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Why a College Degree Doesn’t Create Income

Updated: August 15, 2016

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  1. Fantastic blog! And everything you said is 100% true. I’ve never used my degree either (BA Economics, Political Science and Business Administration). I wish I’d known about the opportunities in proofreading, transcription and scoping years ago. It makes perfect sense to build on the skills you already have. I’m excited for the next chapter in my life and so thankful to finally have a direction I believe in.

  2. I agree that the emphasis on college degrees is becoming outdated, but luckily I am one who got to use mine and whose degree has had a positive influence. I was able to freelance after the birth of my first child, and still get a full-time position after the birth of my second. That job (my current one) took my design skills and opened me up to the world of editing and proofreading, which (surprise!) I love and led me to this course. I think having this full-time job has given me the drive and focus that I lacked before when freelancing.

    Just wanted to share my personal story in case there are those who feel resentment over their degrees — perhaps having that “piece of paper” will open up a door you never thought about!

    1. That is awesome, Ashley!! It sounds like you got a great and useful degree. I’m VERY glad to hear positive college stories. They are not the norm and are a breath of fresh air 😀

  3. I’ve long been an advocate of apprenticeships – I was born and grew up in Germany where they are highly valued and have a long tradition – but whenever I explained them to an American, I was greeted mostly with “Oh, like a BOCES; they are for high school drop-outs or people who can’t get into college.” I heartily disagree.
    However, there’s been this decades-old trend in the mindset of Americans that one must go to college in order to become successful and/or accepted in society and “blue collar” workers are second-hand people. That needs to change and will take time.

    I have worked as a secretary/executive assistant for over 25 years. I am good at what I do, and I actually like my job. My salary is solidly middle-class.
    When I check out job postings for executive assistants in NYC, I do see that many require a college degree OR work experience. Looks like, at least in my field, work experience is valued equally to a degree.

    1. I’m soooo with you there, Britta. In Germany, everyone’s job seems a lot more important, too — sogar im Supermarkt! Blue-collar jobs are often higher paying positions than “white-collar” administrative jobs! I’d have made more as a plumber than I would have at my first “real” job as an administrative assistant ($12/hr –_– haha). Plumbers, mechanics, electricians, etc. need mad skills to do well at their jobs. Not everyone is cut out for them. Out of curiosity, can you comment on what kind of degree would be required (if there is no work experience) for executive assistant positions?

      1. Hi Caitlin, here is a link to a recruitment agency (they do admin. staffing and HR recruiting). Under “Openings” you’ll see a bunch of assistant positions, mostly senior level. I randomly clicked on three exec. assistant ones and they all say “xxx amount of years experience or college degree required” or “preferred” so not sure what specific degree they are looking for – which is crazy in itself. What, you just want a random degree so you can say your staff is college-educated? http://mkgsearch.com/openings.php

        BTW, I also applied to take the civil service test for local county admin. jobs and was rejected because I did not have a 2-year BA degree (again, no other specifics on that degree). I really do believe this college-degree requirement is a cultural thing rather than job-related specifically in this field.

        And I like that in Germany the supermarket cashier gets to sit down while doing her/his job 🙂

        1. Wow, thank you!! I agree; not all degrees are created equal!! After I returned from Germany, I really wanted to go back but had a huge problem finding any kind of job for which I qualified because “all” I had was a bachelor’s degree, and it wasn’t enough. And YEAH… how unfair is the cashier thing!? My first job was a supermarket cashier and it was so uncomfortable standing for so long I got hemorrhoids! At 16!! LOL 🙂 But I digress…

  4. I would never preach that earning a college is outdated or not worth the time or money. Because of my graduate degree, I am able to teach online accredited college courses from home with the freedom to pursue other efforts.

    Shortly after earning my degree, I went from payroll clerk to managing a small staff. Everyone will have a different journey and what worked for a few does not necessarily work for many. College is no different than any other endeavor, it’s what you make it.

    A college degree is more than a means to earning a huge salary, it’s about being smart.

    You can learn website development if you take the course. You can learn entrepreneurship if you take the course. You can learn about investments and money management if you take the course.

    Thank goodness that technology, e-courses, and self-help books are available for people who choose to opt not to earn a degree.

    1. Sounds like you are one of the lucky ones who got a useful degree that allows you to do something you love and get paid for it 😀 That is awesome; I’m happy to hear positive stories. I wish more folks had the same result, but instead, the job for which their degree qualifies them doesn’t bring in enough to ever pay off the debt (like the poor nurse in the Consumer Reports article)… OR they get a popular degree that puts them in the exact same competitive field as thousands of other undergrads and can’t find work (common with business administration degree holders)… OR they get a piece of paper but didn’t really learn anything new because of poor instructors (as was the case with me). I was fortunate to graduate with my relatively useless degree and no debt. I’d definitely be far worse off (and angrier at the whole system, ha!) if I’d graduated with a useless degree AND a mountain of debt.

