Jesse Weinstock

Student - A.B. in Physics,

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Is college still the best way to go?

Heading into my Jr. year in college I got a notification that part of my financial aid was being pulled. After noticing that my brother had just graduated college, the office of financial aid noticed my family no longer needed the additional $8,000 in my scholarship.

In response to economic crises' in the world I have been asking myself more and more whether college is worth what I'm paying. As it stand now by the time I leave college I would be $72,000 in debt. When I leave college its seems more likely than not that I'd end up back home without a job.

Looking back I realize I didn't really even have a choice whether or not I was going to go to college. I had been told ever since I was 6 or so that "you are going to go to college no ifs, ands, or buts". I still don't have a good idea of what I want to do with myself. I'm just studying physics cause I'm good at math and I'll have a better chance at getting a job.

I do find some of the stuff interesting, but when I start to go off and explore the subject I feel myself doing worse in classes. As a result I find myself doing poor in class's I hold interest in and perfectly okay in classes I couldn't care less about.

So why again am I putting myself through all this?

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    Jul 28 2011: Any FORMAL educational program is aim to help you TO BE GOOD AT WHAT YOU WANT TO BE GOOD AT and equiped you with the PROOF of how good you are at that thing you want to be good at.

    Can you GET those TWO things without college ?
    If the answer is yes, the answer to your question is no.
    • Jul 28 2011: University education has little to do with "proof of how good you are at the thing you want to be good at." I agree that it should and that that is the ideal. But in practice, you cannot, for example, get a degree by testing out of everything. No institution, to my knowledge, allows such a thing. They allow testing out of a certain percentage of your total credits, but not all.

      The question to ask, then, is "If your grade in university is supposed to be numerical proof that you know the subject, why don't universities allow and even promote more testing?" The answer seems to be that they need justification for charging their exorbitant prices. If you or anyone could offer a better explanation, I would love to hear (or read) it.
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        Jul 28 2011: That's a new info to me.
        From where I came from you can't graduate if all those credits are not tested as in passed with decent grades. Unless they are sort of "extra curricular" thing.

        I agree completely, however, about how that "proof" might not reflect what it should be. But the gap, I was told (like Jesee here I was born into it :D), is closed by something called standardization. A statistic voodoo that everybody seems to believe that if the grades are the same, that bunch of people have an adequate average knowledge of the field or major. Says who ? Says all the experts in that very colleges (which often become second tier of that proof) .

        THIS is what being held as a "proof" by the industry. Company seeking potential employees demand a title to ensure they at least hired somebody who knows something about the field. In the court of law title defines the witness expertise to settle a case. Almost anything that question competency refer to this "proof". This is what makes college is practically mandatory.

        Jesee here will have a better shot if the industry starts to look for alternative "proof".
        And sharing a similar sentiment as yours, about the existing "proof" they are beginning to look for alternatives...
        • Jul 28 2011: Ah, I think I wasn't clear. Sorry for that. When I said "testing", I was referring to taking a departmental exam that allows the student to forgo taking the full class. In theory, it should be much cheaper to take such an exam. In reality, it is usually still quite expensive and often costs as much as the full course, minus the expense of books and associated supplies.

          Also, I don't mean to say that the little piece of paper you get at the end of university education isn't a good system for providing proof of skills or knowledge. It's just simply become very, very difficult and expensive to obtain such proof.

          In your line of work, I can see why requiring a degree is often necessary. As for alternatives, some higher education in the US has begun to focus on certifications rather than full degrees, something Germany did a long time ago. In computer related fields especially, certifications tend to trump degrees in the actual job market.
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      Jul 28 2011: I think you have hit the nail on the head.

      I believe just about anyone has a greater capacity to learn what they want than colleges can give. Because of the growth of the internet anyone has unlimited resources to learn just about anything.

      The problem lies in proof. As far as trends are going now the only things students will be expecting from college is a great social experience and a degree. How long will this piece of paper be worth the money required to get it.
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        Jul 28 2011: Now.. now... giving up on college is a bit hasty.
        Most of the knowledge on the internet came from people who go to colleges whether they graduate or not.

        The most important thing right now is figure out what you want or like to do.. to be.
        Study it .. research it... is there certification program like what Seraphim mentioned for what you want ? Are those certificate is well accepted in the industry ?

