Advice for High School Seniors

Congratulations you’re a high school senior!

Things are about to change quickly. You’re about to make some really important decisions in the next few months that you will probably mess up.

Today in America, most high school graduates decide to college. But how do you pick the college to go to? Do you follow your heart? Hell no.

The student loan debt crisis is getting out of control. You are 18 years old, which means you are stupid. Teenagers should not be allowed to take out massive amounts of non-dischargeable student loan debt. But you are. Because obviously education is worth living for decades in misery!

So listen to me very clearly and at least consider the following bullet points of amazing advice.

Don’t go to a private school.

I don’t care if it’s been your dream school since you were a little boy or girl. The worst sin is going to a no-name private school but even the top-15 universities are rarely worth the price.

The biggest mistake one of my best friends made was deciding to go to Stanford over UC Berkeley (Cal). He would have started as a sophomore at Cal due to AP credits but Stanford made him take most of those classes again! Also, tuition was four times as expensive. Is Stanford a better school than Cal? Yes, a little bit. Is it four times better? Hell no.

Don’t go to an out-of-state school.

Try for the best university in your state. If you don’t get in, it doesn’t really matter. Your major is much more important.

I was blessed (or cursed depending on who you ask) to grow up in California. This gave me access to the world famous UC system for an in-state price. But there are good (or good enough) public schools in every state.

If you’re from Florida and decide to go to University of Georgia to “get away from home” I will slap you in the face. It’s never worth paying out-of-state tuition. Go to UF or FSU.

I’m saving you from a mortgage without the house. How many stories do you have to read before it gets through your head? Dave Ramsey has my back on this.

The only exceptions for going to a private school or out-of-state school is if you are on a huge athletic or academic scholarship. Or if you’re parents are paying. I’m not a hater.

I know you’re thinking, “Don’t tell me what to do, I’ll do what I want!” Look you can do what you want. But you’ll be making a huge mistake.

But what if you really want to save money? Or if your grades aren’t good enough for the best public schools in your state?

Consider community college.

This is especially preferable if you can live at home for free or close to it. I grew up in rural California and ended up moving in with my grandma to avoid a two hour round trip commute to the closest campus. Get creative!

I had a 3.3 GPA high school with an SAT score lower than George W. Bush’s. UCLA and Cal would have laughed at my application. Two years later I had a 3.85 GPA and an AA with honors. I was also accepted to everywhere I applied!

Don’t follow your passion.

Do you know what my passions are?

Hanging out with my wife. Going on bike rides. Reading books. Eating food. Lifting weights. Looking at vintage watches. Traveling to new places. Writing for my dozens of blog readers.

Would anyone in their right mind pay me to do any of these things? Hell no.

But I am free to do all of these things guilt free once I’m financially independent!

Following your passion is stupid. Unless your passion is Software Engineering.

Study something that will make you money. Accounting, Engineering and Computer Science come to mind. If you work your ass off with one of these majors you will have the ability to be financially independent in ten years or less. It’s a lot easier to follow your passion with a million invested!

And remember your passion can always be your minor. Or you can read books about your passion on the side. Which brings me to my next bullet point.

Read Books.

Did you know a third of the population will never read a book after high school? This is a great way to be average or below average. I never took reading seriously in high school and consequently miss every literature question on Jeopardy!

In college I got a little better but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I really started to pick up my reading. And do you know what happened? I started to get way smarter. I started to have more intelligent conversations with people from all walks of life. And most importantly, I started to make way more money. I still haven’t finished my high school classic literature requirements but can recommend a few good non-fiction books.

Don’t drink much.

I drank a lot in college. I was in a fraternity and far from home. It was great way to meet people (mostly girls). But when you drink you make bad decisions that you will regret. If you’re lucky (like I was), you only regret them temporarily (saying something embarrassing, falling down the stairs or waking up to a bad sun burn). But some drinking mistakes can be permanent (pregnancy, drunk driving or getting arrested). If I were to do it again I would barely drink at all (as I currently do).

Don’t worry about investing. Yet.

My book list will give you plenty of simple investing ideas. I used to be a big fan of the Permanent Portfolio but now my wife and I are more aggressive with an 80% VTSAX, 20% VTIAX allocation and a six month cash emergency fund.

I get a lot of questions on Twitter about what stocks to buy. I have no idea. I only bought one individual stock this year and that was Apple at $93. I sold it at $104 thinking I was brilliant! It’s now $117 and will probably keep climbing higher.

Investment returns are almost irrelevant if the investment is small. Savings rate is much more important than getting a 10% return on a small sum of money. While you are in college you should focus on studying and networking. Don’t worry about finding the next hot stock tip. You can start aggressively investing after you get that high paying software engineering job and pay off your minimal student loan debt.


This article has 10 comments

  1. getrichquickish Reply

    Dang, Steve – that was pretty dang good. Totes worth the wait!

    I went to a no name university that was sandwiched between two well known schools. It hasn’t hurt me one bit. I could have paid a lot more for my degree, but I doubt I’d be making more money today.

    And I’m with you on the reading. It took me a looong time to appreciate books, but now I love them.

    Great article man. You should write a book!

    • Steve Reply

      Appreciate the good vibes! I don’t have a big problem with a no name university as much as I have a problem with a no name university that will get you into tons of debt. I have a friend with 60k in student debt from a for-profit college that nobody has ever heard of.

  2. financialibre Reply

    Ha! Laughed out loud at a few of the lines here – nice work!

    Especially in CA the community college track for the first two years is a well-respected and smart route. And the UC system’s hard to beat on a statewide basis.

    There are some minor points here and there in this post where I guess I have a slightly different perspective, but the broader message and philosophy make lots of sense, and I hope at least some of the dozens of readers who check out this article heed (at least some of) its guidance.

    Thanks for the fun read!

  3. Greg Reply

    “Investment returns are almost irrelevant if the investment is small. Savings rate is much more important than getting a 10% return on a small sum of money.”

    Words to live by, walk before you run. Great post.

  4. Penny (@picksuppennies) Reply

    Really excellent advice here! I wish I could get more successful people connected with my students to help them get over the Big 10/Ivy League school thing. I talk to them about my own experience but they look at me like I have three heads. I went to a really small private school close to home because I qualified for a really sizable scholarship. It actually cost less than public/state universities. And the small class sizes made a huge difference for the opportunities I was looking for! But alas, I’m “only” a teacher, so many of my students and their families don’t take me seriously.

  5. TJ Reply

    I feel like moving away from home and living in dorms was a pretty important growth period for me vs. staying at home and doing community college. Though it’s mind boggling how much money i would have saved my parents if I went that route.

    Financially, it’s a no brainer to do community college and stay in-state, though.

    No kidding on the drinking, too….

    • Steve Reply

      I moved into the dorms as a junior transfer, it was really fun! Then I lived in an apartment with some friends before finishing my last year living in my fraternity.
      I would have taken a bit more debt to go to UCLA or Cal as a freshman but there was no way I was getting in and didn’t want to “settle” anywhere else.

  6. MustardSeedMoney Reply

    You had me at the Freaks and Geeks picture!!! Such great advice. I wish I had gone to a slightly smaller school in college. I decided to go with the big name public in state school, I didn’t completely fail your list 🙂 But looking back I wish it was smaller where I got a little more attention. Fortunately I was able to go to graduate school and get smaller classes where I felt like I flourished although I wish I had the opportunity to flourish over 6 years instead of 2 🙂

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