Are Most Degrees Useless?

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Like most people, I thought most millionaires are CEOs or top corporate executives. Go big or go home, right?

But then I read this article in the Wall Street Journal and found out I was wrong.

Apparently, only a measly 6-7% of the world’s millionaires are CEOs or executives.

Ok, I thought, so what degree is the most likely to get you into the millionaire club?

Probably med school, right? Or maybe law? Or a business degree?

Nope, nope, and Nope.

Turns out, the most common degree amongst millionaires is…

Engineering!

Followed by…NO DEGREE AT ALL!

*cue record scratch*

Wait, what? Having sloughed through 14 years in the engineering trenches before becoming financially independent, I knew engineering was lucrative, but I didn’t know it was that lucrative.

But there it was, staring back at me from the Telegraph. The degree held by 22% of the wealthiest people in the world is engineering! And a whopping 32% of this group had no degrees!

The most common path to millionaire-status isn’t through becoming a big shot CEO or corporate executive. It’s either through engineering or forgoing a degree completely and working your way up into management. Which, if you think about it, makes sense. Since there is only 1 CEO per company and a handful of top executives, there are way more engineers and managers.

So, if engineering is the most valuable degree and you can make it up the management ladder with no degree, are most college/university degrees useless?

Our readers seem to think so, with the number of people in the comments responding to Wanderer’s post about student debt:

“I’ve encouraged my children to look at trade schools” — Shaun Undem

“I imagine you’ll see a trend among the next generation (probably after Gen Z) stop seeing college as the go-to choice after high school.” – Bryan

“In America, going to college is now a “lifestyle” statement, and has almost nothing to do with education.” –Bill

“I dropped out of university….Got an entry level job as a data entry clerk and worked my way up… Retired at 44 with a 7 figure FAT FIRE ETF portfolio and 6 figure income from that portfolio. I wouldn’t go back to uni even if they paid me.” –Dave

“We need a new mechanism or “rule-book” to re-educate our kids as to how to properly vet a college or university “product” in an effort to give them the best results ROI long term.” –ImmigrantOnFIRE

So then why are we still so brainwashed into paying for an expensive degree?

Back in the 1940s, less than 5% of the U.S population had college degrees, so they were your golden tickets to the good life. But now, with nearly 40% of the population holding degrees, college graduates are no longer rare, and not only that, tuition has skyrocketed. Is the next generation simply throwing their (and their parents) money away by getting a degree? Or even worse, going into massive amounts of debt that they’ll never be able to pay back?

Now, I know some of you will say a degree isn’t just about finding a job or earning a big fat pay-check. And to that, I say, hey I didn’t know Musk, Bezos, or Buffetts’ kids are reading this blog! If you have rich parents or a rich spouse to support you, then sure, use your degree to “expand your mind” or “philosophize about life.” Bank of mom/dad/spouse will foot the bill even if you have no hope of ever paying them back.

For the rest of us, a degree is a means to an end—a job. And if the degree doesn’t get us a higher paying job in that field, why should we pay for it?

Wouldn’t we be better off paying for a less expensive trades certification and start earning money in just 2 years, like our reader BlueCollarFIRE ?

Or be like my friend Alan Donegan from Rebel Business School, who managed to build a lucrative business without a university degree and retired early?

I get that not everyone can run their own successful business. It’s a ton of work, and in many cases more work than having a full-time job. It’s also doesn’t have a proven, reproducible blueprint to follow, and results may vary. Since most of us go through the public school system, our brains are trained to follow more of a straight-and-narrow path, so being an entrepreneur doesn’t come naturally to us.

A degree might be worthwhile, but before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on it, consider this:

Can you find a paid internship as an undergrad?

If the answer is no (and getting paid in books, food, or *snicker* exposure doesn’t count), that’s a very strong sign that there isn’t enough demand in the job market for that degree. A paid internship proves that the skill you’re working towards is a hot commodity. High demand and low supply equal high wages. That’s where you want to be.

Until someone finds a way to pay for rent and groceries with hugs and feelings, money should be your #1 priority with it comes to getting a degree.

The best thing about my degree in computer engineering is the co-op/internship program. Even though it stretched out my undergrad from 4 to 5 years, I was able to pay for my tuition and housing costs with the money I earned while in school and I learned invaluable interviewing skills. By the time I graduated, I had 2 years of work experience and this helped me beat the competition and land a full-time job.

POT score

POT stands for Pay Over Tuition, and it’s the metric I used when comparing different degrees to pick a major (for more details about the POT formula, check out chapter 4 in our book).

