The Truth About Going to College and Getting Into Debt

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could make your own decisions by meditating and listening to that small still voice that whispers, 'Don't go to college; you're not ready yet. Save your money instead.'
08/27/2014 06:10 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2014

I could kick myself, but what did I know growing up as a kid? All I heard from well-meaning educators was that I should get good grades and go to college. Why? Because if I didn't go to college I wouldn't be able to find a great paying job so I could support myself; that a college degree is a 100 percent guarantee that you will find a job and be financially set for life. Really.

Another thing educators told me was that my parents would pay for me to go to college. They obviously didn't know my parents.

My parents didn't push college per se. But there was an underlining undertone that it wouldn't be a bad idea if I got a college degree. They told me that I had to pay for it and that I better develop good money habits, i.e., deposit a portion of my paycheck into a savings account, to ensure I paid my bills on time.

I went to college but did not get the degree I wanted. I listened to my father who said to get a "secure" degree, like accounting. Wanting to please him and get his approval (don't do this), I got the accounting degree, two of them. But it wasn't my passion; I went through the motions of studying and getting good grades.

The difference between me and other college kids in the '90s (and today) was that I worked full-time at a residential and commercial real estate company and went to school part-time, at night. I would stay up until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to finish my accounting homework and then wake up at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. to get ready for work. However, I come from a "suck it up and deal with it" family and that's what I did.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my co-workers about paying back student loans. She told that she paid $50 per month on her student loans for her art degree, which she got from a popular Ohio University. She would also joke about how ironic it was that she was not working in her field. At least I was working in an accounting department, gaining real world job experience.

Once in a while, I would think about college kids who attended classes every day and partied on the weekend. I'm not saying that I wouldn't go out during the week or on the weekend. But, I would have been fired if I missed work a significant number of times because I was too hung over to go to do my job. In college, they may kick you out. No big deal. You can apply at another college, although you may be on probation.

Fast forward to present day, and I am so grateful that I did not graduate with $30,000 or more in student loans. If I did, I don't think I could handle it on top of credit card debt (that's another story -- stay tuned.)

Some college kids think that they don't have to pay back their loans. Unless, you meet some kind of hard knock life or degree requirement (doctor) where your loan may be forgiven. But let's get real. A few months ago, a story broke about a family that has to pay back their deceased daughter's student loan. Even in death, colleges and universities want their money, and they don't care who pays.

I feel bad for college kids who are pushed into spending a ton of money on degrees that are not guarantees for success. But then again, you make your own success, right?

An alternative to college degrees are the skilled trades (very much needed), a path my 18-year-old nephew has chosen to follow. The apprenticeship is a five-year program and students work (earn on average $12.50 per hour) and learn at the same time. However, getting accepted into an apprenticeship program, in my opinion, is more challenging than getting accepted to college. Here's why:

You have to take and pass an aptitude test. You have to take some college courses to show that you are serious about learning the business side of the skilled trades in addition to taking classes related to your field, e.g., electrical and plumbing. Then you may have to interview up to three times before you are accepted into a program. Most kids don't pass the aptitude test or don't want to put all of the time and effort into the process. This is a great process to weed out kids who aren't serious about the apprenticeship and who would waste the instructors' time. In college, most professors don't care if you show up to class. They get paid anyway.

Keep in mind that there's no law that says you must go to college straight out of high school. In fact, I would discourage the majority of high school kids from doing so. If you want to get life experience, do what the Brits do and take a gap year. Travel and go find yourself. Volunteer or study abroad for one year to see how other people in other countries live. Gain some street smarts and real world experience before you pay for a degree that you don't really want or won't use.

Just think about this before you sign federal and private student loan documents.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could make your own decisions by meditating and listening to that small still voice that whispers, "Don't go to college; you're not ready yet. Save your money instead. Don't go into debt for a degree you don't want and may not benefit you or others." I bet you didn't think you could make up your own mind and decide not to get into student loan debt.

States With Highest Average Student Debt - TICAS - Class Of 2012