Do I need a college degree?
July 9, 2009 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Do I need a college degree? I have no trouble finding work, make good money, and love what I do.

I was reasonably good at academics in high school (15xx SAT, 50+ hours of AP credit, etc) but I dropped out of college to take a fun job (to the great chagrin of friends and family). The job paid reasonably well (~$60K/year), and after leaving the job, I got accepted to a great university (one of the best in America) based, in large part, on my experience at that job.

After returning to school, I got bored quickly and had a job offer doing research in a field I love for ~$90K/year. So, I took the research position and continued school part time.

Now, I still haven't finished my degree, but I've been offered an executive-level position at a new company (with a ~$150K salary, to boot) - but I'd have to move and drop out of school again.

I'm strongly considering this, but everyone I know tells me that it would be a terrible mistake to leave one of the best schools in the country. They keep telling me that I need to 'get an education' - but I haven't learned anything in school in years: if I do it I'll just be working towards getting a piece of paper.

I'm 24 years old, and make more money than any of my friends who have college degrees ... So I'm kind of starting to question the value of a bachelor's degree. Although I don't have the piece of paper, I'm pretty well recognized as an 'expert' in my field by anyone I talk to (at my current research job, many people assume I have a PhD). So, why should I bother getting a bachelors degree? Or am I right to think that it isn't necessary for me to finish school.

I'm asking anonymously since several people at my current research lab read MeFi and would recognize my username (they don't know I'm considering an offer at a new company).
posted by anonymous to Education (63 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure you save a whole ton of money. Like many tens of thousands. If you ever find lack of a degree actually limiting, you can use that money to pay for living expenses and tuition, go back to getting the degree, and return to making progress.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:17 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

A degree is not essential. Beyond a certain point, work experience on your resume is far more important than a degree.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:19 PM on July 9, 2009

Drop out, take the job, save money. If you find you need to go back to school at some point, you will have a reserve fund to do so.
posted by Packy_1962 at 12:19 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

As I see it, people go to college for two reasons, one is to learn and the other is to be able to get a high-paying fulfilling job.

You're not learning anything by your own admission and you have a high-paying, fulfilling job at the ready. Get out of school and enjoy.
posted by inturnaround at 12:21 PM on July 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

Do both, if it's possible to continue your studies online. More and more universities are offering the option to take some or all coursework online.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:24 PM on July 9, 2009

You don't really indicate what field you are in, and this does matter a good bit. I have a number of friends who did rather well for themselves in the IT world in the last few years without a college degree. Then, suddenly, they were laid off or wanted to change jobs, only to discover that the market for computer guys without a degree is very limited. Some fields will only let you go so far up the ladder without a degree. Some companies will hire in non-degreed candidates because they know they are limited. Some companies don't give a flip about your experience or skills if there's no degree listed on your resume. It all depends.

YMMV, but be aware that you could top out at any point and be very limited. What tomorrowful says is very true. Save that cash and plan for going back to school if you have to. There's nothing worse than being the 40 year old guy with 15-20 years experience in the field who's stuck at middle management because all the young kids with degrees are get promoted past you.
posted by teleri025 at 12:25 PM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Let's put it this way, I have two degrees and don't make $150K a year and don't love what I do. Take the job. Live within your means, save and take any opportunity your new company offers to stay abreast of advances in your field.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:27 PM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

One argument I could see in favor of getting a college degree is that it's very unusual to be offered a high level position like the one you're considering without a college education. So if something were to happen to that position or company, you might have a hard time making a lateral move to some other company without a college degree.
posted by aught at 12:27 PM on July 9, 2009

Anyone who can get an executive-level job paying $150K without a degree is smart enough to know the answer to this question. In fact, I would say that not having a degree yet accomplishing as much as you have lends you more credibility, not less. You can be the guy that the old-timers point to in 10 years when they lament how dumb all the new Ivy League hires are. "Back in our day, if you were really good, you didn't even need to go to college!"
posted by pravit at 12:28 PM on July 9, 2009

You have already proved that you don't need a degree, as you're making about 5x what someone with a college degree might be making. $150K is a HUGE amount of money. Don't let it change how you live or your expectations. You should be saving/investing at least half of that so that you can put yourself through college later if you want, or just retire early and comfortably.

