Is College a Waste of Time and Money?

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Is college a waste of time and money?

I was talking to a young man named Andrew at a barbecue this weekend. He told me that he had just finished college and that he was excited about starting his career as a fireman.  He told me he wanted to be a fireman ever since he was 5 years old.

I congratulated Andrew for finishing college and for landing his dream job.  Then I asked Andrew if a college degree would be helpful in his career as a fireman or in landing the job in the first place.  He said no and that he could have been hired without the degree.  I asked Andrew why he went to college if he knew that from the start.  He said he wanted the experience and that he enjoyed it.

is college a waste of time and money

Huh?  You want to have fun…go to Disneyland…it’s a lot cheaper.  What the heck….buy a 3 day pass.  Splurge.   You’ll still come out ahead.

This kid just finished “having fun” with $150,000 of his parent’s money for crying out loud.  Was his fun worth the effort his parents will have to invest to recreate that cash? Did he ever consider ways of getting that degree (that he didn’t really need) for less money?  No.  Selfish if you ask me.

On top of that, he could have spent those four years at work saving lives, gaining experience and advancing his career.

My experience tells me that college, as an experience, is over-rated.  Yes it’s fun.  Sometimes it’s way too much fun and students leave having acquired bad financial habits unless you take active steps to teach your college kid the financial facts of life . But is the social aspect of college a game changer?  No way.  Is the “experience” really unique and priceless?  Not in my book.

College is one of many experiences and it has it’s pros and cons.  When you say yes to college you say no to something else.  Don’t get me wrong.  Depending on what you study and what you want your career to look like, college might be a requirement.  I could have never had the career I’ve had so far if I didn’t get a degree.

But the driver has to be what comes next.  College as a stand alone product is just about worthless.

My bottom line is that college might be a waste for you or your children.  It depends why they want to go and what they plan to do after they get their degree.  If you plan to do something that doesn’t require a degree, don’t waste your time.  Spend your time, energy and money on technical training.  Invest in yourself in a way that will really pay off for you and those around you.  And don’t forget to visit Disneyland… deserve it.

Do you think college is a good idea for everyone no matter what?  Why?






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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

P.O August 6, 2015 at 4:49 AM

I am currently attending a college and I do think that the General Education courses are an utter waste of my time and resources. To give some context I will take the time to explain a few things.
To begin, I want to be a professional illustrator for things such as editorial work, children’s books, book covers, etc. I thought going to college would allow me to learn and refine my artistic skills to a level where I would be able to get jobs in this field. However, I instead must take a slew of gen ed courses instead of focusing on anything art related. These are courses that I have already taken in high-school for 4 years before I attended college. These are courses that have no relevance to my desired career choice they offer nothing to me whatsoever, yet they are still required.
What the hell is this going on? What does Algebra have to do with getting a job as an Illustrator? I feel like I’m the only kid at my college that isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid.
At this point I’m strongly considering dropping out, because I realize that the entire college scene today is nothing more than a useless repository for money and resources that feeds on the dreams and aspirations of misled kids.
I don’t know what to do anymore, maybe I should just quit on my dream and get a desk job like every other person on the street. At this point I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.


Neal Frankle, CFP ® August 6, 2015 at 6:22 AM

Thanks. I totally understand your frustration but I suggest you take a deep breath before doing anything. Why not interview some professionals in the field and ask them what they think? What is their take on the best way to get into the industry? School was a waste of time for me too for the most part but without it I could not have had access to the opportunities which were so important later on.


Olivia August 18, 2014 at 4:42 AM

Something you touched on is critical for this discussion, what do you want to do for a living? That determines your course. I know a research librarian in a community college. She really thinks many of the kids should get a job first so that they would 1) appreciate what college is and don’t blow it off, 2) have some idea what they want to do with their lives.

I was a graphic designer and college was essential for skills I needed, plus the degree got a foot in the door for a job. My dad was a sculptor, and even though he had a full scholarship, he found the education was too broad, (so he quit). He did better through an apprenticeship and taking individual classes from other artists. The funny thing was, he was able to teach at a college level, do occupational sculpture therapy and teach at summer kid’s programs, but would have needed a degree to teach in a school system. My uncle painted and taught middle school for years to make a living. He has a degree. So it really depends.


mimi March 7, 2013 at 10:29 PM

I strongly believe that college is a waste of time and money.


