8 Reasons We Won't Push College on Our Kids

You may already be wondering, “what parent in their right mind would not want their kids to go to college?” I half expect the Child Protective Services to beat down my door just for writing this. It was not that long ago that I myself would have shunned this article, and concluded that its author is an unfit parent.  But a measured look at the reasons why college may not be the best choice reveals another side of the story that most parents aren't usually exposed to.

I must state upfront that if our children desire a profession that requires college, of course we will encourage and support them to follow their dreams. However, they will definitely know the consequences versus the benefits.

First, let's examine the traditional path that was ingrained in all of us.

Do your homework. Get good grades. Go to a good college. Get a job. Work for 45-plus years to pay off all debts. Save for your kid's college and your retirement. Play by the rules. Success will be yours.

Sound familiar?

-->We've all heard this mantra from family, teachers, employers and the TV, as if it's the only path society provides for success. For many, as the economy worsens this myth gets echoed even more loudly. "We need more education to compete in a weaker job market," society says. But is it really true given the current economic situation?

I understand that for some people college will be a necessary step in pursuing their dreams. For instance, those who want to become certified doctors in the US must study at an American Medical Association approved university.

But first they should ask themselves "why" they want to be a doctor.

Is it to help people? To make a nice income? Is it for prestige among family and peers? Then, it may be wise to ponder if becoming a doctor is the best way to accomplish those goals. Certainly there must be other ways to help people, make good money, and gain respect from loved ones without accruing a quarter-million dollar debt before working life begins, right?

Either way, college may be necessary for some to achieve their dreams. But let’s be sure our children know that there are other paths, other innovative ways to attain their goals, and certainly other ways to spend 4-8 of the best years of their lives.

Here are eight reasons why college will not be encouraged in our household:

College is just not what it used to be
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1. It is Obsolete
Why does a nursing student need four more years of English Lit or Algebra? Likewise, why would a business major have any need for Anatomy and Physiology? I know, I know, back to that whole college-is-teaching-kids-to-think argument. Or maybe the “well-rounded” school of thought? I don’t buy it. After 13 years of schooling prior to college, most subjects outside of a degree's focus seem to be a waste of time and money.

Additionally, the world is changing at lightening-fast speed, but the education system is still moving at a snail's pace. At the exponential rate of change in science and technology, by the time someone graduates from 4-6 years of college what they were forced to learn the first couple of years is most likely obsolete, requiring even more schooling.  What a racket!

What's more, with a smartphone and Internet, all of the world's knowledge is literally in the palm of our hand.  Incidentally, advanced knowledge is not confined to the brick-and-mortar walls of universities anymore.

2. Horrible Job Market
In this poor economic climate where America's job market has entered a prolonged drought, college graduates are no longer guaranteed a job.  In fact, only 53% of recent college graduates in the U.S. have full-time employment.  And even global youth unemployment has been labeled a "crisis".

According to the New York Times analysis of recent unemployment numbers:
Employment rates for new college graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years, as have starting salaries for those who can find work. What’s more, only half of the jobs landed by these new graduates even require a college degree, reviving debates about whether higher education is 'worth it' after all.
So, the myth that kids must attend college to get a job is proven false.  Kids today need more than the standard education to stand out in a crowded field of cookie-cutter graduates.

3. Prohibitive Cost
The cost of going to college versus the benefits make it a terrible investment.  Entrepreneur James Altucher breaks down the numbers quite accurately:
The average tuition cost is approximately $16,000 per year. Plus assume another $10,000 in living costs, books, etc. $26,000 in total for a complete cost of $104,000 in a 4 year period. Some people choose to go more expensive by going to a private college and some people choose to go a little cheaper by going public but this is an average. Also, a huge assumption is that its just for a 4 year period. According to the Department of Education, only 54% of undergraduates graduate within 6 years. So for the 46% that don’t graduate, or take 10 years to graduate, this is a horrible investment. But lets assume your children are in the brilliant first half who finish within six years (and hopefully within four). 
Is it worth it? First, let’s look at it completely from a monetary perspective. Over the course of a lifetime, according to CollegeBoard, a college graduate can be expected to earn $800,000 more than his counterpart that didn’t go to college. $800,000 is a big spread and it could potentially separate the haves from the have-nots. But who has and who doesn’t? 
If I took that $104,000 and I chose to invest it in a savings account that had interest income of 5% per year I’d end up with an extra $1.4 million dollars over a 50 year period. A full $600,000 more. That $600,000 is a lot of extra money an 18 year old could look forward to in her retirement. I also think the $800,000 quoted above is too high. Right now most motivated kids who have the interest and resources to go to college think it’s the only way to go if they want a good job. If those same kids decided to not go to college my guess is they would quickly close the gap on that $800,000 spread.
There is not much more to say.  It's is a bad investment for parents, and student loans seem financially irresponsible as a burden to place on our children before they start their professional life.