In the meantime, obviously dress well enough to do your job, but otherwise keep your expenses limited and live like your friends do, not like other folks making as much as you. Set it up so that you're enjoying making so much, rather than working hard to make enough money to maintain a ludicrous lifestyle.
posted by explosion at 12:29 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

One argument I could see in favor of getting a college degree is that it's very unusual to be offered a high level position like the one you're considering without a college education.

Yes, this is exactly what happened to my father once he moved up the ranks of his company to the executive level. He was told numerous times "We are so sorry, you're the perfect candidate for this position, but we can't have someone in it without a degree." (Totally unfair but when you're dealing with boards and shareholders etc., it's the name of the game.) He ended up doing exceptionally well for himself regardless, but if you can see yourself in this awkward and unfortunate position down the line, the degree is something to think about.

All of that being said, I will shortly have 3 degrees and highly doubt that I will ever make as much money as my father did.
posted by meerkatty at 12:33 PM on July 9, 2009

A degree from a good university is more than just a piece of paper. It is verification from leaders in a field that you are knowledgeable about a subject. The higher you go academically, the more that verification means.

If you are getting bored, I have to wonder. The university itself may be highly regarded but how highly regarded is the reputation of the professors in your program? You get as much out of an education as you want to put into it. Sure your professors should be challenging you but in the end you have to challenge yourself. Don't just stop at what is presented to you, use the resources available to expand on what is being taught. If you are an expert in your field, work on becoming a bigger expert by pushing the envelope and researching through an institution.
posted by JJ86 at 12:35 PM on July 9, 2009

I'm 24 years old, and make more money than any of my friends who have college degrees ... So I'm kind of starting to question the value of a bachelor's degree.

At some point, people may start to wonder why you can't finish anything and keep jumping around.

Then again, they may not. It really depends on you and your field. Is a degree required for something? If so, you may incur resentment from employees if they find out. But you might be that smart and personable that people just follow you and are drawn to you.

Long story short, you do not need a college degree to be successful in life. However you may need one to be taken seriously in your field. Consider that and weigh your options and where you think you'll go in the future. At the moment, you don't seem to have plan, just great offers. Do you know what you want to do? Will a degree help you do it? If not, will NOT having a degree hinder you? These are the questions you need ask.

I'm asking anonymously since several people at my current research lab read MeFi and would recognize my username (they don't know I'm considering an offer at a new company)

Obviously if you take the job and leave, they might be able to figure out from this post. I mention this to gently suggest that you may not be as smart as you think.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:36 PM on July 9, 2009

There's a long and distinguished list of folks who have dropped out of college (or never went at all) and found tremendous success. As cheesy as it sounds, follow your heart. But do use common sense in preparing yourself financially for the future, whatever choice you make.
posted by doh ray mii at 12:36 PM on July 9, 2009

You obviously don't need the degree.

(Are you hiring?)
posted by entropicamericana at 12:39 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Obviously if you take the job and leave, they might be able to figure out from this post. I mention this to gently suggest that you may not be as smart as you think.

But if he leaves, the need for secrecy is gone...the way he put it, he just doesn't want his fellow lab rats to know he's considering leaving. Once he's gone, what does it matter?

I mention this to gently suggest that you may not be as smart as you think, Brandon Blatcher.
posted by inturnaround at 12:40 PM on July 9, 2009 [8 favorites]

Save what you can, but finish the degree. Right now you're making, what, $90K a year? Part-time? And you can still finish your degree in a few years? I say stay with that (high!) salary, finish your degree, and then keep going.
posted by mdonley at 12:41 PM on July 9, 2009

You don't need a college degree. BUT, your talk of high SATs, GPA, AP classes, getting accepting into a top US univ. won't mean a damn if you don't have a college degree (unless you're 17-21).