What I found surprising when researching that chapter was that the highest earning degrees like doctor or lawyer don’t offer the best value. In fact, because of the length of time and cost associated with those programs, an associate degree in the trades, like plumbing, turn out to be a much better investment. That totally went against everything that my culture teaches me, which is that if you’re not a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, you may as well be a prostitute. Hey, at least the prostitute didn’t have any student debt, MOM!

If you’re going to pay for a degree, make sure it’s worth it. Calculate the POT score of the degree you’re considering before you sell out your hard-earned money.

If your POT score is low and it takes you more than 10 years to pay back your loan, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Conclusion

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. I’m sure you know someone who earned a “worthless” degree and is doing just fine. Great. Good for them. If you want to take that chance, that’s your prerogative. Statistically speaking though, trying to compete in the job market where supply far exceeds demand for your skills is a losing financial gamble.

Never make financial decisions with your feelings, only with math. Feelings change. Math doesn’t.

If it’s a worthless degree, don’t pay for it. Get a trades certificate or work your way up from an entry level job into management. You’ll save time and money.

What do you think? Are most university/college degrees worthless? Why did you pick your degree or forgo having one?

 

Do You Have a University/College Degree?

Was Your University/College Degree Worth It?

 


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62 thoughts on “Are Most Degrees Useless?”

  1. I have a degree in electronics. Was it worth it? Sure – I got it back in the 80s in the UK when the cost was extremely low. Is it useful now? Not really. Once the electronics industry moved to China (2008), I transitioned into IT. Rather than get an IT degree, I chose the certification path. IT certs are quick and easy to get compared to a degree, and can be inexpensive. My first certification cost me in total about $1500, and subsequent certs cost considerably less. Much better value for money.

  2. I agree that engineering is a very useful, flexible, and profitable degree to get. But, the Telegraph article doesn’t look like it’s mathing shit up very well, and I’m surprised you guys didn’t call that out. For that stat to be meaningful, the number of millionaires would have to be normalized by the number of holders of that particular degree. That goes especially for engineering, since it’s really a category rather than one degree (civil, mech, computer, etc).

  3. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. It’s definitely not for me, anyway! I made decent money as a software engineer, but once I got my degrees, I started getting calls from companies that paid three times as much as what I made before – and the work was more fun. And allowed to achieve FI by 40.

    I think the lesson is to not over pay for a degree. I finished school with no debt, so it was certainly worth it for me!

    On the other hand, if you spend four years and go six figures into debt for a degree that isn’t useful, then that’s not so good.

    But college is really important for some folks, FIRE or not. I have friends who would be really sad if they couldn’t be librarians or elementary school teachers or historians. They don’t make much, but they love what they do – and their jobs require a degree to get through the door. I just wish people would choose paths that didn’t require so much debt along the way.

  4. University is an interesting topic.

    Early University set people up for work in Law, Government, Medicine or Education mainly.

    If you look at Military University/Academies their corps curriculum was to set up Leaders and people who could organize and develop/build and run things effectively.

    The primary focus of education in the Military University/Academy was….. drumroll please……. Engineering.

    Isn’t that an interesting tidbit of information.

  5. Let’s face it – you don’t really learn much in college. All I did (along with 90% of the other students) was cram for tests a day or three before, take said test, and then promptly forget everything you just learned within a week or two. Rinse and repeat a couple of hundred times and, wallah! – you’ve got a college degree. And it never stops – if you want to move up in management you will eventually need an MBA. Now, does the MBA make you a better employee for the company? Nope. Doesn’t do a thing. But your career will go no further than middle management unless you get that MBA. Plus, upper management will wonder what is wrong with you if you don’t strive for more. It’s all about optics. And that’s why we are here on this blog, trying to escape the insanity of it all.

  6. There are a lot of factors, for one thing university degrees are totally free for a lot of engineering students. They were free for both of my kids who became engineers, and also for my business major kid. When college is free its a great choice. I was an engineer who rose to a high level corporate executive role. I didn’t need an MBA, if you’ve got talent you don’t need that credential everywhere, it depends on the corporate culture. I think one reason engineers become wealthy is they understand practical economics and they lean toward analytical versus emotional decision making. Nice post!

    1. I think that’s a good point that a lot of engineers (like me) got partial or full scholarships or could get research jobs on campus pretty easily. We also used to joke that if you paid for your master’s degree, your doing something wrong. There are so many fellowships and most employers (like mine) have tuition reimbursement programs. I think I ended up paying about 10% of the cost of my master’s degree.