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4. Debt Serfdom
As the cost of living continues to outpace pay increases, it's difficult enough just to survive week to week, let alone get ahead financially.  When young people begin their adult lives saddled with hundreds of thousands of debt, it almost ensures that they will be locked into a lifetime of debt serfdom.  In other words, they'll be trapped into working whatever job they can find just to pay this obligation regardless of their passions. Add on the pressure and manufactured prestige of "owning" a home, having a nice car, starting a family or dressing a certain way, and you have all the makings of wasting a life trying to pay for these things. I'm not sure this was part of the original American Dream, but, sadly, it is indisputably what it has become.  Surely, there are more fulfilling ways to spend our limited time on this planet than running on the same hamster wheel our entire lives.

5. Knowledge is Free
It's important to highlight the difference between school and knowledge. These things do not go hand in hand. Many people go to college and never achieve any useful knowledge, while many people who never attend school are some of the wisest and most successful people in the world.

In the 1700s, knowledge was limited to those with the resources to buy books, or those who could afford to send their kids to school (most stayed home to work the family trade).  Ben Franklin understood that in order to have a level playing field in society, everyone must have access to knowledge.  So he founded the first public library in America (which later became the University of Pennsylvania).  Now that the Internet acts as a global open-source library and is giving away knowledge, everyone has the ability to learn about what they're most interested in for free.

No need to waste money just to get a piece of paper saying you “officially have gained knowledge”. What is the goal; the piece of paper, or the actual knowledge?  If it is the knowledge, as I hope it should be, then college is not the most efficient way to reach that goal anymore.

6. Wasted Youth
To all those who said they had the time of their life in college, I ask, "Couldn't you get drunk and flirt with the opposite sex without college?" We likely had the time of our lives because we were young, healthy, carefree and it was the first time we were out of our parents' control.  College just happened to be the place where we lived this experience.  But it's a tall price to pay, since all of those factors don't change in the absence of college.

Furthermore, how many of you went to college purely out of obligation? My parents never gave me the option, even though, in retrospect, I wasn't mature enough to appreciate my overpriced education. So, I dropped (flunked) out. It wasn't until later in life when I knew what I wanted to be, that I began to appreciate school.  Then, I got straight A's in route to becoming a Registered Nurse.

In these most amazing years of life, transitioning from child to adult, imagine what could be experienced or achieved when you're not locked in a dorm out of obligation (See the countless alternatives to college in my final point).  Finally, college will always be there for your kids no matter when and if they decide to go.

7. Limited Life Choices
Many people that we meet say they're envious of our permanent travel lifestyle, but they feel too trapped by financial obligations to attempt an alternative lifestyle.  This is the result of the debt serfdom cycle explained earlier that begins with student loans. Because of the debts incurred while at college, and a host of other reasons, many young adults end up limiting their options in life. We are usually told the opposite, but once a student commits to a certain major they may feel obligated to only pursue that career even if it falls out of favor with them.  Most kids usually don't know what they want at 18 years old.

Life should be a collection of experiences, not a collection of shiny trinkets that mean nothing on our deathbeds.  If we seek a life outside of the proverbial box -- a life of travel, of passion, of adventure, of independence -- then societal pressures and college debt become a prison that locks us into a narrow range of experiences. Once we step out of the box and realize this, the floodgates of alternatives to the "normal" path open wide.

8. Countless Alternatives
This is the other side of the story that parents aren't supposed to see, or even contemplate for their kids.  First, it begins with wanting something for your child that's far more important than societal success -- happiness!  This can only be achieved if we allow our children to live their passions.  After all, this life is theirs for the making, and we view our job as a guide to help them follow their own path, not to dictate some societal fantasy.