If you can live your life based on work experience and accomplishments, and not about academics...then you TOTALLY do not need a college degree.

You know who doesn't have a college degree? Bill Gates. You know why he doesnt need to reference how well he did academically...because he is Microsoft. Sure its an extreme example, but if you have your own version of Microsoft(which could be as simple as a locksmithing business), you don't need a college degree at all.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:42 PM on July 9, 2009

BUT, your talk of high SATs, GPA, AP classes, getting accepting into a top US univ. won't mean a damn if you don't have a college degree (unless you're 17-21)

Believe it or not, many banks and hedge funds ask for SAT scores (and this is when interviewing people with degrees, often years out of school). Many people who work at these places are also prototypical college-dropout wunderkinds like the OP.
posted by pravit at 12:50 PM on July 9, 2009

One option which might be open to you is formalising your knowledge and experience into a recognised qualification without doing a degree. Find out what competency based assessment options are open to you in your field. In your particular field, is a BA even useful? Is yours a field in which you can an advanced degree without a BA?
posted by Lolie at 12:51 PM on July 9, 2009

A degree is good substitute for experience in getting your foot in the door. There are also some companies that require a certain degree for certain positions. Doesn't look like either of those is a limiting factor for you.

I got a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering. I barely even mention college on my resume at all anymore. Nobody cares. They DO care about the much-more-relevant years of work experience I have.

Most people will never make $150k/yr in their lives, even with multiple degrees. Dump school, take the job.
posted by LordSludge at 12:52 PM on July 9, 2009

College will still be there in 2 or 10 or 25 years, if your situation changes and you decide you need a degree then, and with your accomplishments I think you'd have little trouble getting into the school of your choice, whether the one you'd be dropping out of now or a different one. (Might have to take the SAT again if they want a score within the past X years, but I see no reason to believe you wouldn't do just as well as you did last time.) You got into one of the best schools in the country based largely on your experience at your first job—think how much better than that some experience in an executive-level position would look on a college application.

The people who are telling you to stay in school are working from the general case: it is true that many people need a degree to get the job and/or salary they want. However, it is clear the general case does not apply to you.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:54 PM on July 9, 2009

There's a long and distinguished list of folks who have dropped out of college (or never went at all) and found tremendous success.

There's also a less distinguished (but probably longer) list of folks who dropped out of college, found temporary success, and then crashed and burned. Many of the people who left school to join a tech company before the dotcom crash, or left school for a finance job before the housing bubble burst ended up on that list. You would not be the first person to go from making six figures at 24 to being broke and sleeping on a friend's couch at 26 if you had the misfortune to end up there. It depends a lot on your chosen field, but if things go wrong, or you want to move to a different field, having a degree will get your foot in a lot more doors than if you don't have one.

As others have said though, it's possible that you'll never need a degree, and as long as you save a lot of money from your current and future jobs you should have enough to go back to school if you ever need to. Also, make sure as you're climbing up the professional ladder that you aren't burning any bridges to get there, especially if your field is specific enough that it has a smallish number of people working in it. Having a degree is one way to help ensure that you have opportunities to do what you want in the future, but it's not the only way, so it's not an absolute requirement as long as you do other things to plan for the future.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:54 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

How stable is this job/new company? If it's a startup I'd be wary of leaving school. Can you negotiate a way to leave school that would enable you to then come back if things didn't work out (i.e. take a leave of absence?). I'd say go talk to your advisor if you're strongly considering leaving and see what your options would be. But it seems like if you're getting offered this kind of job now, in a recession, with no degree, it probably wouldn't hurt you too much to get your degree - another good job would almost certainly come up again for you but an opportunity to get a good university education might not.
posted by hazyjane at 12:55 PM on July 9, 2009

One thing that's notable about the "needing a degree" bit is that it's just a degree. When it comes to the absurd "can't give you this job, you don't have a piece of paper" prejudice, it can be the "wrong kind" of degree. A Philosophy degree from a midrange state school will do just fine; I know plenty of people in big fancy jobs with degrees that have diddly squat to do with their role or career. It's a hoop to jump through, and yes it's often a stupid and misleading one, but if you're taking your career very quickly in the direction of C-level positions, you're probably going to also very quickly find that lack of that piece of paper is a genuine limiting factor, despite you being a competent wunderkind.