  7. Regarding internships, I would add that not only should they be paid, but the pay should be somewhere near the range of what actual new hires earn in that field.

    I had two internships (engineering). One as an undergrad and also one as a graduate student (internships with different companies in unrelated engineering disciplines). In both cases I was paid very similar to what a new hire would make.

  8. if you are going to work for someone, you need the letters behind your name
    if you are going to work for yourself, you don’t need the letters
    best combination, work for yourself and have the letters behind your name

  9. I think what matters more than anything to grow your career and/or as an entrepreneur is the ability and desire to continue learning. If you are willing to admit that you don’t know what you don’t know and are willing to learn, take on new challenges and figure things out – that is the ONLY way that you will really succeed in life.

    And you have to not only learn about the things you need to do your job exceedingly well, but you need to learn about finances as well. There are very few folks that can earn big and not spend big, if they don’t put the time into learning how to manage their own finances.

    So anyways, continuous learning is more important for sure. My degree was worth it. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. I needed it to mature and grow. I needed the degree at that point to get a job out of college and learn at that job. But the degree didn’t make me a millionaire. I did that post-college, because I never stopped learning new things.

    1. Love this comment, couldn’t agree more about continuing to learn, even after college. I basically give myself assignments still. I have a quote I LOVE from Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

  10. College is not for the learning, it’s for the networking. It’s really a ticket to work your way into richer circles and get access to those rolodexes.

    Me and hubs got a *worthless* life sciences degree (I actually graduated and he didn’t) and guess what – using the connections we made (and some uni business courses knowledge) now have a successful business making engineers money.

    I have an resp for the kiddos and I don’t care if they do art history or chemical engineering – they’re gonna be there to meet people (and same if they are rebellious and go to trade school haha (which most of my fam did – it makes just as good money as uni degrees but you trade your body energy and mobility for money, whereas uni degrees you trade your brain energy for money. you’ll be just as rich with a trades cert but you have to deal with coworkers on drugs, and you have less body mobility to enjoy your retirement).

    1. Nicely put. I like the way you analyzed the trade school and degree career paths. I have not looked at it this way.

  11. This was a timely and well considered article. Many young people (and their parents) would be well-served to consider its messages.

  12. I fully agree with the principle of this but I ended up picking Yes in the survey. This is probably because I went to university in Scotland and only had to pay living expenses because the government there paid my tuition.

    American and Canadian students paid a fair amount of money to go there but they told me it was cheaper than going to school in North America. I believed them but figured the difference was like 5 or 10% but I’ve become older and can’t believe what I have since learned. No education is worth those prices. North Americans need to consider a European education!

  13. If you are in medicine, you have to have a degree, and then pass board exams. No way around it. In that sense it was “worth it” for me. My salary is super low compared to my student loan debt, but I’m making massively more than my “useless” degrees (at least I didn’t pay for them! Went to schools with scholarships for those). Also have job security, most of my friends in my old field are still unemployed or barely working.

  14. I was one of those liberal arts majors with seemingly no career prospects– majored in international studies– and I want to add that even if you have a traditionally less lucrative major, all is not lost. I was fortunate to have some scholarships for undergraduate studies and tuition waivers for my graduate degree that kept my education costs low. By keeping education costs low, I was able to pay off my lingering loans within my first year after graduating. I currently work as an IT manager after teaching myself technical skills and make a decent income. Funnily enough, diplomacy skills I learned in my major have been invaluable to navigating people and politics in my workplace 😉 I don’t regret what I chose to study at all– for me, it was far more interesting than studying business or computer science for 4 years (I’ve picked that up as I go anyway) and I use what I learned from my degrees in less obvious ways.

  15. For most degrees (unless you have scholarships) go the community college to university route (stay at home if you can). Some degrees you can get totally at the CC due to the partnerships they have with other universities. I did it 30+ years ago and now my kids are doing it. One will be transferring to a commutable university for accounting (switched from engineering..) and the other is actually in high school but going to the CC earning dual credits. He will graduate with an associates degree and HS diploma. That will cut a year off his engineering degree so he will go to the university for 3 years, also commutable. In the end they will get their degrees without debt as we can easily pay for it.

    Degrees can be good to get in the door but networking and experience take over after that. My wife has a “worthless” sociology degree but worked in quality engineering and has been working as a technical writer for an engineering company. I’m not complaining as it has allowed me to FIRE.

  16. 1. Note that Waterloo Arts/Science degrees cost a staggeringly lower amount (in tuition, if not opportunity cost) than Waterloo CS/Eng degrees: tuition is $7.7k/yr vs $17.1k now. Arts degrees are also a signal, as many others have pointed out, for those of us working for others.

