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Why I Didn’t Go To College

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Why I Didn't Go To College

I have a confession to make—I didn’t go to college. I’m a bit embarrassed that my highest level of education is high school, so I don’t talk about it very often. I worry that people won’t trust a personal finance writer who isn’t college-educated. 

It was always expected that my sister and I would go to college. Because my dad was a first-generation college graduate, he strongly believed in the value of higher education and wanted us to pursue it. 

However, my parents didn’t anticipate how much the cost of college would rise over the years. They didn’t set aside enough money for our education, so my sister had to take out over $100,000 of student loans to cover tuition at her private college. My parents offered to pay off her loans and are still working on them today, eight years after her graduation. 

Watching my parents struggle under the weight of my sister’s student debt gave me pause. It made me rethink the concept of taking out loans to get an education and starting adult life with a negative net worth. Here’s an overview of why I didn’t go to college and a look at whether or not I regret my decision. 

My Parents Offered to Pay for My Education (But Clearly Couldn’t Afford It)

When I started my college search, my parents told me not to worry about the cost of college with promises that they’d pay off my loans. But knowing that they’d committed to pay off six-figures worth of loans for my sister, it was clear they couldn’t afford to send me to college. I didn’t want to put them even further in the hole and force them to delay their retirement. 

I continued with the college search to keep my options open. Unfortunately, my college counselor steered me away from state schools and toward more exclusive, prestigious private colleges. I went to a private all-girls high school with pretty expensive tuition, so he likely assumed money wasn’t an issue for my family. I was too embarrassed to admit I needed to look at more affordable schools, so I only toured and applied to the expensive private colleges he suggested. 

This was a big mistake and something I regret. I should’ve done more research and taken ownership of my college search process. However, I was only 17 and had no idea how the world worked, so I’m willing to forgive my past self!

I imagine this is how many college grads get into crushing student debt. They focus on finding the school of their dreams, ignore the cost, and end up sorely regretting it when they have to start paying back their loans after graduation. 

Why I Backed Out of School

With college decision day looming, I decided on a small private college that allowed students to more or less create their own curriculum. Tuition for just one year was $60,000. My dad went through the process of finding and applying for student loans on my behalf during the summer. 

All that was left to do was sign on the dotted line and get funding for my first semester. But looking at the huge amount of money I was promising to repay made me feel physically ill. I just couldn’t get myself to sign off on it, so I decided to back out of college at the last minute. 

Do I Regret Skipping College?

Instead of going to college, I decided to get a part-time job and take classes at a local writing center to hone my communication skills. The classes were all taught by pretty accomplished published authors. I learned a lot about creative writing and contract work through that writing center, which helped me start my freelance writing business a few years later. 

I’m happy with my career choice, and I don’t think my decision to skip college has cost me many opportunities. Some companies prefer to hire freelancers who have college degrees. But generally, clients focus on my portfolio and my education doesn’t really come up. 

Studies have shown that women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more during their careers than women who didn’t attend college. However, I don’t think I’d be earning much more if I went to college and majored in English. I decided I wanted to become a freelance writer when I was in high school and planned to pursue it after college. I would probably be earning about the same amount of money if I had gone to college, but I’d be buried in student loans. 

Overall, I don’t regret my decision to skip college. Starting work earlier allowed me to save up enough money for a down payment while living with my parents and become a homeowner in my twenties. My partner and I earn enough money to live a comfortable (albeit frugal) lifestyle and meet most of our financial goals. 

While we all wish we had more money, I’m content with where I am in my career. I’m sure my income will increase over time as I gain more experience and raise my hourly rate. 

Wrapping Up

I’d love to hear about your experience with higher education. Did you go to college? Why or why not? If you graduated with student debt, what strategies did you use to pay it off quickly? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below! 

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8 Comments

  • Reply Steveark |

    I’m assuredly one of your oldest readers and went to college when the tuition for our largest state university was less than $500 a semester! My parents easily cash flowed my college cost that was less than $10,000 for a four year degree. Paychecks were smaller back then but it still was affordable for middle class families. My brother and I were both on the far end of the bell curve in terms of math and science aptitude so it made sense for us to get technical degrees, mine in chemical engineering. That’s a vocational degree that has zero liberal arts courses, no history, English or philosophy courses required. I decided at the age of 13 to pick that major and never wavered. I had a great career doing work I loved. I think you were brilliant to make the decision you made, writing does not require a four year degree, it requires having a life and being engaged and lots of practice. In my case a vocational degree made sense, in yours it did not. I hope your story helps other young adults make better choices. Great post!

