Choosing the Right Education

College DegreeI recently saw a Forbes article on the best value colleges.  I think there is a discussion about college that every parent should have with their kids.  In my area it is an assumption that every kid will go to college and often the best college that will take them regardless of the cost.  I think you should only educate yourself to the point where you will benefit from it.

Financial versus personal benefits

What I mean by benefit is this: you will gain a financial return from your investment in education or you will gain a personal return.  I made $8/hr at DQ, but after college I made more than twice on my first full-time job with prospects of future increases which happened when I got my second job; this is a financial return.  Right now I am in a Chinese course for personal development.  This is a personal benefit, but if I become fluent then it could open up career opportunities making it a financial benefit.

When making decisions about education you need to treat financial and personal decisions separately, although it is likely hard to separate them since you want to do what you love.  If going to college is going to put you in debt with a low salary that only permits you to eat rice and beans from your only bowl in your room that is shared with three others then you shouldn’t choose that choice.  If however you believe that that job is so thrilling it can make up for all the financial shortcomings then you could pursue that, but I’m guessing it won’t.  When weighing a personal benefit then think of it as a hobby.  Are you willing to pay to learn Chinese, pottery, or get a degree that will have no financial benefit and if so how much?

Selecting a college

If you decide college is the way to go then you need to go about choosing the right one.  Take into consideration the field you want to go into, the cost of tuition and living expenses, and job prospects.  I only applied to schools in California because I could get in-state tuition rates and really, do I want to live outside of California?  I chose Berkeley because they have a great undergraduate business program, tuition was not outrageous, and job prospects after school were pretty good.  I switched to Operations Research and Management Science (Industrial Engineering without Physics) which fortunately was a good program because most of Berkeley’s programs are. With prices half that of private schools it is not a surprise that it was ranked first in Forbes’ list.

Alternatives to college

Straight to work

Well guess what, you don’t have to go to college!  Here are 50 jobs that make $50,ooo or more without a degree.  If you are very entrepreneurial you could try to start a business.  One of the cheapest businesses is anything to do with the web.  I pay $100 a year to host three websites and hopefully one will succeed.  You could start a drop shipping site where you take orders and pass them along.  Starting a blog is really, really easy, so you don’t have to learn technical skills, but say you did want to become a programmer but didn’t have 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars to burn, what then?  Well you could self study or join the hottest new thing – bootcamps.

Programming bootcamps

You may have heard of these intense courses and I believe they are a good thing.  In the span of three months you will learn enough programming to land a job and with the right amount of effort and luck, a really good job.  These camps are springing up all over major cities and could be worth it.  My roommate did it and now is a front-end developer.  Despite the many successes do not sign up blindly for something that costs over $10,000.  Try free learning like Codecademy first.

Online courses

I am a proponent of online courses and have taken many since graduating college.  All of my courses have been for data science.  I have taken courses which are priced from $15 to $695.  I recommend starting with a lower priced course to learn the basics.  You can find many at Udemy and they often run sales.  For a $500 I got 45 minutes a week with a mentor who would answer questions and look at my projects.  Finally, for $695, which my company paid for,  I get an online course through UCI Extension which has been alright, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Hidden gems

Now why go along the beaten path when you could be young and free?  Please don’t take this as your money management philosophy.

  • If you have a really good idea maybe you could try The Thiel Fellowship.  You will get $100,000 and two years to pursue your idea.  Sure, it is tough, but worth a shot.
  • If you are an English speaker you could try to teach English, though positions are tough to get without a degree.
  • Australia welcomes young people for two years.  You can get a holiday work visa if you are between 18 and 30 which allows you to work at a business for six months tops then you have to move on.

Post college

If you are done with college, maybe you are looking for something new or maybe you want to get paid more.  You could still consider bootcamps if programming is something you are into.  However, the traditional route is going to be a master’s degree, speciality, or Phd.

  • A master’s degree can be completed fairly quickly (1-2 years) and then you should have more opportunities.  An MBA is one option I am looking into as I am still interested in business if you didn’t notice.
  • A specialty like a lawyer, doctor, or therapist is going to cost you A LOT.  If you are set on it that is fine, it will take years and lots of money, but when you come out you should have a decent career.  As for me doing that type of work it would push back my early retirement plans since these programs require taking on A LOT of debt.
  • I am not an expert in this field, but it seems like quite a life choice to pursue a Phd and you won’t make much during that period.  I love learning, but I don’t know if I want to have to make discoveries.


As for the route I am taking, so far it has been a more traditional one.  I did get to go to Singapore for a summer with a work holiday visa and that was a great experience.  I do have a hidden gem coming up and that will be the subject of a future article once everything is sorted out.  For now my career is going pretty well but I am considering a bootcamp for data science or an MBA.  Either of these choices could result in increasing my salary over $100,000 but there are costs to them, so I am still weighing the decision.  I hope I have shown you that you should give education a financial shakedown before enrollment.

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