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Here’s Why College Isn’t for Everyone

Most high schools push graduates to head right into college as soon as they finish 12th grade. That's not the right plan for everyone, though, and for others it's a big mistake.

In this segment from Industry Focus: Financials, host Gaby Lapera is joined by Fool contributor Daniel Kline to talk about why not every 18-year-old needs to go to college. That could mean gaining some experiences before heading off for school, learning a trade, or something else entirely.

They also talk about how doing things that scare you can teach you things about yourself and what your future profession should be. In addition, they bring up how people should balance what they want out of life with the profession they pursue, and close the show by sharing the worst advice they ever received.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 28, 2017.

Gaby Lapera: The other thing I wanted to circle back to touch on is, we talked a little bit about trying all sorts of different jobs to figure out what you want to do. I wish that more people, before they went to college, did this, because I think there's a lot of people in college who don't really need to be there at that moment. It's important to know that college is not just for 18-year-olds. Sure, there's great networking opportunities, but if what you really want to be is a tradesman, if you want to be a plumber or an electrician or whatever it is, it's OK to not go to school -- well, to not go to college, because you have to go to school to be an electrician, hopefully. It's a very dangerous job.

Dan Kline: My electrician just makes it up. [laughs] He's dead now.

Lapera: [laughs] No, but, it's really important to think about -- is college the best place for you right now? I think we really, unfortunately, push young people to go straight into college after high school, when maybe that's not the best course for 100% of them.

Kline: It's also important to gain life experiences. I'm not saying do the fanciful trip to Europe where you do nothing and hang out at the beach. But if you want to go volunteer for six months, if you want to go work on a cruise ship, we've talked about this a lot, Vince and I, on the other show -- if you don't do things when you're young, before you have a mortgage and kids, it becomes that much harder to do them. So if you really want to move someplace obscure and be a crab fisherman for two years, it's not going to ruin your life. I have an aunt who is now a very successful businesswoman who didn't go to college until her thirties, because she pursued a lot of things, and she had a lot of amazing experiences. And that's OK. And it makes you a better college student.

Lapera: Yes, it does, because by the time you get to college, you really want to be at college for the academics, and not just for the social scene, which makes a huge difference.

Kline: The other thing I'll say about college is, if you do go, academics are a part of it. And yes, if you want to go to medical school or law school, your grades are very important. But if you don't, if grad school or general grad school is in your future, make sure that you try everything. We talked about, I was the editor of the newspaper, I did a radio show, I did a television show, and I learned that I didn't want to work in television because I couldn't stand the bureaucracy of college television, so I wasn't going to like it in the real world. But maybe I would have found out that I didn't like newspapers. So try different things. Join every club you can and experience it. Intern places. Job-shadow. You get a six-week vacation at most schools. If you think you might want to be a high school principal, call the principal of your old high school up and say, "Hey, I'd love to spend the day following you around." Maybe you want to be an ice cream man. Go ride the ice cream truck for the day, and you'll learn that you don't want to be an ice cream man, would be my guess.

Lapera: And this is relevant to high school students, middle school students, college students, everyone. And that's also a really good professional skill to foster -- contacting people you don't know and asking them for something. The worst they can do is say no. Sometimes they attach mean words to it, but mostly just "no," or not respond.

Kline: Generally it's non-response. Because most people want to be a hero. And maybe that principal will write back and say, "I'm happy to talk to you, but privacy rules mean that you can't shadow me for the day." There's always going to be little hiccups. But that's a person you then know. That's someone, a year from now, when you're in school, you can say, "Hey, would you take this class or that class, and how would it help you?" Amass relationships, and do things that scare you. I'm a journalist, and it still scares me to walk into a store and talk to a stranger for a story. So, do it. Make yourself do it, because you'll get better. And you'll learn, is this something I can get past, and I'll be good at this job? Or is this something that -- I spent a few years as a salesman. Cold-calling as a salesman is miserable. And I was good at it, but I don't ever want to do it again, because you spent all night basically throwing up and being nervous about what's going to happen, and it wasn't worth it. The other thing we talked about before is, it's not just about what you do. It's about the life you expect. Because if you're someone who wants certain things -- you want to be able to have season tickets to the Red Sox, or the Nationals around here, I think that's still a team -- you want the fancy house, or you love cars and want a Porsche or whatever it is, well, a schoolteacher may not be the way to go. And you have to balance those things.

Lapera: Yeah. This is getting into another topic about how you should pick the career for you, which I'm more than happy to have you on the show for in the future. But just to wrap things up, Dan and I both think that your kid should work.

Kline: Work for us, if they're looking. [laughs] No, we don't have jobs.

Lapera: We don't have jobs. But we think that kid should work, especially if they're not pursuing anything else with their time. It teaches them how to be professional, it teaches them how to manage their money, and it also helps them figure out what they want to do, at least for the next little while. I'm not going to say for the rest of their lives, because that's very dramatic, and you can always change your career if you want to. Again, another good topic for a future episode. And they're doing all this in a very low-stakes environment. That's our summation of the show. But to finish the show, I wanted to ask you a fun question, which is: What is the worst career advice you have ever received?

Kline: Don't job-hop would probably be it. There was a prevailing wisdom for a long time that you should pick a company, and no matter how miserable you are, follow it through. As if you're going to go work -- and I'm not picking this company for any reason, but you're going to go to Time Warner, they're an editorial company, and you're going to start as an intern, and someday you're going to be CEO or editor in chief, or whatever. That's an outdated logic. Maybe you're not getting it as much, generationally younger. But the company I worked for in college was my first job. And when I went to my mother and said, after about 18 months, "I'm leaving and I'm going to work for a guitar magazine in New York City. The money is a little bit better, but it's just cooler, it'll be fun," she said, "But if you stay where you are, you'll get a promotion in another two years." And the guy who replaced me stayed for 19 years. So it was an option. I could have stayed. But, honestly, when you're young, don't spend three months at a job, unless it's a three-month job. But be someplace a year and be willing to say, "I want to try something different, I want to do something new." And then, when you're ready, when you find the right thing, you'll be in a better position to know what you want and have that career. And then, you can stay in one place, as I have here at The Fool for four or five years now.

Lapera: That is much grander, significantly bad career advice than I was expecting. I can tell you what my worst career advice was. I remember this vividly, I was at a New Year's Eve party and a woman came up to me, and she thought that I was married to my father, which was embarrassing, to say the least, and she said to me, "What are you doing?" And I was like, "I'm in high school. I'm 16." She was like, "Oh, you know what you should do? When you're 18, you should join a cruise ship and become a waitress, because then you can meet someone and get married to them and you never have to work." I think, hands down, that is the worst career advice that I've ever received in my entire life.

Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. Gaby Lapera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Time Warner. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.