Do you need to go to college?

It has long been accepted in American culture that the best way to get ahead is to go to college. But is that true? Not for everyone. And while it is true for some, it is not true right away. Maybe we need to think about this whole conversation.

The question high school students should ask themselves is this: Do you have a plan for the next four years, and how it will translate into the next few decades after that? Is it wise to start racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt for an exploratory major? Would it be better to focus on getting an associate’s degree at a community college and then transferring? Would it be better to work for a few years, live beneath your means and build up some savings first? College will still be there in five years.

We’re talking about two things simultaneously, which are at loggerheads if you think about it carefully: That we need more people going to college and that many people are burdened with excessive student loan debt. But getting more people into college – especially people who do not have a plan to transform their degree into a productive career – will only increase the problem of student debt on the back end.

This is not to say that getting an education is bad, of course. More knowledge of history, math, science, economics, culture and literature is a good thing. Plus, college offers some networking opportunities that can help you jump-start a career a little bit faster. But a college education is not for everyone, and many people could benefit from waiting until they have a more defined career path in mind. Most large universities offer a la carte courses, which can expand your knowledge and skill set without a huge financial investment while you formulate a career plan.