    2. Definitely not enough people do trade school.

    3. But back to the degree thing. Under NAFTA only certain degrees allow Canadians to easily work in the US. With no degree it’s quite hard to work in the US as a Canadian. And working in the US is a lot more lucrative than working in Canada. (But then you’re in the US.)

  17. A “useless” degree won’t make you a millionaire, but it will often help you get your foot in the door so you can work your way up. Employers that previously would have filled an entry level position with a high school grad, will now hire someone with a degree instead. Why not? I costs them the same wage and, as you pointed out, there are many people with university degrees available.

  18. It’s thrift (cheap, cheap 😉), savings, and investing that makes engineers come out on top. I know cuz I are one.

  19. “I dropped out of university….Got an entry level job as a data entry clerk and worked my way up… Retired at 44 with a 7 figure FAT FIRE ETF portfolio and 6 figure income from that portfolio. I wouldn’t go back to uni even if they paid me.” –Dave

    ———

    I got an honourable mention – Woohoo!

    Maybe it’s time I created a blog too. What do you think? 😉

  20. Huh… I find this way of looking at higher education a little unhealthy. By her own admission, FIREcracker spent the best part of her twenties sacrificing her physical and mental health to her career in engineering. I’m truly impressed and happy that she has managed to build a better life for herself, but why insist on pushing the same misery on others? Don’t get me wrong, I think engineering is a great career choice for those who feel drawn to it, but for the rest of us, is it such a good idea to pick a major we won’t enjoy in order to work as a (possibly sub-par) engineer with people who don’t share our interests?

    To my father’s dismay, I made the choice to study what I was truly passionate about and talented for: languages. I spent seven years in college, was systematically top of my class without even trying, met lots of incredible people who became lifelong friends, studied abroad, had plenty of free time for part-time jobs and socializing, and at the ripe age of 25 landed an exciting and prestigious job that pays just as well as most engineering positions. I’m on my way to financial independence but don’t plan to leave my field, simply to work fewer hours.

    Oh, just one detail: I come from a country where tuition is FREE.

    And that’s the heart of the problem. Not whether degrees are useful (all degrees are useful to some people, not to mention society as a whole) but whether anyone should be expected to pay thousands of dollars to get one.

    I believe we would all be better off if we were free to follow our calling in life and do what we are best at. If you had cancer, would you rather be treated by a doctor who is passionate about medicine, or by one who just wants to be rich? Do you want bridges and airplanes to be designed by people who hate their job? If education is free, you have a much higher chance of matching the right people to the right job.

    The question thus isn’t: are most degrees useless? It is: is higher education a public good, like primary and secondary education are, and should it therefore be free?

    1. Right on! I wrote a similar response on a previous blog post about degrees. Our society would be a sad place if we never studied art or music or language. It isn’t all about the money. I do think university degrees are too expensive especially in the US. I saved for my kids with a RESP and they live at home going to University locally. One is studying art& design, the other a music degree. I’ve taught them to pursue their passion, be entrepreneurial and save! We’ll see how it goes but both would have been miserable studying engineering, computer science, statistics, math…I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I came from poverty and paid for my university education myself (it was cheaper back then), lived at home, worked while in school and did a Masters at no cost (scholarship, TA for living money). In the end, many would think both are “useless degrees”. But I parlayed it into various jobs, moving up, ultimately doing contracting and can hit the FIRE button anytime. If I had an MBA, I would have moved up faster in companies, no doubt about it. But I found a different path that has been much more lucrative. I think the key is always learning, trying new things, being flexible and if possible, taking risks. If you have those qualities, you can succeed at anything and make money at the same time. You just might need to be a bit more creative.

  21. Instead of paying $10 – 50k over 4 years, get paid maybe $30 – 50k per year for four years. You’ll be ahead of a college graduate by $160 – $400k. Four years is an insane amount of time.

    I wish more people told me that college can be a waste of time. If you can create other businesses from scratch or work a job and get paid to learn, then that’s a great thing to do.

  22. I clicked ‘yes’ on ‘was your degree worth it’ because financially it was. I paid nothing for my degree, I managed to bully my parents into paying for it because they’re really concerned with appearances and me not getting a degree would make them look bad! The degree got me in the door, got me started on a career path where I now make enough money to retire in my early 40s (after discovering FIRE in my early 30s – if I’d discovered it in my early 20s I’d be retired already!). But it’s also a deeply unsatisfing career, hence the need to retire! Would I be happier (happiness is what really matters, money is only important to the extent that it facilitates happiness) if I’d instead taken the time to find myself, and then followed the passions I discovered?