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Even our parents are still bitter that we gave up on the traditional definition of success to pursue an alternative lifestyle of homeschooling and extensive adventuring.  Our happiness seems to take a backseat in their mind compared to the anguish they feel about missing their grandkids, and our rejection of the dreams they had for us.  Although this has been somewhat painful, we're grateful to them for helping shape what we believe is important for our children.

So what alternatives are available instead of going to college?  First, they can take online courses through OpenCourseware or iTunes if they want to accrue college credits.  They can learn a skill by becoming an apprentice.  They can volunteer for a charity or even a big company to learn about how those organizations work.  They can travel by picking up odd jobs along the way (or obtaining ESL certificate to teach English abroad).  They can start a business, a nonprofit organization, or monetize a blog.  They can find a mentor or become a self-taught expert in whatever field that moves them.  They can create something beautiful; art, music, handmade crafts, write a book, or build something.  This list is endless, and they will gain great knowledge with each of these examples and more.

Finally, they can just get a part-time job and enjoy their carefree youth until they discover their passion. We must stop assuming that a "lack of direction" equals failure.  It doesn't; not if they're happy.  We get one go around in this life and it shouldn't be wasted doing something that others expect us to do.

At this point, our boys learn what interests them and is pertinent to their lives.  Some would say they "world school".  We all learn better when we're inspired.  And we have great confidence in this approach to prepare them for life.  The universe has a funny way of giving people what they desire.  Sadly, most people are too busy complaining about their situation to even define what they want.

In conclusion, we teach our boys that they should do what they love. That happiness is far more important than any status symbol or paycheck, no matter what anyone thinks. No dream is too big to achieve. The college-job path is only one way to achieve certain goals among a host of other perhaps more rewarding experiences.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, and criticisms.  Please leave comments below and we will answer them.

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  1. You are so wrong, cheap parent. Your kids are young now so this home school travel thing is okay. Later they will need the structure and social interaction of a real school as well as college. Never deny higher education, in fact, insist on it. Hope your kids are "happy' working a dead end job. Stupid Mom.

    1. A job?
      They'll probably end up starting a business that your dead end kids will be begging to work at.

    2. This has nothing to do with being cheap. If my boys want to go to college and really need to in order to fulfill their passion in life then we will pay all the way. But not everyone belongs in college and many, many people think in hindsight that it was a waste. If you open your world view perhaps you will see that college and school cannot provide a fullfillment in life that travel, experience and doing what you love can. There is no "dead end" job and if you preach that to your children I feel sorry for them. My boys will work whatever job pleases them so no matter what that is it will be perfect! They see the whole world is open to them to do what makes them happy. In our view many people that go to college end up in a dead end job working to make money for someone else! We make our own way and do it with the ultimate life freedom! If my boys do that i'll be thrilled.

      I wonder if you learned name calling in that ever important social interaction of school?? I think i'll pass on my boys learnng that:)

  2. Anon: Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I'm sorry you have to resort to insults to make your point. At least school taught you good manners when you disagree with someone. Enjoy your structure!

    1. That's why they hide behind the anonymous label. Even the most successful people I know of have said that in hindsight going to college was a waste of time and money. Can it help? Yeah, in the stratified and goose-stepping mentality that pervades the HR departments in this country (US), but notice that our cowardly poster already reflexively assumes you have to conform to the typical school-to-job paradigm. You couldn't have asked for a more slavish example to fall from the skies.

    2. I know at least have the balls to show who you are! I never post anything anon. One of the things we love most about traveling with our kids is the way they see, first hand, that their life can be anything they want. It doesn't need to be the structure they would see in the US, in fact I think they now see that living in another country has many advantages! I love that they see the entire world for its possibilities! Not something they would learn in school!

  3. Love it! Just what we tell our precious girls.

    If they choose college we'll support them and cheer for them. We won't pay for it though, as I think it's important for them to find their own way and learn to be self sufficient in reaching their dreams.

  4. I agree 100%. As a traveling family, we home school our younger child. Our 14 year old is continuing his curriculum via an online program set up by his educators and it is working out quite well. Being parents of public schooled children, we see how (as early as 8th grade) college is being pushed upon our youth. We think it adds unnecessary stress and quite possibly guilt to those who are attempting to discover a passion while simultaneously trying to live up to societal expectations beyond high school.

