College and Graduate School

Over the years, I feel fortunate that I know many of my kids’ friends. With two now packing up to head out of the house, I have heard many conversations about visiting colleges, applying to them, and, finally, moving off to one.

So, I follow the college “scene” as a result. To that end, I this morning read about a stunning decline in college enrollment (article here). Since 2011, the number of students going to college has gone down. The view is that college tuition hikes, which have greatly surpassed inflation for a long time, has really made college unaffordable for many.

I’m not surprised, given that private college costs over $250,000 these days, leaving many students with a ridiculous amount of debt that will be very difficult to pay off unless they get some parental help or tuition forgiveness or enter certain jobs in finance.

Honestly, I think the smart road is to enter a state university’s honors program, save money, do very well, and set yourself up for graduate school. IMO, here is why:

  • In many circles, the college degree has become commoditized. It instead is about graduate school, whether you go and where you go. A second degree isn’t a panacea. If you’re focused on being a start-up founder or a coder, for example, I think graduate school isn’t needed. But, for many other fields, including mainstream business, law, medicine, public policy and education, a graduate degree can be very differentiating. Not the only one, but it can be a useful one
  • I agree with a guidance counselor who said to one of my children: “It is better to get a 4.0 GPA from a no-name school than a 3.2 from a Big Name school.” Many lives ago, I was in charge of recruiting for Bain & Company in Asia. That is the screen that we applied. What you accomplished at college was eminently more important than where you went
  • When I decided to leave management consulting and target something in tech., I looked up potential contacts in the online databases at my college, b-school and Bain. I wanted to find people who had graduated a few years ahead of me to ask them about their tech. jobs, as I wanted to see if those career paths could be a fit. No joke, but 90%+ of the people to whom I sent cold emails were from my b-school’s database. And, no joke, 100% of them got back to me. Now, in my college’s database, there were many people in academia, medicine, social activism, government, law, etc. But, there were very few people in business and even less in technology
  • Among a tight circle of friends who went to various b-schools, we all agree that b-school had significantly great impact on our careers than where we went to college

As I’ve written before, college is the beginning of one’s adult life. It’s about the hard work, good choices, and sound values that you bring to it. So, find a place where you fit and do well. Save on college tuition, if you can.

So, to my college-bound children and their friends: Congratulations! Have fun, but keep working. You’re now in a new race, and the clock was just reset.

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