    That said, I understand why FIREcracker pushes the path she does. I’d advise a young person choosing their path to take the POT score path if falling back on family money is not possible, but otherwise to first take, say, 7 years to follow your dreams – the worst that can happen is winding up living with your parents like you were before, and at 25-odd you’ll still be young enough to start over on the POT path. You don’t need to be X AE A-12 to do this, most middle class Boomer parents, given the prosperity of their time, can afford to give a child some support into their 20s.

    An aside: how do Americans end up with 6 figure student loans? Is tuition that much, or are they borrowing money for living expenses? In Australia tuition is no more than $25000, and living with your parents whilst studying is the norm, making following your dreams not too risky

  23. I clicked yes that my degree was worth it because my employer paid for for the tuition and the books too! However I was a nontraditional student. After working a lot of different jobs I got a job loading trucks which I used to pay to get a two year associate degree in chemistry at a technical school. That degree allowed me to get a job working in a lab. It was a great place to work and they paid for job related classes and courses as long as you got good grades. After I graduated they hired me as a chemist. Of course since I worked full time it took longer than 4 years to get the degree.

  24. I have a degree in Computer Science. Loved what I studied but never wanted to commute, work mon to fri or work in an office. I’ve been a server in a restaurant for years now. Love it cause its highly lucrative and highly flexible with hours and time off. I’m only a few yrs away from FIRE. However, now that covid has changed the working world I am debating studying some of these new Google courses and maybe getting some sort of online remote work. It would be a huge pay cut to serving and not many of my IT friends earn as much as I do as a server. We graduated 15 yrs ago just for reference. However, when Covid is all over I want to get travelling again and feel I want more than 3 to 4 months off a yr (which is what I usually take with serving). Id like to be location independent again.

    So to answer the question, I do believe my degree was worth it even though I didn’t use it. Mainly because I studied in Ireland and it was free. And I enjoyed University.

    One thing I ask? When you say Computer Engineering? Is that Software development or what side does it relate to? I live in Canada now but I feel we label Engineering and Computer Science kinda different in Ireland/Canada or maybe its just that I’ve been out of it so long.

  25. I don’t necessarily regret my management degree; I was blessed with a job that paid the bills and gave me a ton of time off, so I had the time to study without sacrificing much. The degree cost about $20k, so not chump change, but I spent more than that learning to fly a lawnmower with wings around, so it wasn’t the biggest sacrifice.

    So far the degree hasn’t really gotten me anywhere. I got into my first job in aviation as a data controller because of my auto mechanics diploma and they were looking for someone who was comfortable in a workshop setting. From there I became a flight attendant because of the languages I speak. Became a service director purely because of seniority. Started and finished my degree on the side, and no one cared. Applied to dozens of entry-level management jobs within the company after graduating – most of which paid less than I was already making – and couldn’t even get an interview. Had the same experience for the few positions outside of the company that I applied to.

    After Covid paralyzed the industry I went looking for work again, became a service manager at a bike shop. I scored that gig because I worked there as a mechanic in high school 20 years ago and because of my customer service experience.

    So far, as far as I can tell, fixing bicycles has done more for my career prospects than my business degree has.

  26. When my 5 yr B.Sc. degree only got me $17/hour degree-required jobs, I did a career focused 2 year polytechnic diploma in Health Information Management that gets you a professional designation. The diploma found me a higher paying job with salaries starting at almost double what my degree would have got me. I would say that if anything the degree does turn 20 year olds into 25 year olds and that is a value in itself, but there are other more productive ways to grow up.

  27. I don’t regret my degree for a few reasons.
    1) It didn’t put me into debt (full tuition scholarship, some other bursaries, plus parents had some RESPs to help me out).
    2) I made some really good connections that helped me gain work experience and opened up other networks to get a better job after graduation.
    3) I was able to practice being an adult for a bit without all of the responsibility that comes with it. Uni provides a nice bridge, and I don’t think I would have been able to manage all that independence right out of high school if I moved out and got a job right away.

    However, if I had seen a bill for 50K USD a year, I probably wouldn’t have been so keen. There are always other routes, and I wish that they weren’t as looked down upon and encouraged more. There definitely is too much pressure to go into debt for a degree that doesn’t guarantee you anything afterwards except for PAIN and STRESS.

  28. Similarly why Peter Thiel offers 100k funding for a university kid to drop out of school and spend time on their business plan instead.