  5. Caitlin! Your post spoke VOLUMES to me, especially this part, “So the long-timer…is suddenly out on the curb with only the skills specific to that particular job and industry.” I just left a job I’d done for the past 15 years, and have felt the pressure of either needing a degree to get an interview, or having a skill that is easily marketable. Admittedly, I’ve just enrolled in college, and should have little-to-no payout since I’m on unemployment, but I am still keeping tabs on your page. You make a lot of sense, and I already completed your 7-day course. Time to make decisions!

      1. I spent my adult life climbing what I could of the Retail corporate ladder. I ran various depts, including sales and support, and finally experienced burnout after finalizing divorce and realizing my two kids weren’t getting very much of me! It’s hard to make a career switch, though! I decided to go to community college and start toward a degree in General Business, but I am flexible with changing it if necessary. Your program has also appealed to me, and I might just do both once I get up and running and see my work load. I’m only taking 3 classes this semester, so we shall see!

  6. It’s very true. I thankfully went to a community college that was only $2500 a year and took business (I refused to pay the prices for our University), it was a lot of hands on training and I did a lot of accounting and marketing courses. The Accounting still helps me to this day as I do my own bookkeeping as well as others.

    I must say the best thing to happen to me is to have my son, not just cause of how much joy he brings me but because he made me step back and look at how I was making my money and how my dead end jobs were stressing me out. Since having him (he’s only 16 months) I am now making more than I did as a manager, able to live my life fully, and able to stay home and raise my son. If I think I need money I just drum up some more business but I’ve built up the business so much now that I rarely go looking for work, but often it’ll come and find me.

    I’m so thankful that I found sites like yours when I needed it the most and every chance I get I share it with anyone who wants to change their life and live freely and not have to struggle financially.

  7. I went to college for three years and got a bachelors degree. I became disabled shortly after graduation and was unable to work. The little amount of Social Security disability I get has enabled me to live in low-income housing and unable to afford any payments on my now $64,000 in student loan debt. My credit is now beyond bad and I can no longer afford to fix up my clunker, let alone afford payments on a good used car. So I’m jobless and carless, and went through a divorce where I couldn’ t even afford to fight for half my exes pension because I had no money for court fees, let alone a lawyer. I wish I was making all this up instead of living it. Oh, and on the student loan problem: I might be able to get the student loan forgiven on a disability claus , but the wonderful IRS would then consider the $64000 taxable income and I don’t know of any way I could pay taxes on that income even if I took years to do it. So when potential students want to take out student loans for school and then find out that the wage they’re earning might not be enough to pay back their loans I want to say NO NO NO, please don’t get any student loans. If things get so bad financially that you have to declare bancruptcy your student loans will not be forgiven. It’s all a crock of crap and my degree would have not been very useful if I wasn’t disabled as there are at least three school cranking out young students out ever semester, for which the job market is already saturated. I wish I could stop somebody from making the same mistakes I did. The only schooling that I have determined would be useful to me would be your proofreading course and I think the only one I can afford. I feel it’s going to be the only thing that’s going to be a positive thing in my future life.

    1. Hi, Karen. Thank you for sharing your story here! Crippling student loan debt is now all too common, so if just one person can read your story and change course, it’s well worth it. This course can indeed be exactly what you’re looking for to climb out from under all that you’ve been struggling with. It’s flexible work that you can do from home, around your disability. I wish you all the best!

    2. Karen, An option that may benefit you more than the disability discharge, or to ignoring it and letting your credit get worse, is to apply for an income based repayment plan. If you are legitimately disabled and would qualify for the disability discharge, then you would also very likely qualify for an income based payment of $0.00 per month. This payment of $0.00 would last indefinitely so long as you are unemployed with a minimal adjusted gross income on your tax returns. After 30 years of making zero payments, your loan would be discharged and you would still have a tax bill, but that bill would not arrive until after the thirty years is complete. And you don’t have to have it discharged if you don’t want to. So you could still continue on the $0.00 per month.

  8. You still have to find someone who’s going to pay you. If you don’t have a job, how do you convince someone to pay you so that you don’t need a job?

    1. One way to create income for yourself is to learn a skill with an attached value that someone will pay you for — proofreading is a great example!

  9. I had a rocky start to my college career… and finally dropped out with two courses left after being in and out of two different schools over the course of seven years. I was pursuing a degree in Computer Programming and Game Development and with one class and the internship to go, I realized I had limped through most of the courses and didn’t really possess the skills to excel in an internship, let alone hold a job for very long. So I finally gave up.