Usually, executive types have some leeway in building their schedules, because they're working so much that nobody really cares if they're away from the office for an hour or two in the middle of the day. I'd suggest giving very serious thought to continuing to plug away at a BS at some local college, in person and/or online, as much as you can. Yes it's stupid. But over the course of your career, it's almost certain to matter.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:56 PM on July 9, 2009

A degree is a resume item - its a checklist item for many prospective employers, as well as sometimes a measured requirement for internal advancement. Do you need one? No. Does not having one limit your choices? Yes. Does it matter if your choices are limmited? eventually, but that may not matter to you.

As far as school, credits expire - find out from your school how long you can not be in school before your credits start to roll off. Also find out if you can take a break and return with no penalty. Also make sure you understand how future student loans (if necessary) would be affected.

Now as for work... lets say you take this job, and 4 years later you or the company are ready to move on. If you have good contacts and don't intend on taking a career leap either without them, or directly onto your own, you might not have much to worry about. But, if you are at a point where you are sending out some level of blind application there might be much more difficulty. As an FYI, Sofar you've indicated 3 jobs and 2 attempts at school in a period of 6 years... To some potential employers, that could be a problem. Add onto that a lack of a formal education, and your pool of options will dwindle fast.

Take your potential lifestyle - car payments, mortgages, utilities and figure out where you want to be when you move on to the $150K job. Without a college degree - you can have that tomorrow; but, what will you have in 8 years? Now, waiting and finishing up your degree might seem like that $150K opportunity vanishes, but I'd argue this: if you are worth $150K with no degree you'll be worth a hell of a lot more over the course of your lifetime with one.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:57 PM on July 9, 2009

Hmmm to put it better: the point of school is to get you a good job. You have an incredibly good job offer, which it sounds like school facilitated even though you haven't completed the curriculum. Mission accomplished; take the job.
posted by LordSludge at 12:58 PM on July 9, 2009

Take the job, but: go to school wherever you end up. You can get a good education anywhere, and if you're already excelling in the job market, there's no good reason to go to the "good" (aka brand name) school. You should get a degree at some point, because not having one will almost certainly limit you at some point. And you only live once; why not get a little edumacation?
posted by General Malaise at 1:00 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seems like the OP has no problem getting jobs, from $60K to $90K to $150K and he/she is only 24 years old? What's the rush to take this job? School doesn't take that long to finish and their will be other work opportunities in the future, more so with the degree. Dropping out of school and going back then dropping out again and then going back seems like a waste of time to me. Just find some way to get invested in the education process and maybe you will actually find out that despite however smart you may be there are other things you can still learn.
posted by Bengston at 1:03 PM on July 9, 2009

Take the job. You are ahead of the game.
posted by heather-b at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2009

I'm a big fan of degrees. They say more than 'what you know'. They are an indicator that you can make a multi-year plan and stick with it. Obviously, if you drop out of college, you can't claim that particular skill. If you didn't finish, you didn't go. It's really pretty binary.

At the same time, work experience is usually monochromatic and site specific. An education broadens as well as deepens. The curriculum in ANY bachelor's program is intended to give you cultural context as well as a skill set.

My advice, for what it is worth, is to continue your education, regardless of whether you finish college. Broadened horizons give you a means of applying and seeing the subtle nuances in the world in which you live. If it were only about money, we'd all be drug dealers, mercenaries, or some career that provide some other source of easy money.

I'm very happy for you to have achieved what you have achieved. In one's twenties, it's awfully tempting to equate financial success with growth, but it's not always valid.

