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10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known in High School

Posted on February 7, 2014

In our culture today, almost nothing is expected of our youth until after they reach adulthood, that glorious day that we have held up for decades, the day one graduates from college. It’s the beautiful day in which all young people are supposed to magically stop wasting all their time, blowing all their money, get their first job, start saving for retirement, start paying their own cell phone bill, car insurance, health insurance, food, rent, and begin paying off that little mountain of student loan debt. They are expected to do this with a perfect job that was going to be handed to them upon graduation. Instead, record numbers are back living with their parents, in debt up to their eyeballs, unemployed or underemployed and completely disillusioned.

If I could go back and advise my younger self, these are ten of the first things I would say.

1. Don’t let anyone rush you into a decision. I learned a long time ago that if someone is trying to rush you into a decision with the hollow threat, you should usually say no. You are going to miss the train and there will never be another one, people will often say. Or this is the last time it’s ever going to be on sale, the salesman says. You need to go to college right away or you will never go, and you will be forever banished to a life of poverty! Wise decisions aren’t made in a rushed, wild panic. This is especially the case when high school students are making important decisions about their lives that will have long lasting implications.

2. Start backwards. Everyone says that you should go to college and then figure out what you want to do the rest of your life. I think students should work until they figure out what they want to do, and only go to college if you absolutely have to for your particular field. Limit your risk. Get an entry level job in the field you want to go into and see if you can stick it out for a year. If you don’t like it and decide to change your mind, you have a pocket full of cash that you’ve saved up over that year instead of 20 grand in student loan debt. Plus you have some job experience.

Ask yourself what you want to spend the rest of your life doing? This is not an easy question and can take years to figure out. If you don’t know for sure, don’t rush off to college and get into debt up to your eyeballs before you have any sort of plan. That would be foolish.  If you don’t have a clear goal, or endpoint in mind, then that needs to be first priority. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to figure it out. Remember, don’t let anyone pressure you! I was delivering a dryer to a lady about a year ago who had been pressured into law school by her family. She never finished, got married, had a child, and is not at home with 200k of student loan debt. Two hundred thousand dollars. Give yourself time to wrestle with what you really want to do.

3. Stay out of debt. If you are a high school student right now, hopefully you don’t have any debt. Keep it that way as long as possible. 80 years ago, taking on a little debt to get a college degree was usually a fantastic investment. It almost assured a person a great job and a bright future. Because of this, everyone was encouraged to go to college to get the education that would be this magical ticket to success. Then, over the past 80 years, the world has changed beyond anyone’s possible imagination. The internet has revolutionized people’s access to information and you can now learn almost anything you want from anywhere in the world. The internet has upended the marketplace and allows anyone with a product or a service to reach enormous amounts of potential customers, often for free thanks to websites like Craigslist. The internet has exposed students to a world of possible career paths and is slowly destroying the barriers-to-entry in almost of them. And yet, the advice for young students has not changed. Everyone is to go to college after high school.

All the while the price of a college education has increased 1140% since 1978 thanks largely to unlimited, easy access to student loans that the government is doling out. This, coupled with a very poor, and rapidly changing employment market has caused record enrollment over the past few years. This has caused increased competition for fewer and fewer jobs leading many college graduates to be unemployed or underemployed for years following graduation. So, in summary, a bad job market is driving a record number of college students to take out huge amounts of loans that must be repaid, all to compete for fewer jobs that have wages that are either flat or are decreasing. It’s a bubble and it’s going to pop very soon. Everyone but the computer programmers, a handful of engineers and healthcare professionals are going to get the shaft. These students are basically buying homes right before the bubble is going to burst except they absolutely cannot walk away from student loans. They follow you to your grave.

Stay out of debt.

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