  5. I love this! And I agree 100%. College (and school in general) is an outdated and ineffective form of learning compared to the other options out there. It is also not the most effective way to earn a high income. Providing value to the world by starting a business is, and becoming a smart investor is a close second. Finally, and most importantly, passions and happiness can't be ignored when planning what you want to do with your life. Most people go through the motions and take pencil pushing jobs they end up hating just because they think it's what they have to do. But they don't. There are so many options if they're willing to try them.

  6. Thank you everyone. Brandon, well said. It is one of the saddest things to see someone living their life out of obligation!

  7. Great Article!

    I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have a college degree that I could be "using", but I'd rather use my education to educate my own children. ;)

    One thing that's worth mentioning is the pressure that young women receive to get a degree "just in case"--even if their plan is to get married, have kids, and be homemakers. I personally received a full-ride scholarship for my college tuition, and got a great deal of help from my parents to cover my room and board, so at the end of the day my only college debt was a couple thousand dollars on a credit card for books and similar expenses. This gave me a great deal of freedom when I decided to stay home when our first baby was born. However, I know many other women who would love to stay home with their kids, but have to keep working just to service the student loan debt--a debt so huge it will take decades to pay off. Was it worth it?

  8. Wow this is exactly what we have been talking about in our house. Clark and I both have tons of student loan debt and neither of us are doing what we went to school for. It is such a burden. It is like a huge weight on our neck that each time we want to do something it drags us back down.
    The problem is that society still overvalues the college degree. I hope that changes soon, but for now people are really judged on their diploma. At least that is the price of admission for so many jobs. Not that those people are actually more qualified. It is a bad cycle. Hopefully with the economy and the internet that is changing.
    I really think another big big topic you touched on is thinking about what you want your life to look like. So few people actually think about this. Why? Why are we constantly pelted with questions about what we are good at and what we will do instead of actually thinking about what our life should be like. Work isn't life, or at least it shouldn't be. I just wrote on this the other day.
    Such a good article. Love it. Also have you seen the article..."Will Dropouts Will Save America?" It is spot on with you. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/opinion/sunday/will-dropouts-save-america.html?pagewanted=all

  9. Very interesting article. I agree that the socially accepted path to success isn't a great path and many people don't find the success they were promised. I wish my husband and I had realized this decades before now; if I had it to do over, I'd have done things very differently.

    I have one child in college and another entering next year. I have always wanted them to go to college, because I did not. I totally bought into the "you need a degree to become anything worthwhile" nonsense, and since I didn't have that all important degree, I felt I wasn't qualified to do anything with myself. I've wanted to both prevent them from feeling inadequate, and give them more options, so have raised them with the expectation of going to college. But as I become more exposed to the types of ideas you've presented here, I find I wish when they were growing up that I had realized there was another way.

    I truly wouldn't mind if they had a passion they wished to follow that took them in a completely different direction, away from college. But one wants to be a computer programmer (and he's about done with his degree)and the other wants to be a physics teacher... So it seems college is going to be necessary.

    I wonder, though, what different ambitions and choices they might have now, had I had raised them with an attitude that an exciting life of learning *outside* of school was open to them.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas on this.

  10. Tiana, Thanks so much. I think that women are particularly vulnerable to the college is a must myth. They seem to be far less able to step outside the box to follow their passions or start a business on their own. Very sad!

  11. Thanks Monica, My husband and I were both pretty lucky and had very little debt from college all of which is already paid off. But I know many people still saddled with debt 10 years later and have only added to that debt by following into the other societal myths along the way. We want our kids to see the options:) I do believe the over valuing of a degree will be changing soon. I did see that article and have seen many more like it. Have you been to www.uncollege.org ? Dale is a great example of what is possible.

    Kids in high school pick something to study in college and so many change their minds or become totally disillusioned, I mean they haven't even been out in the world to be able to decide. I believe at the very least waiting until you know what you really enjoy is the best. Apprenticeships are so valuable. Sweden has kids in apprenticeships from middle school up! I love that model of education.