    I had some great teachers. At ITT-Tech in Portland, OR, they have fairly high standards of what they expect their teachers to be doing. Most of them are active in their field. At Lane Community College, the teacher who was in charge of the computer programming section of computer science was not only active in his field but also working closely with many of the technology companies in the area to make sure what was being taught in the degree programs was wanted by the local companies who might hire the graduates. Together with many community members, in and out of the college, he was working on building the Silicon Shire.

    I had a lot of teachers who were supportive and caring, and sometimes helped me personally in some way when I encountered a problem. I had a personal relationship, though not close, with several of them. My negative experience in college had nothing to do with the teachers. Yet still, I ended up with a lot of debt and a lot of college experience and not even a worthless piece of paper to show for it.

    I had a lot of growing up to do, and during the seven years in and out of college I had a lot experiences that really helped me develop. I met some great people, not just teachers but other staff and other students. I had some great experiences. And all of this helped form me as a person. I don’t regret it (just the debt!) but it also didn’t help me earn money.

    I ended up, through chance and fortune, working for a friend who has kids with disabilities. Technically, I’m working for her kids. No part of this job has anything to do with anything I learned from any school, college or otherwise. As someone who has never seen themselves as being a parent (Ever), and as someone who has social anxiety, and also as someone who is an introvert besides… the job is very taxing for me, far from ideal, and far from fulfilling. But it makes ends meet.

    My difficulty is in teaching myself new skills (on my own). I do best when I have a teacher to guide me, tell me what types of things I need to know and need to practice, and generally shed some light on the path. I have no problem with self-directed courses (like TP:TP here) but left with nothing but time, relevant reading material, and the ability to practice, I would have no idea where to begin or what to do.

    It’s time to learn some skills, to give myself the confidence in knowing what I’m doing, and to get started on living a life I can enjoy.

    Thanks for the opportunity, Caitlin.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story with us! Many people have had rocky college careers too and are not where they envisioned they would be. But it’s never too late for a new start. The course provides you with all the tools to be successful, but it’s up to you to use them. 🙂

  10. I went to UCF as well and myself and a bunch of friends who received the same degree have exact experiences as you did. I was an out of state student with a scholarship but I’m still severely in debt. Thank you for the truth!

  11. Hi Caitlin,

    OMG, what an awesome post! It totally resonated with me! It was like I was writing this post, I totally agree with you on everything. College (University) has totally unprepared me and hasn’t made me any worthwhile money from my degrees.

    In writing this as I am in my late 40’s, just to show you how far college education has gotten me. In high school way back when, I did fine, I received good grades. I always done my homework and would work very hard to complete everything. So, I was taking electrical classes and a friend of mine suggested that I go a nearby University in the States, as I am from a Canadian border town. So, I thought about it and joined up and went. It was a four year degree in Electrical Engineering with an extra year of an Associate Degree in Computer Engineering. So, all together five years. Those years were very long years and the material was hard. Although, I studied hard with many sleepless nights to four or five o’clock in the mornings and up again at six am to get ready to leave for 8 am class. Anyway, I graduated and received my degrees! Should be excited right, wrong, there were absolutely no jobs to be had. Living in a small Canadian town, I was young, didn’t really want to leave town or family so I stayed in my city. Nothing at all was to be found in jobs anywhere. In the meantime, I worked as a grocery clerk in a grocery store here locally. The pay was terrible and the managers weren’t great either. I hated working there and always thought, “what am I doing working here, I have two university degrees and working for minimum wage taking orders from these idiots”.

    Anyway, I continued working at a variety of different menial jobs over the years, but nothing that I have gone to school for. All that time and money spent for nothing. The good thing was for me was that my parents paid for my university. Still, my parents had spent all that money for nothing and I could see they were saddened to see me working at dead end jobs and they knew I wasn’t happy.

    So, roughly ten years go by and this time my sister suggested I go back to university and get an Education Degree to become a teacher. I was totally reluctant, because of my situation with my first university experience and the two degrees I already had, but nothing to show for it. Anyway, she and other people and friends had suggested that teaching was a very good profession to get into and teachers were being hired all the time, so they all convinced me to go. Maybe they said, “it would change my situation in life”. So, I went out of town and graduated after one year and received my teaching degree. Things were looking a little better for me; I found an occasional teaching job with the board out of town and worked there for two years. Although, I didn’t know this before, but the kids were terrible, it was always party time when there was a supply teacher in the class. Those were a tough two years. The good thing was the pay for pretty good the days I would get called in and having the summers off was great. Although, I still had a part-time to work throughout the whole year. Due to a family emergency back home, I resigned and moved back to my home city.