  29. It’s been awhile since I’ve read this blog/the comments on it. Then I decided to take a look last week. Oof!

    If anything, I think the comments on this article show that there are many ways to navigate education/financial success, but they all require knowledge.

    It’s possible to make university work for you. It’s also possible to end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt (despite merit scholarships), like I did.

    This is really where privilege comes in. A lot of my students – like me – were the first in their family to go to college. So, they don’t have family members to say – look for a paid internship every summer, you can do an internship with just 1 year under your belt. They don’t know how to connect to resources for students from professional societies. They don’t know that working at Target and other retail stores (often 2 jobs) while studying rigorous courses wears on them mentally and physically and that they might be better off finding work on campus or looking for an academic year research position/ tutoring/something else.

    You don’t know what you don’t know and even with the internet available if you don’t know what to look up, you don’t know what to look up.

    One of the reasons I paused from checking out this blog is because I was exhausted by all the clear displays of privilege that were downplayed as “I just worked hard and was smarter, that’s why I was successful.”

    I really appreciate that someone mentioned networking. The wife of one of my mentors makes nearly half a million with her BA in Art because she had connections and knew she would get a position working for the rich and famous. I hear about the celebrities she works with all the time. She came from a wealthy family that had the connections to give her. So, people were just waiting for her to finish college and hire her on for their projects. Is she talented? Yes, of course! She’s crazy talented! I’ve seen her work! But someone else crazy talented with the same skills and same degree probably left school unable to land a job utilizing those talents at all.

    I don’t regret going to university or becoming a professor. I really do love my job. One of the things I love is that I get to help my students – mostly engineers, many first generation college students, to find ways to minimize student loan debt and find sources of income that won’t take away from their studies or have them living an unfit, unhealthy, mentally taxing lifestyle for four or five years.

  30. Students should consider engineering technology programs. They are significantly easier as they do not require calculus and employers hire you as if you are an engineer as they rarely differentiate between the two. You can also sit for licensure the same with a 4-year ET degree. It is a great option that I wish more students would pursue.

  31. Dave you stated…Retired at 44 with a 7 figure FAT FIRE ETF portfolio and 6 figure income from that portfolio
    Are you willing to tell me what etf’s you are invested in to achieve 6 figure income?

    thank you in advance
    John

    1. It changes over time. Investing is not a straight line. Mostly, it’s readjusting your portfolio allocations as market circumstances change. Sometimes, it’s also dropping some ETFs like an aggregate bond ETF when interest rates on said bonds is 100% confirmed to rise and finding something else to fill the fixed income component of the portfolio.

      Should I start a blog about it? Would anyone bother reading it?

    2. It changes over time. Investing is not a straight line. Mostly, it’s readjusting your portfolio allocations as market circumstances change. Sometimes, it’s also dropping some ETFs like an aggregate bond ETF when interest rates on said bonds is 100% confirmed to rise and finding something else to fill the fixed income component of the portfolio.

      Should I start a blog about it? Would anyone bother reading it?

  32. Part of the value of higher education should be critical thinking skills and expanding one’s mind, not merely remedial workforce entry skills. That is if we want to build a better world and not some dystopian sci-fi future. (Ok, slight exaggeration for effect).
    That being said, the costs of university in Canada (let alone the US) are ridiculous. How to bring them down is a whole other discussion.

  33. This is a great post! It’s hard to tell sometimes the value proposition of going to school or to get certifications, or to just start your own business.

  34. Great perspective @FIRECracker,

    Just a few observations:

    1. At least when I took the poll a whopping 90% of us held degrees and well over 80% of us thought they were worth it. So does like beget like for the answer you’re expecting?

    2. We know from previous studies that the lion’s share of (mostly 1-millionaires) 1st generation folks do not keep up the millionaire status; which explains a lot and adds to my 3rd point …….

    3. Degree or not – if you are a millionaire – that you earned yourself- you are “hustling” aka working HARD-T (that extra T is for working really hard-hehehe) for it. As opposed to when you inherit it. It’s not appreciated as much as if you worked for it yourself, hence attrition of “cheddar” in the next generation.

    4. Unrelated to 1st 3 points – You bet your A#$ I researched specialties within medicine- using my own version of the POT score as many of us go into sub-specialties for that exact reason.

  35. I don’t agree with a lot of this article. But that’s likely because of your North American bias where people (especially the US) have to hand over a limb to pay for their education. Not here in Australia. Yes, I had to cough up but it was reasonable.