One of my favorite questions of old was the turn-around "If you're so rich, how come you're not smart?". Fortune is a fleeting maid. As much as you can earn in a decade, most of us could spend in a year. At the very least, you may want to make a plan that includes saving for the day when you value the things you can get from education, and plan on doing it at some point.

Good luck, and congratulations, again. You obviously have some very desirable talents and should be happy with your circumstances.
posted by FauxScot at 1:08 PM on July 9, 2009

I'm not surprised you're bored in your bachelor's program. Most of the people around you are intellectually younger, taking more classes, and likely more involved in the culture of the school. Like anywhere, if you just follow the stepping stones in college, you're going to get some good experiences and some mediocre ones. It's only if you really push to find the good experiences. Research is one place a lot of people find that, but also graduate courses and courses that are of interest but outside one's field of study. Most quantitative courses probably teach one familiar idea for every new idea they introduce, largely to drill into people's heads the basics, but also because it's impossible to know what previous courses taught.

If you want to try to continue with the degree (and it's not necessarily a bad idea), I recommend talking with some professors about what you're going through and ask for tips on, basically, how to be getting more out of this degree. Colleges are full of unique resources, and I think it'd be foolish to drop out before trying to search them out.

You might also want to think about how much you want to jump from a research job to an executive job. $60k/year is a lot, but so is something that's awesome to do everyday.
posted by Schismatic at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2009

The true value of an elite university education, for most people, is not the classes and maybe not even the name on the degree at the end. It's the whole experience they get (most of it outside class), the resources at their disposal, and the network they gain. Sounds like you are getting all those things out of work, currently. I say take the job.

I also agree with the posters who caution you to save money in case you find yourself needing that bachelor's later. You're making plenty, enough so that you could easily set aside $50K to go back to your current school when the time comes. What if you want to change fields entirely and your previous experience means nothing in the industry you want to move to? In that case, college might make it easier to start over, but getting a degree now for the paper at a school that has more to offer than the degree itself doesn't make sense.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2009

No, you don't need it.

When a candidate applies for a position and they have no real experience (for example, it's their first serious job application), that degree is very important and explains a lot to the employer. It also gives the employer a good guess at what the person knows, their work ethic, and so on, especially if they have other hires from the same school. It's shorthand for a brain-description... to varying degrees of accuracy.

But by the time the applicant is older and is applying for their second, third, fourth position... that degree becomes worth less and less, and the experience worth more and more. The more technical the degree the more true this is.

You're already older, you already have valuable experience and are desireable as an employee. The degree would ALREADY be the fourth or fifth most important thing on your resume. So you don't need it.

Of course, if it's interesting to you, finish it later when you're bored or unemployed. Or finish a degree in a different, unrelated-to-work but actually interesting field. But do it for your own education or fun value, not as a job-seeking weapon.

Take the job.
posted by rokusan at 1:22 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're young. Here's what you know, but maybe don't know you know: take every opportunity you get, take every calculated risk you can. Things may not pan out whichever way you go; sometimes you make big mistakes and learn big lessons from them, and move on to bigger successes (or bigger failures). C'est la vie.

The question is, which is the bigger opportunity, a degree from a prestigious university or a $150K executive position at Company X? Which risk has a better payoff versus potential loss, dropping out of school for the paycheck, or missing the job opportunity for a degree?

One caveat that I'll include is that if you are going to a prestigous university, then the fact that you were accepted may put you into "the club." "I don't have a degree, but went to Stanford for a while. I left school to take on the VP position with X Company" sounds pretty impressive, but so does "I started in the industry for a few years, then got my degree at Stanford going to school part time while working full time as Director of Q at Y Company." The two statements have have different rings to them, though.

You may choose wrongly, but seriously, go with your gut. It's worked out pretty well so far.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:22 PM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

You don't have to decide never to go to college. In fact, even if you blow all your savings, there are specific fellowships for folks who have stopped and started college multiple times. Go do that badass job. Save some money if you're smart, but you can always go to college later.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:31 PM on July 9, 2009

Will? Will Hunting? Is that you? I can't help feeling like this is less a question than an opportunity to brag. So let's get this out of the way: You sure sound awesome! I bet you're way better off than everyone who went to college! Way to be too smart for college!

