Dad to Grads: No College? No Problem!

By: Mike StangerScreen Shot 2015-06-15 at 5.05.13 PM

The graduation ceremony is over. The cake is cut. Congratulations echo all around. And, then it comes. The ubiquitous question finds its way to the ears of all the recent grads:

“Are you going to college?”

Many answer quickly and proudly that, indeed, they are. They then go into the details about the school and major of their choice.

Others may be more reticent, explaining that they are going to college, but have yet to decide on a major.

Still others look away, hem and haw, and meekly answer that they’re not.

“Why not? You need to go to college to succeed in life,” goes the traditional reply, followed by the well-meaning, but unproductive lecture on why.

To most people, going to college seems like a no-brainer for anyone wanting to be “successful” in life, while not going spells doom.

But is college the only path to success?


Honestly, do you really need a bachelor’s degree in business administration or even entrepreneurship to start a business?

There are plenty of billionaires in the Unites States without college degrees.

“Those guys are anomalies!” shouts a woman reading this on her laptop while passing time during a week-long company Kaizen event.

“Not everyone is a genius like them,” quips another, glancing at her smartphone from the soccer field bleachers.

True, they are anomalies. Only a tiny percentage of people become billionaires. But successful business owners are not anomalies. Yes, they may not be billionaires, or even millionaires, but they do make a solid living and provide services to society. And many of them have zero college experience, let alone a degree in a business-related discipline.

Further, while some of the actual billionaire business owners are, indeed, geniuses in the traditional sense of the word, many are not. Their “genius” springs simply from perseverance, a willingness to fail in pursuit of their dreams, and a strong desire to see their ideas come to fruition. Such character traits don’t require a 180 IQ nor a college degree.

Take Richard Branson, for example. He suffered from dyslexia and received poor grades in school. He was not someone others would immediately consider a genius. He never attended college. Yet, he persevered, and he is now one of the richest men in the world. He’s also a great person to work for. A friend of mine who used to work for him told me that he always took the time to talk to the employees and ask them about things going on with their lives, whether it had to do with their family or with school. Branson doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk. He just introduced a policy which allows some employees who are parents to take a year of paid leave to raise their newborn or recently-adopted child.

“Okay, okay. Good points. But what about people that can’t or don’t want to run a business?” smugly asks the man in the black mock turtleneck reading this on his iPad while sipping a grande chai tea latte, 3 pump, skim milk, lite water, no foam, extra hot drink from Starbucks.

Fair enough. My answer: trade school, especially for people who love working with their hands. There is a huge demand for the trades right now. I know someone who is taking welding in high school and loves it. She is also an excellent swimmer. She plans on becoming an underwater welder, a synergy of two of her passions that will pay her handsomely.

But her pay isn’t the relevant part here. It’s her happiness. After all, isn’t happiness and contentment want we want for our children? What good is a huge house and expensive car if you’re constantly working at a job that you hate to pay for them? Not to mention the negative effects from the stress. No job is worth an early trip to the grave.

Look, many people accuse me of being anti-college. I am not. I went to college, so it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to condemn it. I agree that for some people it’s the best option. At the same time, I ask others to consider that college is not the best option for all, however, and may actually be the worst option for some.

Many young men or women attend college, but never graduate due to lack of interest and poor grades. Those individuals up with student loan debt and nothing to show except years lost in their lives and in the workforce. Such a scenario may have been avoided if older (and supposedly wiser) adults in their lives had been more open-minded with them and had not directed them the ubiquitous “need” to go to college.

So, the next time a young person sheepishly tells you that he doesn’t know what he’s doing in the future, don’t just parrot the standard “go to college” line. Encourage him to pursue what interests him and, if possible, help him work toward that goal. That person, and society, will be better off for it.

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