I graduated from Texas Christian University with a bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising and a minor in French. Two years later, I was working as a writer for Williams-Sonoma, and thereafter spent the remainder of my career in writing and journalism--making my college education largely null and void.
One could argue that there is worth in a liberal arts education, even if the larger focus of my studies went unused, and that might be true. But I can't help but wonder if it was worth $100,000-the total sum spent on my college education by the time I graduated in 2007.
Many feel the same. Depending on the poll you read, half to three-quarters of Americans believe their college educations weren't worth the cost. And it's not hard to wonder why. I spent $2,700 per class to take "Drawing for Beginners," "Fashion Illustration," and "The History of Costume." I probably would have been better off reading a book.
And yet, like many students, I was told that college is what I'd have to do to get a good job and earn a good living.
Don't go to college
Individuals who complete a bachelor's degree make $23,972 more annually than those with only a high-school diploma. And perhaps that's why many of our parents encouraged us to go out and get an education. But is it really the degree that's responsible for our success? Or is the ability to pay for a degree?
It's true that, statistically speaking, our nation's most successful candidates are highly educated. According to a well-cited Kauffman survey, 95.1 percent of entrepreneurs earned bachelor's degrees, and 47 percent of them received advanced degrees. 85 percent of Forbes' 400 richest people in the US have a bachelor's degree. Of US presidents, all but nine held bachelor's degrees (and most of them had law degrees).
But it's also true that our nation's most successful individuals come from wealth. "Advantages beget advantages," says an article from the American Psychological Association. "Those who are born in the upper-class echelons are likely to remain in the upper class. And high-earning entrepreneurs disproportionately originate from highly educated and well-to-do families." Or as one Quartz article eloquently puts it: "Entrepreneurs don't have a special gene for risk. They come from families with money."
This is not exactly an inspiring message. When I set out to write this article I expected to find several careers that would allow those who can't afford college, or who don't want to take on debt, to earn a six-figure income. It's much more discouraging to find that your future monetary success comes less from your personal effort and more from your wealthy upbringing.
And yet, some of those wealthy individuals are working to change that. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg led the charge, leaving school to start Virgin Records, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. Their companies no longer require degrees of...