by Vicky Monroe
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.
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!
Vicky Monroe is a freelance personal finance and lifestyle writer. When she’s not busy writing about her favorite money saving hacks or tinkering with her budget spreadsheets, she likes to travel, garden, and cook healthy vegetarian meals.