Jonathan: This question is from Andrew. The question is: I am still in high school and my parents want me to go to college when I get out. I read something you wrote about how college isn’t really important, but I have to go, so what should I go for that will help me out in the lawn care business.
So first, I want to clarify my position on college. I have probably said, and it drives my wife crazy when I say this, but I have said negative things about college. I personally think college is an outdated concept and I also think that the college system should change. I have a real problem with somebody going to college, going into a ridiculous amount of debt, and I just think there is a better way. And for that reason, I am not overly fond of college.
Now, I went to college, and actually when I went to college I always wanted to be in business for myself. I sort of did it as a backup plan. My parents did not make me go to college, and so it was something I chose to do because I thought I should just do this and it will give me more options in life and I didn’t end up needing my degree, but I have my degree and it did open some doors for me; the biggest of which was had I not gotten my degree I probably would have never ended up in the software industry because I would have never been exposed to programming because I wasn’t a person to go learn how to program on my own; I learned that in college.
So my take on college is that if you don’t go to college, it’s not an out. My opinion on the fact that you don’t need college or college is unnecessary is not in anyway to give someone a cop-out and say, okay well good I don’t have to go to college. I actually think you should do the equivalent of college whether or not it is a formal degree. I also belief that if you work for someone, like for example if you work with me or you work at my company or you work at another company like mine, you are going to learn a ton and you are going to learn a whole lot more than you would learn sitting in a classroom taught by somebody that’s never done. But, that’s even an over-generalization because there is a lot of great programs out there that will teach you.
So, for example, we hire a lot of developers at our company. Well, our developers did learn a lot in college because most of the guys we hire went to a good college that was doing a good job teaching, but even at a college you have to find the right program and the right professors and if you go to a 4-year college and you happen to get mediocre professors or it’s not that great of a program it might be a waste.
So, I think it’s on you to make sure you educate yourself with the classes that you need that are most important and I go back to things like public speaking, like writing, accounting, finance. Any of those types of classes are really important. Anything around technology, super important. Probably a foreign language such as Spanish. I think there are a lot of very important classes. The problem is that college also does not really prepare you for reality. For example, I do not think you can be a first class marketer or salesperson by taking college classes. You have to go to guys that are way more advanced that are doing are on the cutting edge. You are not going to learn Google Ad Words and SCO and things like that in college. You are not going to learn real direct response marketing techniques in college. So, rather for myself if I could do it all over again, rather than having spent all the money on college knowing what I now know I would have spent that money in different areas. Again, it is not a cop-out. I would have got more education outside of college than I probably got in college and that’s another point to make is that you are going to get more education for the rest of your life than the equivalent of just a 4-year degree. What do most people do? They go to school for 4 years. They actually go to school and party for 5 years and happen to get a degree and then that is the end of their education unless their employer makes them get more education. I think that is a horrible idea. The better idea is to get into the work world as fast as you can at a great company and learn while you are spending your college money on accounting, public speaking, marketing, sales, all of these different things.
I felt very strongly that I needed to clarify that I do not have a problem with learning and education. I think you should spend a fortune on learning and education, just spend it correctly and be prudent about how you do it but do not cut corners in that area. If you think that there is a chance of having a great career and being incredibly success whether working for someone or building your own company and you are going to do it without learning; not a chance. The smartest guys out there are avid learners, avid readers, they are learning from the best, they are finding mentors, they are eventually probably getting coaches, they are learning and they will be learning for the rest of their life. That is the only way that you will be really, really successful. I just have the opinion that it can happen outside of a college 4-year degree.
So to your question, if you are going to college to get a degree, I don’t know if I know exactly what I would get the degree in. The first two things that come to mind for me, if I was doing it all over again and I was getting a degree, I would get my degree in … and maybe this is the best way to answer it, I would get my degree in accounting and computer programming. Something computer related, specifically software programming and accounting and finance. I think personally from my perspective those are the most valuable degrees that you can get. There are plenty of others, but that’s what I would personally do. Both will help you tremendously, both give you a lot of options. The world we are moving into is all about technology and if you understand finance that is critical to your business. You can learn a lot of the skills you would learn in a business degree by reading great books. What are you not going to easily learn in books? I think it is harder to learn finance, though it can be done, it’s nice to be forced into having to actually do the work in accounting and learn it and you are probably not going to pick up a book and learn how to program or learn computers, so put yourself in a position where you are forced to do that. Think about it from that perspective, what are the most valuable skills of an executive in a company or an owner of a company and make sure you put yourself in a position to be forced to learn and practice those skills, writing, public speaking, programming, finance and accounting. Anything around that, you will do very well.