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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

The Question You’re Not Asking: Should You Go To College? | Cracked.com.

I love Cracked. They’re one of the few sites that blends true information with satire and humor in a masterful way. They don’t overdo on either end (well, usually not on the humor) and they frequently bring to your attention things you would never have considered. Like, you do realize it’s totally legal to buy a fighter jet or tank, right? Oh, and that Harrison Ford is even more amazing than he is when acting. But I digress.

I wish I had read the above article when I was applying to college back in the day. It would have saved me a lot of time, effort, and my parents’ money (who are now holding it as an anvil over my head; “We spent so much to put you through college…” Yada yada yada.) In high school, I was told about how college was the best investment one could ever make; put in around $50,000-$100,000 or so (depending on school), get back over a million. And yes, that was the number my government/economics teacher used, and she explicitly told us that if the stock market gurus found out about it, they would all try to “invest.”

The whole thing seemed absurd to me, on its face. First off, didn’t the stock market types already have degrees? Why would they go back for another one? Diminishing returns, anyone? Second, that million would be over a really long time, which I ballparked at about half a century. It sure wouldn’t feel like a million dollars to me, especially with all the bills to pay (watching my dad take reams and reams of receipts into the den, lock himself in there for hours, and then come out wondering how we’re going to pay for this and that taught me a lesson.) And third, a million seemed to be a bit high.

Turns out I was right:

Isn’t that number strange? A million.

Even $900k sounds substantially less impressive, doesn’t it? But no, it’s that fabled “more than a million.” Shit, that’s no longer money, it’s a lifestyle: Going to college makes you one whole millionaire better than those savage high school plebeians. And though the findings change a little with every new census bureau report, it’s always been right around that magic number. The latest version tells us this: High school graduates average 1.2 million over their lifetimes, while a Bachelor’s Degree nets you 2.1 million, and it scales upward from there. But here’s the actual language:

“Adults ages 25 to 64 who worked at any time during the study period earned an average of $34,700 per year. Average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates”

I’ve bolded the relevant text: “Who worked at any time during the study period.” Everybody in that survey has a job, which, incidentally, is a thing that your college degree absolutely does not guarantee you. All the unemployed people, their college degrees doing nothing for them? They don’t factor in. But hey, maybe the situation will be better when you’re out of college. Things might pick up. You just need to get more loans for now, to get you through, is all. And that’s exactly what’s happening, according to Robert Shireman, deputy undersecretary of the Education Department: “We’re also in an economic situation that nobody predicted. The eye-opening increase in borrowing is largely due to the dire economic environment, which is causing more people to seek federal loans.”

Yes folks, it truly is a load of crap. What my teacher supposedly “taught” us was not just wrong, it was straight up deceptive. Now, I’m not going to suggest that I want to take her to court to fraud, because she was more than likely mislead herself (on a great many things), but I am quite peeved that she led so many of my classmates into accumulating humongous piles of debt for an illusory gain.

And to pile on Brockway’s point about employment, if we take the March 2011 seasonally adjusted numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with at least a bachelor’s degree have unemployment of 4.4%…but they also have a participation rate of only 76%. What does that mean? That there’s a huge chunk of college graduates who aren’t working and aren’t even looking for a job right now. (Note, that number doesn’t include retired old people, since they’re not considered part of the labor force.) In raw numbers, we’re looking at over 2 million graduates who are unemployed. That’s not a comforting figure.

And lo, it gets worse:

The average debt load of a college student is $23,186 by graduation. And after the Bankruptcy Reform Bill passed back in 2005, student loans were no longer wiped clean during bankruptcy. That means there is literally no scenario, short of death, where you don’t have to pay back that student loan. Pay it back to the government, or private lending institutions backed by the government. You know, those same people who fund all the programs telling you that you have to go to college or you’re worthless and will die in a gutter while baccalaureate holders cavort about your stinking corpse on their golden unicorns? Yep, same guys.

They know they’ve got you, too: College tuition has been steadily rising, at three to four times the rate of inflation (and that’s not even counting the textbooks, which clock out at an average of $7200 now). But, hey, that’s no problem, because everybody qualifies for those loans, and you can basically take as much as you need! It’s a vicious circle: They jack up the rates because they know the money’s there, and then they have to make more money available because those rates are so jacked up. It’s a debt circle-jerk and you’re the one in the middle that everybody’s aiming at.

In effect, the entire thing is a scam. And Brockway isn’t the only one who has noticed it. And its a scam that will ultimately have dire effects on our economy, our society, and probably much of the world.

Now, what exactly does this have to do with writing? Well, the above stuff, not much. I just wanted a chance to add my opinion to the global opinion pile that college, as currently administered, is a scam of massive proportions. But I also want to concur 100% with the following:

But in the end, we can only really speak to personal experience: I’m a writer/editor, and I have an English degree. Yet I was so turned around and brainwashed by college-lust that I actually postponed accepting my dream job, writing dick jokes on the internet, because I wanted finish my degree…so that I could get a job writing someday. This is the only career that I know, and all I can tell you is that college didn’t do much for me, personally, past sophomore year. If I’ve learned anything in my field, I’ve done it by practicing writing. A lot. If you want to go into the same profession, then I highly advocate joining writer’s workshops. You can learn a lot there. But if you find yourself paying twelve hundred dollars for one — like they charge in most colleges – [Cutting it off here to maintain some sort of standards on my blog. -Ed]

This mirrors my experience exactly. For me, though, it wasn’t sophomore year; I stopped learning anything after my freshman year, aside from one class in documentary studies that should have prompted me to ditch my journalism major and go into that field instead. I did not learn one iota about writing, and in fact, I would argue that going to college hindered and impeded my writing. I was the good student, always doing my work and keeping up with the academic Joneses, doing my assignments 24/7 and letting my social life and my personal writing life suffer. I thought this was necessary because I had to be a grade-A student. Anything less than a B was a disgrace, and quite frankly, a B wasn’t much good either. (B+ was serviceable, though.)

I learned, though, painfully, that it was all a steaming pile of crap. I was putting what I really wanted to do on the backburner to satisfy my parents’, professors’, and society’s expectations rather my own, and I didn’t really get anything at all out of it. You know that “disease” they lament that affects graduating students? “Senioritis,” they call it, an illness where a senior stops doing work and just coasts to graduation. They say (“they” being teachers, parents, etc.) that it doesn’t bode well for you in the future and hurts your chances, but with all due respect, that is wrong. Professors won’t fail you, they’ll give you a “B” at worst (which is actually a perfectly acceptable grade) and moreover, you won’t be self-destructing from the stress, and have more time to work on your own projects, which I badly wanted to do. Oh, and you’ll also have time to look for jobs and programs after graduation, something they seem to ignore.

Do yourself a favor. If you want to be a writer, don’t go to college, or at least don’t go to college studying to be one. Pick some other major. If you’re going into science fiction, study astronomy or astrophysics. (I really wish I had known about a general astronomy BA at another state college. Oh well.) Study psychology to learn about your characters. Or study history or political science or engineering or whatever. But please, don’t do writing. You’ll only hurt yourself. And your wallet. And, well, probably everything else.


Also, before you think that I’m a waste of energy, that I’m telling people to just write while not doing it myself, well, I’ll have you know, I’ve written about a third of this story over the past couple of days. I admit its not great progress, but I am improving. I’m a recovering college student after all.