  12. Kristin, thank you for your thoughtful and honest comments. I think what you say is the ultimate problem with pushing kids to go to college, they shut off another part of them that may be their true passion! That being said, it is never too late to express your support of them and let them know that no matter what their happiness is of utmost importance. Nothing is EVER too late!

  13. While I do agree with some of your points, there are others that I don't. My parents strongly encouraged me to go to college, even though I didn't know what I wanted to do before I started. As Dad always said, "That piece of paper doesn't mean you know any more than another person, but it'll make some people think you do. And because they think you do, it'll open doors." I've seen so many doors open simply because of that piece of paper.

    I don't understand the whole debt thing. Yes, if you go to an Ivy League school without a scholarship, you'll leave with enormous amounts of debt. However, if our sons attend university at the local university in our town and live at home, they should be able to graduate with very little debt. Tuition at Boise State University is $5300/year for a full-time student. If they get through school in 4 years, that means $21,200 for tuition. Yes, they'll have books and such on top of that but still - that's not an unreasonable amount to pay. If they get part time jobs to help pay and we pay some of it, they should get out of university with relatively small amounts of debt.

    Another thing to consider is dual enrollment when the kids are in high school. For homeschoolers, this is an incredible opportunity. In our state, the school district will pay for our kids to take university classes. We expect our children to graduate high school with several university credits already under their belts (provided we stay in the USA, that is).

    Basically, we want them to be prepared to do whatever they want. If they choose to be ski bums, that's OK. Having a college degree won't hinder them in that pursuit. If they choose to be engineers, their college degree with help them. In any case, I see no downside to a college degree - if you do it wisely.

  14. Thank you Nancy, very good points. Financially some people do not have much debt when they graduate but many, many people do. The statistics are quite alarming, here is one example... http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/college/story/2011-10-19/student-loan-debt/50818676/1 I have many friends when you add on graduate school who are paying a fortune and are totally stuck in part because of it.

    I agree it may not hurt to get that paper but the expectation that a child must go to be anything in life is the part that I think IS harmful!

  15. Anyone soundly familiar with the history of compulsory schooling in the USA, and its origins, can only agree. The rest of the folks who are chanting the rhetoric about socializing the kids, 'education' etc are speaking from sheer ignorance.

    By the way, I have 23 years of institutional education so this comment is not 'sour grapes'; it's simply reflective of an ongoing autodidactic approach since leaving the gates of a major university in the early 1990s.

    IM Loos

  16. Knowledge is an aggregate sum of our lives--academic nonacademic ventures alike.

    While, it's possible to attain part of the sum of human knowledge on one's own, it's simply not possible to excel in it on one's own.

    As a wise man once said, "we stand on the shoulders of giants."

    To stand on others shoulders necessarily means to be engaged in formatted academic environment.

    It's understandable the education in university and beyond is not for everyone, but it's necessary to maintain the "sum" of human knowledge.

    It's silly to condemn the whole of academia just because it's not for everyone.

  17. Anon, That would be silly, but that is NOT what I did here. The article is mostly pointing out that to learn one does NOT need college necessarily. There are numerous amazing people, giants, to stand on the shoulders of that don't happen to be college professors.

    Of course it takes all your experiences, and those include tidbits learned from others, to excel but you certainly can achieve excellence in a field without college!

  18. As a parent with limited means and a college age child, let me express my gratitude for this article. My child has been on the fence regarding college in the first place knowing that funding would be a burden for me and knowing that student loans are the a worse alternative than not getting a degree.

    After I read this article at AltMarket, I googled opencourseware and went to the main site and started following the links (started about 8 p.m.). At midnight, I was so intrigued that pulled up the OCW site on my child's computer and started gushing about the possibilities, and that act in turn, has given my child hope.

    The concept of taking the courses on-line, for FREE, and then taking a CLEP for the credit is awesome! My child understands that it is possible to get credit for the first two years of college for the cost of the CLEP tests and is thrilled!

    I continued to surf the OCW affiliate schools until 4:30 a.m. and will surf more later today. I am going to take courses too, from M.I.T. !!! WOW!!!

  19. Broke in Atlanta, I am so happy to hear that this article helped point you in a better direction! It really is amazing what is out there if we only know where to look. Feel free to share this article with anyone else it may help. Thank you so much!

