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Thaddeus McCarthy Headshot

The Higher Education Myth

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I'm sure that many of you will have read articles with titles such as the one above. We all know the general line, which is that young people today, spend years and thousands of dollars (often saddling themselves with huge students debts) going to University, only to end up in the dole queue or in a job at the supermarket checkout. So what I am going to make clear here, is that this article is not another one of those. What I would like to propose is that the problem with Higher Education today is not so much that it is unrelated to the workplace, but that many students leave it thinking that it should be a substitute for drive and persistence, and for putting yourself out there.

People many of us recognize as doing well in life, in a financial sense at least didn't get there by simply going to College. People like Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell and Sheldon Adelson, either didn't go to College at all or dropped out. Some billionaires did go and complete College though, perhaps the most famous Graduate of them all, Warren Buffett, hugely valued his time in College. By going to College, Buffett was able to learn from the person who was to form the genesis of his investing approach, Benjamin Graham.

But of course Buffett got started in investing at a very early age (11). And he didn't stop working and investing during or after his time at College. He started his first partnership in 1956, at age 26, after he had spent time working with Ben Graham. And as we know he eventually brought Berkshire Hathaway and turned it into his personal investment vehicle, with a market cap today of over $300 billion. It is highly doubtful that Buffett would have got where he got without doing these things. If he had just gone to University, got good grades (as he did) and then just expected things to happen, they wouldn't have.

We do see a disproportionate number of Billionaires who are University dropouts. But why is this? The reason I believe is that they follow what they have spent time procrastinating in i.e. they devote their lives to doing what they would rather be doing, other than studying. In other words they follow what they are passionate in, and here lies the genesis of why we see a number of Billionaire College drop-outs.

The secret to being successful in life is to be passionate about what you are doing, and as long as that 'thing' pays the bills, then really that is all you need to do. For most people though, finding this thing can take a lot of time, and it is often the case that College can help with that. Your late teens and early twenties are a critical time in life, and for some of us College can help with the transition into adulthood. It is not the Colleges fault though, if you haven't found your passion, or don't have a job. That is not really their job. Their job is to provide an environment for learning. And that they do.

For all of the recent College Grads out there who are complaining right now about the lack of work, I just want to tell you to not blame your College for not preparing you correctly for the outside world. Since life provides a continual environment for learning, we are in constant preparation for the outside world. College is only one of the many mechanisms that we can use for learning. But it does not make the critical difference between success and failure.

What does make the critical difference between success and failure is how much we put ourselves out there, and open ourselves to new opportunities. Because it is only by putting ourselves there that we can ever find that 'thing' that we can be passionate about and that can drive us. Everyone who goes to College today should be made knowledgeable of this fact.