    Second, there are so many intangibles I got from my university degree and life (science degree and then PhD in biochemistry): Incredible friends I will have for life and an enormous amount of learning I would have otherwise never had and cannot even quantify. The way you characterise it as “expand your mind” or “philosophise about life” with sarcasm is juvenile. If a person is born with some good grey matter to use, I think it’s a shame to not max it out through a brilliant education. Nothing I do now has anything to do with biochemistry but having a PhD has opened up countless doors for me and provided rewarding work. Sure university is not for everyone. It depends.

    And on top of the above, my wife and I are totally on board with FIRE. We are not far off becoming FI following the concepts of JL Collins.

  36. When you pay (or get into debt) to learn something that can be gotten for free (or far cheaper), then such qualification is useless. Even more so if such qualification is less/not useful at all. Most academic qualifications today are generally useless.

    I pursued degree in business administration more than 10 years ago and today I regretted it. There is no practical skills learned that one can be successful in business. Most things learned were nothing but theories and things that may matter only to those at the very top, i.e. strategic thinking. Those not at the top generally have to be yes-men and have no need for strategic thinking, as the people above you may not even appreciate you smarter than them.

    Technical skills/knowledge is the most important, regardless of engineering, because they are practically useful and can be applied right away to life. I learned electronics and programming on my own and I found more meaning from them than the business degree I got.

  37. Picking a career for financial gain is essential…

    But it is a very short sight endeavor…

    Once the salary is acclimated within 5 to 10 years time frame…

    The desire to pursuit something else takes root…

    The United States of America is so wealthy (Canada as well)…

    Every single American (Canadian) has an opportunity…

    In finding an endeavor that lasts beyond the family rearing years…

    Take your time and bet on a career that motivated you to get out your bed every single day…

    FIRE is an antibotic…

    NOT a solution for a meaningful living!

  38. Most degrees are useless for education, but even if the job you get is outside of your field of study, the degree will probably help you get it.

    I strongly recommend “The Case Against Education” by Bryan Caplan for an explanation of credential inflation, how and why it happens, what it means for individuals and what it means for society. There’s also a helpful statistical review of the math on how an individual can maximize their return.

  39. there is an irony in constantly touting the benefits of FIRE to be able to escape the endless hellhole that the engineering job was for them. yet still now to suggest others to follow that path

    1. Following the path of retiring in your early 30’s and no longer being forced to work any job is completely worth it to me…

  40. After graduating high school, I worked odd jobs and knew I would not be able to make the money that I wanted to without a degree. Well, without a degree it was going to take a long time. At 21 I started an entry level computer job and was going to community college part time. My employer paid for my education and it has paid huge dividends. I was able to move into a non technical job, and make nearly 6 figures with an associates degree. No student debt either. I am 47 now and looking to exit the corporate world on my 50th birthday and do part time work only.

  41. If you are going to use Warren Buffett’s name, the last you could do is spell it correctly. Very disrespectful.

  42. I don’t have a degree but was able to achieve FIRE. My current partner has PHDs and although FI, not RE. This blog was incredibly interesting to me. My son, is a car mechanic with Mercedes and makes the most of my three children. Is FIRE if he could recognize it. Age 44. One daughter is a mechanic in the military but has invested since she was in her early 20s. Done very well. Could be FIRE if she chose to be. Age 43. The second daughter got a career in the travel industry, after schooling, and ended up in business. She is now on her way to FIRE. Age 39. Thank you Firecracker for highlighting that there are different paths to FIRE, including non entrepreneurial. The best life lessons I gave to my children were to be honorable, contributing citizens and look after yourself financially. Do I sound like a proud Mama, you bet!

  43. I see many young people taking 6 years to finish a 4 years bachelor degree with no employable prospect. Just a way to live off the bank of Dad and Mom and party, all while whining that a traditional full course load is too stressful. Perhaps this is a uniquely Vancouver situation. Asian parents tend to overvalue education and will support their children unconditionally as long as they are “studying”.

  44. Hi, I am from Singapore and unfortunately, blue collar workers are not paid as much here as in US, Canada or Australia. Maybe if the individual opens his/her own company then it is possible, but not if he/she working for someone else.

    For most companies, having a degree is the minimum for getting a job interview.

  45. I think it depends on what your goals are. If you don’t care about being financially independent, then go ahead and major in the arts. If you want to be financially independent early, then you should consider engineering or a more economically in-demand field. If you don’t have goals , you probably won’t achieve them.

