5 Things to Do Instead of College

The path to financial freedom is financial — not traditional — education.

New numbers are out on the cost of attending a four-year university. According to The Daily Ticker, U.S. college student loans eclipsed $1 trillion in debt—more than credit card debt—with students borrowing $117 billion last year alone.

The average student loan debt burden now stands at $45,000 at graduation. With an extremely high unemployment rate for recent grads and those in their twenties, the prospect for many grads to pay off these loans with high-paying jobs is dim. Many stories are surfacing of Harvard grads working at Starbucks and honor students doing second, unpaid internships.

These numbers are leading experts to speculate that student loans may be the next bubble to burst.

When I was a kid, my poor dad wanted me to go to college. For him, as an educator, life was about getting into a good school, getting a good job, saving money, buying a house, and investing in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

For many people in my poor dad’s generation, this plan worked and provided a steady, moderate lifestyle that was safe.

My rich dad wanted me to be an entrepreneur. He believed college was for those who would be employees, not entrepreneurs, because it didn’t teach you anything about money, investing, or running a business. Instead, it taught you how to do as you’re told to advance up the corporate ladder.

I ended up going to college at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. In many ways, I’m thankful for what I learned there, such as discipline and critical-thinking skills. But I didn’t learn anything I couldn’t have learned elsewhere, and I certainly didn’t use my degree to make my fortune. I wouldn’t pay what our students have to pay today in order to do it again.

It’s a new world of money, and a new world for young people. The old rules of money, including go to college, simply won’t work for most.

So, I thought I’d offer five things you could do instead of going to college.

Work to learn.

When I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to work in the shipping industry and make good money. But I knew that I didn’t want to be an employee. I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

So instead of take a sure thing, I did the risky thing — I took a job as a salesman at Xerox making next-to-nothing in a field I was not experienced in. Why? I knew I needed sales skills in order to be successful in business. At Xerox, I could learn those valuable skills while getting paid.

At first I was the worst salesman on staff, but as I learned on the job and applied myself, I became our top salesman. Those sales skills have paid off more than anything I ever learned in college.

Explore non-traditional education.

There are important skills you can learn outside of the traditional, four-year institution that will help you depending on what you want to do with your life.

Many community colleges offer courses on investing hosted by professionals rather than professors. Also, you can learn important new-world skills like computer programming, web design, and more at a fraction of the cost. Rather than spend four years wondering what you want to do, racking up debt and taking classes you’ll never use, figure out what you want to do and take specific classes that will benefit you in the future at a fraction of the cost.

Additionally, build your financial education by attending seminars, reading books, taking classes, and hiring a coach. All of these services are widely available, including through our Rich Dad Education programs.

Begin investing.

If you have to spend $45,000 to get a degree just to work at Starbucks, you might as well skip the debt, get a job at Starbucks, save some money, invest in your financial education, and begin investing. Find an asset class that you’re interested in, learn all that you can, and use the money you would have spent on college to start building your financial future now rather than later.

Start a business.

For most people, the whole point of college is to get a good job. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you think differently than most people. Some of the most successful business owners and entrepreneurs I know never went to college or dropped out. They understood that they could spend all their time, youth, energy, and talent putting money in other people’s pockets and building other people’s dreams, or they could use those resources for their own pockets and dreams. If you have a good business idea, run with it now.

Serve your community.

Finally, spread some goodwill with some of the free time you’ll have from not writing term papers on ancient history at three in the morning.

A lot of people want to serve their community but never seem to have time. “I’ll do it after college,” they say. Then it’s, “I’ll do it after this internship.” Then, “I’ll do it after the kids are older.” It goes on and on.

I’m a firm believer that helping others is not only good for your soul but also good for your financial future. As the old proverb goes, if you plant good things, good things will be harvested.

Serving your community allows you to think outside your world, make connections with people you’d never meet otherwise, identify needs and opportunities, figure out ways to meet those needs, and opens many doors that would otherwise be closed—all while doing something worthwhile and good.

What are you doing to improve your financial education?

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