On the off chance that this is in fact a sincere question and not an ego-stroke: Take the job. You obviously don't care about school (really? You "haven't learned anything. . . in years" at "one of the best schools in the country"? You're clearly not trying), so you're missing most of the secondary benefits of higher education anyway. So take the job, save some money for the off chance that not having a degree will come back to haunt you financially.

If and when fortune finds you in a place where you have the time and money to go back to school, you could always change your major to something unrelated to your profession. That way, you might learn something.
posted by willpie at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2009

0) You'd need to give more specific information about the research position/work segment to be able to get more specific advise. This is no golden answer.

When you drop out:

1) Make sure you build a hefty buffer for rainy years, e.g. if you have switch careers. Hefty means being able to live more than a long year without any income whatsoever (e.g. five zeros) . When you don't have a degree, it's important that your money management is flawless, that bills are paid in time, and you have no significant credit card debt, as you will be more vulnerable when companies don't like to hire.

2) Talk to people who did finish their degree, and ask them what's the 20% most important theoretical material. In e.g. computer science and management, you get 80% of the benefit from learning 20% of the material. Make sure you know this 20% very well.

3) Do a marathon, or something else that shows future employers that you can stick to a plan, no matter how much it hurts.
posted by flif at 1:42 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sure, take the money.

But remember that exec = political.

And lack-of-degree = target.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 1:56 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can always go back to school... I'd talk to the people at your current school about whether you can get guaranteed return admission if this job doesn't pan out, but, failing that, this seems like a no-brainer -- a job you like making piles of money?
posted by paultopia at 2:11 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

How much longer would it take you to finish your degree? If under a year, definitely do it. If longer, then quitting might be worth thinking about.

Another thing to think about:

What are you going to do when you are in your forties, without a college degree, and will be competing with younger degree-holders for jobs? The value of a degree seems to be going up, and twenty years from now it might be impossible to get any kind of good job without one.

If I were interviewing you for a job, I would ask you why you never bothered to get a degree since you are obviously smart and experienced enough to easily earn one. It wouldn't necessarily hurt your chance at a job, but it would be something to think about.
posted by twblalock at 2:33 PM on July 9, 2009

If you're unsure of the permanence of the position you don't have to tell your profs/advisors/peers that you're leaving for good. Tell them you're taking a year off to explore this beautiful learning experience you've had the privilege of being offered because of its real-world relation to your learning of blah blah blah.

Or tell them the truth. People in academia are people, they'll understand: you'll be making more than most professors. 150k is a hell of a lot of money for a 24-year-old. How much do you really need to live and work where you are? If you're unsure about whether or not you'll be returning to university you should save a sizeable chunk of that. You can always go to college later. In my undergrad department's class of 30, 3 had grandchildren.
posted by Ndwright at 2:37 PM on July 9, 2009

I'm surprised no one has suggested this yet. Why haven't you applied for a master's program at some point? You could theoretically have picked one up in a two years somewhere, and bam, there's you're degree.

That being said, I'd take the money and run, kid. But sock up enough to pay living expenses + tuition at any college you could see yourself attending in the future.

Just in case.
posted by Precision at 4:29 PM on July 9, 2009

Add me to the "take the job" chorus. I've been told I'd need a degree for X job. On reflection I've generally been glad I didn't take X job later; that's one sign of a place that will have lots of other reasons going that you don't want to work there.

