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Jeff Thomas is British and resides in the Caribbean. The son of an economist and historian, he learned early to be distrustful of governments as a general principle. Although he spent his career creating and developing businesses, for eight years, he penned a weekly newspaper column on the theme ... more

Get An Education

Date: Friday, January 20, 2017 9:58 AM EST

Back in the ‘60’s, an interviewer asked the “King of Folk Music”, Bob Dylan what his goal in life was. Bob answered something to the effect of,

“I want to make enough money to go to college, so one day I can be somebody.”

Bob had a good sense of irony. And certainly, he was always more inclined to think outside the box than to follow the well-trodden path. That was part of what made him so interesting and part of what made him so successful. A similar sentiment was expressed in a song by his peer, Paul Simon:

“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

In those days, just like today, the customary idea of success was that you attended university for a number of years, you received a degree, then you would be given a job where you could wear a necktie and receive a salary that had an extra zero behind it.

Then, as now, that’s quite true for anyone who seeks a career in engineering, medicine, law, etc., but less so for virtually everyone else. Those who pursue a degree in Gender Studies or 18th Century French Literature are likely to find that, after they graduate, they’ve learned little or nothing that translates into potential income.

Of course, universities value such courses highly and professors love to teach them. After all, they never really left school themselves. They went straight from being students to being teachers and never had to learn to be productive in the larger world. As such, they are the very worst advisors to students wondering what courses to take in order to one day seek employment.

This is not to say that such subjects are uninteresting; it’s just that employers don’t hire people because they were interested in their courses. They hire them, based upon whether they’ve acquired knowledge that’s applicable to their businesses.

There will always be a need for engineers, doctors and lawyers, but the pursuit of studies that stand little chance of producing a return may be a waste of a significant chunk (or all) of your parents savings, or may result in years of indebtedness in the form of a college loan. In addition, you could be wasting several prime years, at a time when your energy and imagination are at a peak.

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