        Current educational system is in questions now not because the quality is declining, but the world... the way people do things are changing... it just no longer compatible... but they remain as human's best achievement in harvesting the race's (that includes you) potential so far.
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          Jul 29 2011: I do intend to finish college(after a semester or two off). I do actually find some of my professors to be extraordinary teachers. But as you said the system just does not work well with me. I'm just wondering why the process is so messy. If schools and society are continuing to loose compatibility when will another Institution come along to address the issues? Is this a time for a change in paradigms?
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    Jul 28 2011: Jesse, This is a challenging issue. I believe it is important to discover rather than decide a career by exploring a range of interests. College provides an opportunity to do this but the cost is a huge factor. Debt can be a form of slavery by forcing to take work we are not suited for in order to avoid default. Staying in a program that does not excite your passion in order to earn enough money to pay the debt you accumulated by being in the program sounds like a recipe fora life of futility. The problem with leaving school is that you will immediately have to start paying back the debt. Is it possible that you could find a school where you could explore and clarify your interests for a while without accumulating so much debt? This is a huge decision with long term implications. I would not make it lightly.
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      Jul 28 2011: I'm with Bob on this.

      I took my time in school ( a fine Michigan community college) and explored semesters of subjects that have truly changed my world view. It wasn't until last year when I finally decided on my career goal and transferred to university.

      Not all learning is done in brick and mortar buildings either. Take some time in the summer to learn a new subject, go to a feminist lecture, or paint a picture.
      your public library
      and some determination can teach you plenty.
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    Jul 28 2011: Hi Jesse, I love your question because believe it or not we ALL go thorough this questioning at one point in our lives. And although you have always "known" that you were going to college you probably never thought about what your life would have been like had you never thought about going to college and that your only options were maybe graduating high school then getting a job. I have worked for almost two years at a social security disability law firm where all they do is help disabled people get on government disability. The application rate for disability sky rocketed after the economic collapse because out of work people thought this was their only way to survive. And because of this now even well qualified candidates for disability are turned down only to wait on a two to three year waiting list to go in front of a judge and plead their case. I help conduct intake interviews with potential clients. I would say that the vast majority of our clients haven't finished the tenth grade. We base their potential of working based on their past relevant experience, most of which is labor, and then prove they cannot do any new jobs available in todays economy based on their poor education. Most of these people never thought that college was an attainable goal, they didn't know that continuing education would help them survive in todays economy. And while I have watched my husband struggle to pay back his 180K in debt from law school, I look at my comfortable lifestyle and feel thankful that we took the finical risks to get to where we are to help those who didn't. Consider yourself lucky, and although you may not know today what you want to do to make a living, that will come in time, just finish college, you will figure out the rest when you are ready.
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    Jul 29 2011: Jesse wrote: "I believe just about anyone has a greater capacity to learn what they want than colleges can give. Because of the growth of the internet anyone has unlimited resources to learn just about anything.

    The problem lies in proof. As far as trends are going now the only things students will be expecting from college is a great social experience and a degree. How long will this piece of paper be worth the money required to get it."

    90% of the skills and understanding I use in my work came from experiences after college. College was required to get my license and the license is required to do the work. University departments sometimes confuse knowledge with understanding. Knowledge without understanding is not only useless but potentially harmful. I have worked with many graduates who had very good grades but were essentially clueless regarding how to be effective in their work. Sadly, some of them went on to become administrators and others went back to college and became professors.

    There is need for a redefinition of education that starts with the question "What do people need to live and work effectively?" (Note; I did NOT write "what do people need to KNOW...)
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    Jul 28 2011: if you have nothing else planned, then go to college (and do the first few years at a community colege)but you should probably find another plan, imo.
  • Jul 28 2011: It seems to me that we are paying more for college than people can afford and the system is so corrupt young people feel trapped. In addition, we have all these suggestions about making cuts to education when other countries are investing more into their educational programs. However, there are studies that have been done that show that those who have graduated from college earn more than those who did not. Of course things are changing and it is not always that this work our for a college grad. What I would advice though is that you are still young and do not throw away this chance. Life happens and things make it harder to get back to college with age, it will not be easy to get back to college in your 30's or later on. Perhaps you need to ask yourself this question "If I drop out of college now, what next?"
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    Jul 28 2011: You're going to be a junior, so you've invested two years towards your degree. It would also seem to reason that currently you're "only" 72,000.00 dollars in debt....