TK October 26, 2012 at 11:29 PM

College is a waste. Save yourselves and go to work now. Trust me, it can be done. I’m living that story and very successful at what I do.


addie July 8, 2012 at 5:01 PM

I would like to express such decisions can not be made based on financial reasons. Most of us in the United States make decisions of this level based on financial reasons. College for me wasn’t just where I learned basic understanding of my degree but also learned how to teach myself, for this reason alone college was a good investment. I also like to mention while if you want to work for the corporate world college is necessary but if you want to be entrepreneur it isn’t necessary to go and get a 4yr degree 2yrs basic business is good. I will tell you this I thought I knew how to manage and run a business before I went to college. But after taking a few finances courses and management courses I was far better at applying them into my current business. I learned you don’t always have to pay top dollar to get a quality education you just have to apply it to yourself.


rita June 8, 2012 at 7:13 PM

Trust me, i went 5 years to a community college, and I have an associates degree in human services. they lied to me, I was told i was going to be able to be a social worker, then i found out i needed a 6 year degree, so I said screw it. I went on to be an house cleaner, and ive been doing it for ten years and make $25 an hour being my own boss, not bad in todays economy! I wasted my money to hear all this ” bs” from the communist professors, they are all anti- American, and anti-God. If your a Conservative, you, like me, would definetly not fit in there. Its a wast e of time and money, plus half thetime kids go there to get drunk, and do dope. I cant be bothered with that nonsense. look up ” The college conspiracy” good film to watch. Most milllionaires dont have college degrees, remember” Bill Gates”? He quit college. take care.


Johnny April 25, 2010 at 9:22 PM

Common sense will tell you that firemen don’t need college degrees. Putting out fires is a hands on acquired SKILL. Four years in a classroom will not give you this skill, although i’m sure some institution might try to create a degree in “fire science” or some nonsense like that scam some poor suckers out of their money. You could always try being a fireman first and go to college second, I mean seriously what is the hurry?


parkine April 7, 2010 at 6:10 PM

There are lots of job in the
fire department system that do require a degree.
From education to the state level.


CWhitti January 25, 2010 at 7:25 PM

No he should not have wasted so much money! Saving that kind of money in for years plus interest…Andy would be rich by now…with a career! College is just a big scam to take all of our money! And millions of us fall for it!!!


Neal June 3, 2009 at 8:28 AM

Excellent points My Journey.

I agree. In retrospect, college is usually a good idea. I just didn’t like this kid’s attitude.


My Journey June 3, 2009 at 8:10 AM


Interesting post…My brother followed this guy’s exact route! He graduated with a degree (took him 5) in exercise phsyilogy (I can’t spell it nevertheless understand it) and then became FDNY. While I am proud of him, I prefer not to think about what the hell he is doing at work.

In the end, I think the guy you were talking to was either an idiot (don’t have to be smart to get through most colleges) or immature. The experiences one receive in college can shape who you are and what you believe in.

Further, and to reiterate, most major fire departments give extra points on the test (I think you are out in Cali so I am sure there are some signficant tests) to those with degrees. So, it is very possible his dream would have dissappeared without that degree.

Lastly, MOST firefighters do their 20 and are out! Meaning they can retire (well might I add) in 20 years and now your BBQ Buddy will have a degree to rely on.

My Journey


Kevin June 2, 2009 at 10:40 AM


It’s hard to answer your question with a number. My perspective is limited to a few courses, at one college, in a “hard” practical subject, so I’m not sure how representative my classes are. Grades are supposed to be objective performance evaluations, free of value judgments, so they aren’t a very good metric for interest or effort.

If pressed for a rough guesstimate, subject to all those qualifications, I might say that maybe 50% of an incoming class is “along for the ride” as you say. That figure drops as a cohort progresses due to a combination of students getting their act together (good) and dropping out (tragic).


Neal June 2, 2009 at 10:47 AM

Great input. I never would have thought it would be so high….fascinating!


Neal May 31, 2009 at 5:27 PM


Thanks. Great insight.I’m wondering how high the “slacker factor” is in college these days?

Out of 100 students… many are there for the ride?


Kevin May 31, 2009 at 5:24 PM

One comment from the perspective of a college professor. A lot of students these days exhibit a lack of motivation to learn. This manifests itself in lame excuses, cheating, whining about grades, and so on. When a student has a passion for what they’re learning, they don’t act out this way; they’d rather exert energy on soaking up more knowledge.

I do believe that everyone should have access to college, and that a college degree can enrich someone’s life even if it doesn’t contribute directly to their career.

However I would respectfully ask that parents avoid strong-arming uninterested students into attending college. I don’t think they get very much out of the experience. It’s a waste of your money, makes my job harder, and diverts resources away from the motivated students.


Neal Frankle May 30, 2009 at 11:10 AM


I’d have to say that you’ve raised a number of good points too.

I can’t deny your arguments – and everyone else – are strong.

As long as the decision is made from an “awake” state, I would have to agree. What got me was the rather flip answer I got.

I just think that these decisions have to be made very consciously and also, there are more sides to the story than one.

You’ve all made me really consider my position and I appreciate it.


Abby May 29, 2009 at 3:49 PM

I don’t think everyone has to go to college, but like another commenter wrote, I do think that everyone should have the opportunity to do so.

Part of the opportunity isn’t purely financial – it’s having space in your life to take the risk. Even if you can find the cash, once you have a mortgage and kiddos, time can be scarce. And, let’s face it, plenty of people can’t find the cash at that point, either. Even if Andrew took on debt at 18, that’s probably (slightly) better than taking on a similar debt load at 35.