  46. I wish I had approached my studies differently. I wanted to go into medical studies but did not have the confidence in myself as a 17-year-old. I ended up switching my major to Elementary Education since I was told there are definitely teaching jobs. After a few years of teaching I went into libraries and eventually received my MLS degree. I went back and forth from teaching and libraries for years. I found myself back in teaching in 2016 and was miserable. I decided to leave and had no idea what I would do next.

    My husband has an AS degree but has worked for the library system for over 30 years and has been able to climb the ladder. He is constantly researching and learning, and working on certifications. My kids (17 & 14) are both looking at following in his footsteps and trying to secure work in IT. My son is graduating soon and is looking at attending a certificate program offered through a group of tech colleges run by the public school system, and then moving on to get his AS or AA degrees. After that he isn’t sure what the next steps are but he has time.

    As for me, in 2017 I was able to explore and found my passion working in conventions and events. I still substitute teach on the side when event work is slow (like now) but my main work is all related to events. I recently obtained my unarmed security license as well and have started working event security. What I am grateful for is that we made life and financial changes that have allowed this transition, and that my husband is so supportive. Many of the people I know who work in events are retired, which means this is something I can probably continue to do for a long time. However, if I had the chance to do college over I would have obtained a degree in Hospitality for sure.

  47. I’m in my 50’s. Was my accounting degree worth it? 100% yes. I have a child who is a recent college grad in CompE/Sci, with an excellent job and salary. My second child is currently in college, studying CompSci and Chem. I’m confident he will also do well. Both at colleges that were targeted for generous merit scholarships rewarding their hard work in high school. They each have reasonable student loan debt (less than 1/3 annual salary) and we parents were happy to pay the balance. People I work with who are my age without college degrees have a lot harder time finding employment and their wages are much lower. I can trade up from job to job as my skills advance, they are stuck because their work is more of a commodity.
    I don’t think getting a college degree is inherently right or wrong. Life is not one size fits all. I think a big part of the problem is the indulgence of parents not putting limits on what they will borrow or allow their children to borrow because they don’t want to be the bad guy saying no to their child. I know a lot of parents whose motto seems to be ‘we’ll figure it out’ while running up 100k+ debt for low wage majors instead of saying ‘you can major in that at an affordable in-state college’. Exactly when are they going to figure it out?
    Education is good, excessive debt is not.

  48. Even now, it can depend on what situation you were born in. If your parents were college-educated lawyers, I think college is probably of less value to you since you likely had a lot of advantages growing up so it might seem more optional than it was when you were your parents’ age. But my immigrant family was not in that bucket. I know what happened to the other immigrant kids who didn’t make it to college. Some are ok but more are stuck in dead-end jobs because they were not surrounded by people who pushed for more, so they didn’t either. Sometimes, it’s not the courses themselves but the people you are surrounded by that change your life. You can change that group in college and be exposed to many people you would have never met otherwise. But not if you’re working at the same store you were working in during high school. Reasonable debt ($50k tuition w/o financial aid was NOT the deal I took thankfully) + college degree salary > dead end job is how it panned out in my social group’s case.

  49. My BBA in Finance and MBA paid off huge for me. Both were mainly demonstrations that I was a committed person capable of deferred gratification and learning. This rather than specific training for a job.

    There is a very, very strong correlation between educational attainment and earnings. That said, if you want to be wealthy I think entrepreneurship, even on a small business scale, rather than college is the better avenue and affords more freedom.

    I think the engineers being the degree with the most millionaires is a bit of a selection confound. I’m the proud son of a GA Tech engineer and am wired like one. The truth is these people by and large tend to be more disciplined in all areas including money. Just my hypothesis. I bet you could compare them with professions with similar earnings and engineers would be significantly wealthier.

    Me I’m happy with my path. I make a lot of money and I’m about 1-2 years from FI at 41. Had I read Kristy’s book earlier in life Id have reached FIRE long ago!

    Finally, I knew when I attended college that most “grown ups” didn’t work in their field of study so I chose Finance because it has practical life application! The engineer in me wouldn’t let me waste all that time studying something impractical!

    Ryan

    PS the reason our tuition in the USA is so high is because of the liberal lending practices of government backed loans not grounded in creditworthiness. Loosey goosey money is why not enough people pay attention to Kristy’s POT. Make college free and I think it might cheapen the value of the degree or you’ll have students with no skin in the game dropping out and wasting resources.

  50. “A BA in English isn’t worthless, you can go to law school,” a friend.

    So undergrads used to mean something, just like HS diplomas did. They push morons through both, so they don’t equate to anything anymore.

    As an additional note, my wife also says law school is a stupid use of money, she wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been free.

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