  20. I plan on sharing this article, count on it.

    I am also pleased to report that my child has been surfing through the OCW offerings all day today to see what courses match up with the specific testing areas offered by the CLEP tests. His entire demeanor has changed from angst to hopeful in just a few short hours! Hallelujah!

    Also, for the wannabe home schoolers, check out connectionsacademy dot com...free, fully acredited k-12. (I am not affiliated with them.)

  21. For the Anon poster at February 28, 2012 1:15 PM, your post echoes a paradigm staunchly upheld and pedagogged by tenured Chancellors and Presidents of institutions that have been selling knowledge to the select few whose families could pay for the privilege of having a chance at a better existence than the unwashed masses in the exact same manner with the exact same methods since the time of Aristotle. Yet times and technology have changed.

    When I put myself through college in the '80's, books and tuition totaled close to $800 per semester for a full load of classes. Here we are 30 years later and the cost has increased to $8000 per semester for a full load (in state, public college in the US).

    The methods have not changed, the buildings have not changed but what has changed is (thanks to creative course scheduling) that now it takes 5 years to get a four year degree, and (thanks to the easy to qualify student loans) the price is up 1000%. Why would any person take on $100,000 debt for a career that pays $50,000 per year if they can find a job? Why would a lender give so much money to an un-employed person that may never graduate or find a job? Probably because the student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

    The system is broken. Once higher education became financialized, the cost for a degree has become decoupled from the value of the benefit of a degree. The question is this, has the cost of higher education gone up because of the easy student lending practices (lender greed) driving up the price through competition for seats, or has the institution of higher learning raised the price because students were willing to pay (educator greed) based on the belief that in order to maximize salaries and compensation one must have a degree (student greed)?

    Now, Anon at 1:15, if you had gone to the OCW site for links to the courses, and then actually clicked into the course offerings, you would have found that most courses offered include the course materials as well as videos of the lectures, which indeed is the traditional method of transferring knowledge. Just because it is not in real time does not diminish the value or effectiveness of the lecture.

    If you disagree, you can chisel your retort into a stone tablet and have your messenger run it to me.

  22. I'm in college right now and can feel my youth withering away with all this bullshit work. Wish
    I'd had the guts to tell my folks I'm not interested in college and use all the tuition money to travel instead. Would've learnt so much more than I have while being locked up in a classroom.

  23. I have a Ph.D., hubby a masters. People look at me like I'm nuts when I say "maybe my kids won't go to college."

    Right on board with you, for most of the reasons you mentioned above. I hope my kids are creative enough to not have to become slaves to the system.

  24. Anon, It is never too late to let your parents know you are done with the educational trap! It is your life, you should do with it what you feel your path is. Good luck!

  25. Good post. We are an uschooling family with eight children. My eldest is 17 and has no plans at present to go to college. Her career choice does not require it. She has already been to Africa and Asia and is planning a trip to eastern Europe this summer as is my 15 yr old. There may be a place for formal education, but that is very limited. What a shame for kids to spend their young lives when the thirst for knowledge is so great in a pen. I am so glad that we chose to keep our kids out of school.

  26. I agree! A college degree doesn't mean what it used to mean! We need to help our kids think and not just do what society says - I feel very sorry for many kids I see going just because they think it is the only way to succeed and when they get done they will have lots of debt and according to the average over 50 percent never get a job in their field! Thanks for sharing !

  27. The education "system" no more cares about the individual YOU than the assembly line worker in a meat packing plant. You're simply product for the grinder producing socialized sausages with a heavy dollop of debt to put you in your place. It's all about quantity and the more bodies they can run through the cattle chutes the happier they are.

    On a side note I've been wanting to get that "piece of paper" lately only because it'll help me get the family out of this country. A local school offering an intensive course in Dental Hygiene wants to charge me $56,000 for a twenty month gig! And that's not including cost of living and books! The only alternative is moving away to some place cheaper in order to pursue it. That was a bit depressing.

    1. Well there is nothing wrong with getting that paper as long as you can afford it! There are soo many things you can do now though without a degree. the internet has been an amazing thing for so many people, particularly bloggers. There is a great book on this site on how to set up a blog and make money on it. All you need is a passion about something! Try the book maybe, it really gives you all the info you need to know:) Good luck!