If your life experience is as described, anybody who does not want to hire you because you don't have the hoop-jumping certificate doesn't deserve to have you on the team.
posted by localroger at 4:36 PM on July 9, 2009

Take the job. If you're in a top college and not learning anything, you're wasting your money, their time, and a slot that someone else could use.
posted by escabeche at 5:00 PM on July 9, 2009

Get a degree. It doesn't matter what degree and what school, just get something so when you next have to search for a job you can make it past closed-minded HR people. Online is fine, community college for most of the classes is fine... just get some kind of piece of paper so you don't get in trouble later.
posted by miyabo at 5:26 PM on July 9, 2009

The World Famous it's pretty obvious he doesn't need a degree to do what he does, since he's doing it. I think you missed the If your life experience is as described part of my reply. For some people, who want to do certain things, yah, you need the degree. But for most people with actual life experience in most skilled jobs, not so much.
posted by localroger at 6:35 PM on July 9, 2009

Obviously, if you drop out of college, you can't claim that particular skill. If you didn't finish, you didn't go. It's really pretty binary.

Just wandering to by to say that this is the crispiest crap ever.
posted by Windigo at 7:03 PM on July 9, 2009

With a resume like that no one will ever think twice about the fact that you do not have a degree. It would be foolish to go back to school for your career. You should only consider finishing your degree if you'll get great personal satisfaction out of it.
posted by signalnine at 7:50 PM on July 9, 2009

Logically, there are two cases to consider here.

1) In the first case, you expect your current level of success to sustain itself, or continually increase, indefinitely. You are golden and things will never get worse for you.

In this case, you could take the job now, but you could also finish the degree, and just get another 150K or better job when you finish. You are already making good money, so taking the job is not a matter of survival, and the opportunity cost of finishing the degree (the 60K differential in salary minus taxes * number of years left in school) is not overwhelmingly high. If you finish, you will have a prestigious degree in addition to your other strong qualifications, possibly setting you up for even greater success.

2) In the second case, you don't make the prediction that your success will continue uninterruptedly. For all you know this 150K job could be an exceptional event. What will happen in the economy or in your industry is unknown. You don't know what will happen on this job -- for all you know the company could go bust or you could dislike the job and leave in a year.

In this case, finishing the degree definitely beats out not finishing it. Since you expect your career to have its ups and downs, having the degree helps insulate against these vicissitudes. It saves you from worry and scrutiny every time you try for a new job in the next 40 or so years. It also insures that you are not letting what could be a one-time exceptional job offer cloud your long-term prospects.

In both cases, finishing the degree beats out not finishing it.

If you decide to finish the degree, you could look into tailoring your remaining college courses so they are as enjoyable and interesting as possible. There's no rule or requirement that you get a degree specific to your field, especially if you are already getting 150K job offers. Why not study whatever topic you're most interested in, regardless of whether it has anything to do with your work, while simultaneously working at your job, and get the best of both worlds?
posted by lsemel at 7:52 PM on July 9, 2009

Not trying to hate, but I see the two cases completely opposite:

1) Why forfeit X years of additional $90k/yr salary if the degree will gain you nothing? That is a TON of money! It's enough for a downpayment on a house + a new car bought and paid for. Or a great start on your retirement fund.

2) Get the money while the getting's good. Drop out of school, make $150k in a year while you have the opportunity, and if you are laid off in a year you can always go back to school. And throw some really big parties.
posted by LordSludge at 8:03 PM on July 9, 2009

Education is a Good Thing, not just a career path. You don't sound like you want to stay in college. Sounds like you could finish a degree and then get a fabulous job, if the degree was a priority to you. So, educate yourself. Read widely, learn about art, history, sciences, math, literature, geography, politics. Find interesting people to discuss important ideas with. Be self-made and self-educated. One thing people get at school is a network, so stay in touch with your school, and develop your network of friends, coworkers, colleagues.
posted by theora55 at 8:41 PM on July 9, 2009

Take the job, but continue with the degree. If they're so eager to recruit you, maybe you can get them to pay for your classes.

Cautionary tale: I know a guy with no degree who worked for a company that was acquired by a larger one. Suddenly there was a hoopjumping glass ceiling where none existed before. Anyone without a degree got their trajectory truncated.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:57 PM on July 9, 2009

@LordSludge: The original poster is forgoing a 60K increase in salary, not the entirety of their current 90K salary. The 60K extra will be taxed at a high rate, so let's call it 40K, and assume 2 more years. In the big scheme of things, an extra 80K in the bank isn't a ton of money.