  • Reply Suzanne @ Super Saving Tips |

    Please don’t be embarrassed that you didn’t go to college. I consider myself highly educated and I didn’t go to college. In my case, I was taking advanced placement courses in high school and fully anticipated attending college. But during my senior year, I dealt with some mental health struggles that ultimately prevented me from going. After some time to deal with those issues, I went straight into the working world, where I learned a tremendous amount. It sounds like you learned some valuable lessons in not going to college. Having a learning mindset can be just as important as formal education. And now you’re helping others to continue learning with your personal finance writing!

    • Reply Vicky Monroe |

      Thank you for saying that! I’m working on shifting my mindset and being more appreciative of my strengths than critical of my perceived weaknesses like my lack of college education. I really like your perspective that a learning mindset is what’s important. It’s true that there are so many ways to learn and stay informed now thanks to the internet. Health issues also factored into my decision to skip college, so I can relate. It sounds like you’ve made the best of the cards you were dealt. I appreciate you sharing your experience, it’s given me some new perspective!

  • Reply Cwaltz |

    I attended college as an adult. I used the GI bill which means I paid $100 a month for 12 months while active duty and in return the Navy covered my bill for college after I left. I told my kids I would not be co signing loans for college. They we’re/are able to live at home rent free until 23 with the insistence that $300(older kids)/$500( younger kids) go into savings each month. That money was utilized to launch them and paid for their first cars and they were told could pay for college. We discussed community college and how if you maintain a 2.5 and transfer to state college no one even knows that you had two years of your school for what a year at state school costs. In the end as of now, none of them have used saved money for college.

  • Reply Mary |

    Hi. It sounds like you made the best decision you could for yourself and I wish you didn’t feel embarrassed by not going to college. I think what we’re seeing now is that college isn’t the only path to success. I have a lot of feelings/thoughts about college and student debt, but not the patience to write it all out. LOL I’m older than you and I did go to college and graduate school. I had to take our loans as my parents always said they weren’t paying for college for any of us kids (I’m one of 6). I ended up with a total just under $50,000. I really feel for your parents paying your sister’s loans. Certainly their choice, but I feel strongly that our parents need to look out for their retirement first and hose of us that take on loans have some responsibility to pay them back (if not total responsibility). It’s a flawed and broken system for sure and I hope there will be greater education around what taking on loans (education loans, car loans, mortgages etc) means for present day life and saving for retirement. I knew nothing when I took on my loans, but at least I had some inkling somewhere not to rack up even more (folks ending up with hundreds of thousands of debt just mystifies me). It’s been 24 years for me and my debt is finally gone and I’m really saving for retirement now. I can’t say I regret college or the loans and it would be a waste of energy to dwell on what’s done, but I’m a big talker with my nieces and nephews (no kids myself) about money, debt, financial literacy. There were times I wish my parents had contributed some mostly because I was the only one to go that far in school (one sibling got a 2 year degree and another went to college at 40, but my other 3 siblings don’t have any college and are just fine people in their chosen fields) and my parents have shelled out quite a bit of money to my siblings for weddings and houses (all are married except me and I have no plans to marry or buy a house). But, don’t even get my started on what some of us singles miss out on in a society that favors married, home owning folks. LOL

    I appreciate all you shared.

    • Reply Vicky Monroe |

      I really appreciate hearing your experience! I totally agree that loans should be mostly the responsibility of the student who took them out. With Parent Plus loans and parents’ income being considered so heavily during the financial aid process, there’s this assumption baked into the system that parents will help. But not everyone has the means to do that, including my parents. They don’t have any retirement savings and really need to be focusing on themselves at this stage in their lives.

      I appreciate you saying that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed! Totally agree that college isn’t the only path to success. I wish it wasn’t so much of a cultural expectation and am glad you’re passing on your financial knowledge to the next generation so they’ll be more informed when they’re making these decisions! I’m glad that you don’t regret your own educational path and can focus on retirement savings with those loans out of the way. It sounds like you borrowed a very reasonable amount of money… I really feel for those who have $100,000+ worth of debt from undergrad. I would’ve been on that path myself if I hadn’t skipped college.

  • Reply Cindy Brick |

    I am a new reader, so maybe you could help clear this up —

    So you’re still paying off student loans.
    But you never went to college?
    Were the loans from your creative writing classes?

    • Reply Vicky Monroe |

      I actually don’t have any student loans, sorry for the confusion! Since my main reason for not going to college was to avoid debt, I thought readers here might be interested in hearing about my experience, especially if they’re deciding whether or not to go to college themselves.

So, what do you think ?