If my son came to me and said he wanted to pursue a career path that did not require college, I’d still ask him to give college a chance – though I’d probably steer him towards community college at that point. I can imagine that, especially if Andrew’s parents had been saving since he was small, they might have pushed him to make that choice just in case he discovered that he really wanted to be, say, a heart surgeon instead.


Neal May 29, 2009 at 3:25 PM


You make some pretty strong points. Wow…

I agree that society is better off with a better educated citizenry.

On one hand, I also agree that it would be great if college were free. ON the other hand, I’m glad there is a cost because I think that encourages people to value it.

Having said that, I know we both agree that the cost is out of control and way too high.

I completely agree that firefighters benefit by having a college degree. I actually think they are a pretty smart lot and I hope my post didn’t disparage them. I have a great deal of respect for these folks. They do so much for all of us.

Andy said the degree won’t help him. I take him at his word.

I did have to work really hard to get through college….it’s true. I didn’t have a long conversation with Andy but I just didn’t get the feeling that he had any consideration for the sacrifice his parents made – which I know personally to be very high.

As you know, my daughter is starting college very soon. We spent a great deal of time discussing the options and weighing the costs and benefits. I know you did this too.

But I see too many kids that take this for granted. They seem to think that their job is to get into the school and once they complete that, it’s the parents’ job to find a way to pay for it – regardless of the cost.

I don’t buy into that and it was that sentiment that I was reacting too. Looks like I didn’t explain that clearly enough.

I believe that major expenses have to be mindfully…that includes cars, colleges, weddings, homes etc. Too often they are made emotionally and we, as parents, get guilted into going along for the ride.

Your response really made me think and I appreciate it Dana.


Dana Markiewicz May 29, 2009 at 1:50 PM

First, I think that everyone who wants to go to college should be able to go to college. Which college-community, public, private, etc.- is another question which clearly depends on desires and, unfortunately, income. I do believe that for those who want it, a college education can help students grow and mature intellectually, socially, and politically, as well as helping them prepare for work and career. Our society benefits. That said, obviously a college education is not the only predictor of a person’s “success.”
Second, prospective students and parents should not have to worry about what college will cost. It is a measure of how twisted our society’s priorities are that we are in this mess.
Third, Neal, I wish that you had not had to go through what you went through. Nobody should have to go through that.
Fourth, maybe the student you mentioned was favored for his firefighter position because of his B.A. Being a firefighter is not just a job for musclemen–firefighters have to operate complicated equipment, make good judgments quickly, and have many organizational and mental skills to do their job well.
All best–Dana


Neal May 29, 2009 at 8:09 AM


You could be right. I don’t know. Andy told me the college wouldn’t help him but what you are saying makes sense.

Again, I just think we have to make the decision about college very mindfully and this was a good way (I hope) to introduce the question.

I don’t think college is a no-brainer. What about you? Do you think everyone should go?


Neal May 29, 2009 at 7:59 AM


I appreciate your comments. I have to think about it……

I certainly don’t want to be hurtful – I have no right to do that. I’ll go back and clean that up.

My main goal is to really pose the question – what is the purpose of getting a college degree.

In my opinion, it’s not about fun or even a life experience. You can get both of those things elsewhere. For me, just me, college is about learning something that will help you support yourself going forward. That’s it. I know many people disagree with me and that’s ok. I could be wrong.

I think my response could be a result of how hard I had to work to get through college and how crucial it was that I make a living as soon as I graduated. I had to get out in 4 years and I had to have a marketable skill.

Had I been interested in being a firefighter, I would never have gone to school and maybe today I’d be a fire captain…who knows.

I also know, as a parent, how difficult it is to raise the cash to send a kid to school so I take this entire subject very seriously.

If my child told me they went to college so they could enjoy themselves, I’d be very upset.
(If I was paying for it.)

I respect your opinion and you for putting yourself through school…


rgurien May 29, 2009 at 7:55 AM

Andy will be much better situated as a fire fighter with a college degree. He is more likely to advance through the ranks and into management with a college degree than without one. And if he decides he doesn’t like being a fire fighter and wants to try a new profession, a college degree will help him maximize his entry-level earning potential.


Nate @ Debt-free Scholar May 29, 2009 at 5:58 AM

I disagree. I do not think the answer is as simple as “Yes, he should go to college.”, or “No, he should not go to college.”

After all, how do you know he spent $150,000 of his parent’s money? Maybe he payed his own way. That is what I am doing.

Second, their is a big difference between enjoying learning and going to Disneyland. Granted, depending what degree he got and how devoted he was to his studying, he might have simply partied the whole time.

To conclude, I do not agree or disagree with you as to whether or not he was right to go to college – there is not enough information available to make the decision. However, I do think that you were too judgmental and made a hurtful statement (What if he reads this?) without supporting it enough.



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