    Find a cheaper school, figure out what you need to figure out for a year and transfer back if need be. You're already over your aggregate limit for a subsidized loan so interest is piling on as we speak.
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      Jul 28 2011: I have already taken a leave of absence. Also I had over estimated the amount of debt I'd be in. I'd owe 152k if I went all 4 years with my current financial aid. In reality I currently owe only 10k. The rest has been covered by savings.
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    Jul 28 2011: At this point...I think you finish college. Yes starting in debt really is a shame...the cost of higher education is insane. But if you decide to advance your career in today's society having that degree means a lot for a majority of positions being offered. I like Jennifer's perspective and indeed agree that not starting a life in the red is a benefit. Some day this world will learn to simplify its lifestyle and costs of education. I often wonder if it would be better for students to study abroad where the costs of education are less. Then come back to the U.S and leverage that degree. Most of us assumed debt out of college...but 152k is rough. Good thing you are so brilliant and you will overcome this soon!
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    Jul 28 2011: Hi Jesse...

    In my thoughts, college is not the only option in today's world. There are lots of choices and even those who are not highly educated could really do well in their life. For example, people don't really need proper education in doing certain types of business. Even creativity and talent could help someone in opening a business (restaurant or art collector).

    Although, college is the safest way in guaranteeing your future. This is because by attending college, your qualification could not be doubt by anyone. And it is absolutely crucial to really know what you are into so that any course that you are attending would not be boring to you. Good luck with your studies and hopefully you can achieve what you want.

    Peace... :)
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    Jul 28 2011: Hi Jesse. :)

    To tell you my story, I've had to go through the same thoughts when I was first applying to colleges in the U.S. Being an international student, it was incredibly difficult for me to find a good school that was willing to give enough scholarship, and eventually, I've had to take a gap year. During the time, I worked multiple jobs, trying to save up the money to go to college. And the question "Do i really need to go to college? Is this really worth all my effort?" constantly revolved around my head. At last though, I found a school in the Netherlands that was willing to pay for my entire tuition, and provide for some of the living costs. And I'm joining this fall.

    What I realized during the year of preparation was that it doesn't matter where you are as long as you're getting the best out of it. I didn't end up going to an american college that i'd always dreamt of, but I think it worked out for the best. Maybe you need some time to yourself, and really figure out what you want to do in life and how to go about achieving your goal. And expand your horizons, look further out. If the college you go to will leave you with a mountain of debt, perhaps you should take time out and look for another, somewhere in the world. I guarantee you there are so many schools out there that offer good education, without costing so much..

    I hope you'll find an answer to your question soon. Best of luck!
  • Jul 28 2011: I honestly think it depends on what you want to do in life, but that's going to depend on what your interests are and what you decide to do in life (for now). And since that's something that requires exploration, I would actually suggest staying in college for that exploration. Depending on what you pick you may need more school or may be able to jump right into a job. That's just my 2 cents though. Best of luck!
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    Jul 28 2011: This is an interesting question, considering I am also a college student having these thoughts. Today I was thinking "two years ago I wanted to be a journalist. Now I'm studying business. What happened? What will I do?" The answer is that I'll try, and I'll be the best I can be by trying. and putting myself through college is going to help me. I know it's unpleasant to know we're diving head first into hours of studying, sleep deprivation, etc etc etc when we have no idea where we'll end up - and worse: all we'll have is a piece of paper hanging on the wall - but I also know it's that piece of paper that will take us wherever we end up.

    Days ago a friend retweeted: "you don't have to go to college to be successful." True. You can either be born with insane amounts of luck and talent and succeed without a degree, or choose to work in a job that only helps you pay the rent. Unfortunately, most of us don't want the latter and not all of us are like the former. The answer is college. I resent the fact we have to pay exorbitant prices for education in the US (especially because I'm a foreigner who is not entitled to ANY financial aid), but let's be honest: it's hard out there for everyone. In my honest opinion, it can be even harder for those without a degree. Bachelor degrees today are like water. We might not land certain jobs if we don't have anything less than a master's - and one day the bar will be set even higher. Do we really want to be the benchwarmers then?

    Like you, I never heard anything but "you're going to college." What I wanted to pursue was shot down and replaced with a more "job market-friendly" option. I understand how it feels to not care about a class, to explore and lose interest. I also don't know what exactly I'll do with my future. But of one thing I am sure: even if I am not successful in the future, I won't be the one resenting the fact that I didn't try - because that I surely did.
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    Jul 28 2011: Life experience is priceless but many jobs revere the college degree - usually those jobs that are entrenched in tradition.

    In my experience, university was a great social event and little else. But worth it for that.

    I didn't often get any stimulation from any formal tertiary education. You're really just paying for the piece of paper that opens doors.