    Now, back at home and in my city, there wasn’t any chance of getting on with the local school board and honestly, I had enough with all of the lack of respect for supply teachers, so I really didn’t honestly want to get hired with the board. I found out that supply teachers where I live are only called in like one maybe two days a week. How is someone supposed to live on that? I mean, I didn’t go to university all those years and graduate to only work one or maybe if I am lucky, two days a week and have a second job in the evenings and weekends. I thought I went to university to better myself, not to end up working three or four evenings a week and have my weekends shot. What was the whole point of going to school if I still get to work dead end jobs for minimum wage and work with or take orders from teenagers. I definitely wouldn’t have went back to university to become a teacher if I knew I may be working one day a week or possibly two. Doesn’t make any sense to me at all. So, I started working dead end jobs again, but as usual I wasn’t happy working at any of these places. Down deep inside of me, I knew that I wanted better for myself, but I hated going back to teaching, because of my past experience. I always thought, “I can’t believe I am working the same job with 16 year olds”. That was all I could get.

    A break happened, when I applied for a job in the local college, not in teaching, but helping students writing notes for classes and helping students with learning disabilities. The jobs were great and the pay was good also, but again, both of these jobs came to an end, because I was told my contract couldn’t be renewed for the following semester. I was devastated. Both positions came to an end, first one year then the next position the following year. So, here again I was unemployed and I still am. It looks like I will have to go again and look for another one (or two) dead end job (s) to support myself.

    So, really, in my opinion and from my experience, college or university education has definitely not paid off at all. I am unhappy and more likely depressed, instead of enjoying life. I mean, I am reaching 50 soon and I haven’t anything to show for it really. College has just been a big waste of time and effort for me. I also have to basically argue with parents as they just don’t understand and say, “but you have education, you should be working as a teacher, why do you want to take on part-time minimum wage jobs”? I answer them, “I don’t want to take on part-time jobs, I really don’t have a choice”. Basically, I feel, I become a teacher to work one day a week and then go off to my “real” job to work at a dead end job for very little pay. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t go to college and just take skills like you mentioned in your blog post that would help me to work for myself from home and not rely on a job or employer to hire or end my job as he or she sees fit. Currently, I am looking into some home based business ideas so that I could possibly work from home and etch out my own “career”, and income.

    Thank you, Caitlin


  12. I’m just starting out in a community college taking courses towards an AAS in accounting. All of my classes are 100% online. But to be honest with you, I feel they really don’t teach you much as there are absolutely no lectures (only individual/group discussion posts and assigned textbook readings), while these teachers ask the most “simplistic” questions on tests! No brain teasers or anything to help make you think about the info in practical ways. I honestly don’t remember anything beyond the basic bookkeeping theory from my first few classes! AND the info I learned from my management and technology courses? You can pretty much forget it! I’d like to offer my services as a full-charge bookkeeper after I’m finished, but I honestly feel my understanding of management and technology are very weak! I feel I will either need to “re-learn” all the information that was taught over my two-year education, or ditch my whole program entirely! I’m just glad I don’t have to pay a penny towards my degree as I qualified for the full Pell Grant and other in-state aid. But yeah… I’m pretty much questioning whether I’ll have a useless degree! I just don’t know what else to do as I still really love bookkeeping. 🙂 Thank, Caitlin, for telling the whole “college racket” story like it is!

  13. I have read quite a few blogs about different topics that were relatable. This blog is by far the best one! So inspiring and 100% true. Your response back to the professor was on point. Your personal experience is the reality of what most people go through. I do not have a degree but I have experienced the various routes that have been discussed. I always wanted to work for myself but did not know how to get started. Reading your post has made me come to realize that it is possible to work for yourself, work from home, and have a flexible happy life away from working for someone else. Well, step one! to my new journey. 🙂 Thank you,

  14. College was a positive experience for me. The degree can be a calling card. I managed to secure a job in my major. But the corporate experience was less than satisfactory. You have a good point. The lesson is that we must keep our skills and interests up-to-date with the times to continue to grow. Success does not require a degree.

  15. This was fabulous, Caitlin. It’s like you sat in my living room for the last year & watched as my life imploded from the typical corporate job to … nothing. We have struggled to find footing & hear often, “Over Qualified”. You have encouraged me greatly! Thank you.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it was encouraging to you, Karen!! And I can definitely relate to life imploding. It’s so weird; we’re taught how to be by our parents and teachers, but then when we are in the real world later, we realize that there is no instruction manual… and we really do have to figure it out on our own in so many ways!

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