concept of telling stories through photography) but was told that in order to become a photojournalist I had to major in journalism. I thought to myself, “Well, fine.”
But then I was also interested in architecture, and the deeper I thought about my future, I realized there were many more things that I wanted to do in life.
It must have been a few weeks before the official beginning of the school semester when I received a letter. It was the final document to complete my student loan agreement. All I had to do was sign it.
I looked at it for a few minutes and … I tore it into pieces.
Soon after that, I packed my bags and instead of heading for Muncie, I left for Chicago, Illinois.
The life that college was supposed to prepare me for had just began.
As I’m writing this blog post, it has now been about 9 years since I made the decision not to go to university, and I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever. I’m actually extremely grateful and happy for making that choice. Here’s why…
I avoided thousands of dollars in college debt.
I must admit, I’m very proud of myself for choosing not to borrow thousands of dollars to pay for a piece of paper called a bachelor’s degree.
Student loan debt is a massive problem for millions of young people in this country. Being someone who doesn’t like to borrow things (especially money), the thought of owing over $30,000 scared the hell out of me, a teenager who had only been in the US for merely three years.
I didn’t waste 4 years memorizing things I had no interest in.
Instead of wasting time putting a lot of unnecessary information in my head, most of which wouldn’t have contributed much, if any value to my life, I invested time in learning things that ended up completely transforming my life (for the better).
I devoted hours, almost every single day, for studying subjects and areas of life that intrigued me most, such as health, herbalism, history, business, politics, spirituality, metaphysics, photography, and graphic design, to name a few. I picked my own material, took notes, and studied whenever I wanted.
The experience of different work fields at an early age allowed me to quickly come to the realization that I couldn’t work for someone else.
Within the two years that followed me moving out of my father’s house and the beginning of life on my own terms, I went through at least eight different jobs in various fields (hospitality, caregiving, technology, sales, marketing, photography, etc.). While being at the last of those jobs, I began to realize that I had to do something that was completely aligned with my values, principles, and mission in life. It also became clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to find a job that perfectly matched all of those criteria. So, I quit the job and decided to never work for anyone else again in my life. I knew I had to create my own dream job and become my own boss. And that’s exactly what I did.
I don’t need a college degree to fulfill my life’s purpose.
I realized that what I really wanted to do was become an entrepreneur and work for myself, rather than be an employee and work for someone else. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with working for others, it’s just that it’s not my cup of tea. Been there, done that. I know I have to create my own rules and live on my own terms.
Since launching my first business at the age of 20, out of the tiny kitchen in my apartment in Oakland, California, I’ve employed dozens of people including college graduates, many of whom had left their careers in pursuit of something that would bring more fulfillment and meaning into their lives.
If your goal is to become a doctor or a lawyer, having a degree is a legal requirement and definitely a must. For what I do, and will ever want to do in life, it just isn’t necessary.
College would have been torture for me.
School is something I always took seriously. I was a very dedicated, hard-working, and determined student, which was reflected in my grades throughout elementary, middle, and high school. The language barrier I experienced during my first years at Pike didn’t prevent me from excelling. Part of the reason why I was so motivated and driven to succeed educationally was the fact that my mother was a teacher. I believe that my own competitive nature also played a role. But as someone who hates being forced to study things I simply don’t care about and someone who dislikes the way the structure of the education system is setup in general, earning almost straight A’s was often extremely exhausting. Going through four more years of it would’ve been pure psychological torture.
I got a head-start on real life.
In my school back in Poland, it was mandatory for everyone to take English classes. In addition, my mother signed me up for private English lessons, which I did twice a week. Still, upon arriving in the US, I wasn’t able to effectively communicate with native English speakers. What finally taught me the language was interacting with my English-speaking family and friends on a daily basis.
My point is: nothing can prepare us for real life better than real life itself.
The experiences I gained after finishing high school taught me many priceless life lessons that made it possible for me to learn how to navigate this world in a skillful fashion at a young age.
You may be thinking to yourself, “But why hurry things? What’s wrong with starting the real life a little later and go through the whole college experience first instead?” My answer to that is: nothing. There’s nothing wrong with going to college for 4 (or however many) years, even if it were purely for the purposes of experiencing college life—which a lot of people do. Being someone who has to be continuously moving forward in life without wasting too much time on activities that don’t really lead anywhere, the whole idea of the ‘college experience’ wasn’t worth me wasting years of my life on. Navigating the real life from a young age has allowed me to focus on building and creating real things and gave me the knowledge, wisdom, courage, and determination I needed to succeed at many of those things.
The value of a college degree is rapidly decreasing.
As a business owner, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people in the past eight years. What matters to me more than the interviewees’ education credentials is their real life experience and personality. What have they done professionally and personally? What were their responsibilities? Are they reliable, trustworthy, and professional? What is their level of emotional maturity? How are their communication skills? Those are the things I’m interested in. Whether they went to college or not is often irrelevant.
I am aware that depending on the employer and industry, different credentials are considered when hiring. There’s no doubt, however, that there’re more and more jobs where the level of one’s education plays a much less significant role than it did, say, 10 years ago. A lot of companies are beginning to learn that academic performance doesn’t always reflect job performance.
I see many people with degrees struggling to find work.
The number of jobless college graduates in this country is scary. And while there’re a lot of unemployed people who’ve never set foot in a university, it’s better to be unemployed without having bill collectors chasing you for money, than to not have a job and stare at a pile of unpaid student loan bills sitting on your desk.
So, should you go to college? Again, it depends on who you are and what your aspirations are. I’m not here to tell you one way or the other. You have your own journey to travel and your own lessons to learn.
Make wise choices.