It is probably worth the sacrifice now in order to avoid a lifetime of problems that could potentially come from not having a college degree. Sure, they could be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who succeeds wildly without a college degree, but odds are against that.

If I were in this situation, I'd find a way to make the college courses work for me and make it as enjoyable as possible -- either by taking courses relevant to my research or job, doing a customized major, or taking the most interesting and fun courses available in some unrelated area.
posted by lsemel at 11:42 PM on July 9, 2009

Also, it's a lot more difficult to go back to school later. Changing anything in life can be a headache and come with a lot of resistance, especially as people get older and have more responsibilities. Since the original poster is already in school, and just has to keep doing what he's already doing to finish it, this is a much easier path than assuming "college will always be there". There's something to be said for momentum.
posted by lsemel at 11:48 PM on July 9, 2009

If you are smart enough to play with the big boys in research at 24, don't bother getting a piece of paper. You probably would make more money at the job than anyone teaching you. Do you think you will actually learn anything you couldn't on your own if it were pertinent?

If you suddenly had a change of heart (I know you want the job), you can always go back to school for a major. Since it would really only have a qualitative effect on your job prospects, you don't even need to go to a big fancy school.

Re: the glass ceiling, if that ever becomes a problem, at least you are making $150k against a ceiling. If all else fails make a startup company.
posted by mezamashii at 5:28 AM on July 10, 2009

'Sounds like almost any choice you make will work out well, so no particular disagreement with anything above, except:

"Why haven't you applied for a master's program at some point?"

That is not an option -- (previously)

My suggestion? Do what motivates you. As for (your) hypothetical glass ceiling: Honestly, completing a college degree is a cake walk if you're motivated. Now, if it were I, I'd stick with the research position in the field I loved, and go ahead and pick up the prestigious degree while it's easily available. But then, I'm risk-adverse, and likely wouldn't be tempted by an executive position in a new company (especially in a faltering economy). Unless the company was doing something so awesome and unique that the idea of being a part of it made my heart sing.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 9:24 AM on July 10, 2009

Get at least a 4-year degree, and make sure it's in a major you enjoy. You sound really immature, to be totally honest, and the thing about college is that it will 1) give people the impression that hey, you're not a dumbass and 2) you can actually put your nose to the grindstone enough to come out with a college degree. Life isn't all about the money, by the way; I don't care if you're a fucking billionaire, if you don't have an education you're shit.

I actively detest and have contempt for people past a certain age who don't have or aren't working on at least a four-year degree. Really. Because if you don't have one, it shows that you're at the least incredibly immature and don't value education very much, and at worst a complete dumbass who frankly doesn't have the skills or the knowledge to compete with the rest of the world.
posted by kldickson at 11:14 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Degrees, in some way, are proof. Sure, you can have a really high SAT score, but that in no way reflects your maturity or how well-disciplined your mind is.
posted by kldickson at 11:15 AM on July 10, 2009

Also, what field gives someone with just a bachelor's degree a high research position, much less someone without a degree?

I also have a history as a bit of a wunderkind, getting ridiculously high SAT scores, loads of AP credit, skipped a grade, have high scores on the bevy of intelligence tests I've taken, but ffs even that shit doesn't actually measure up to the need for education, experience, and wisdom, much of which only college can really give you (work experience, while important on its own, really belongs ON TOP OF and not in place of college and other education). Being bright just means you can learn all this a LOT more easily and take it further and develop it more.

I've met and heard of people who obviously have the potential who frankly just waste their lives doing fuck-all or merely exploiting things. Don't be one of those people. Use your abilities, if you've got 'em, to make things better.
posted by kldickson at 11:21 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, my bad -- I misread that his current job was $60k/yr. So $150k - $60k = $90k

The thing is, his current education sounds like it's mostly technical in nature -- that is, it's geared towards getting him a decent paying job -- not becoming "more educated" as in more well-rounded -- i.e., history, art, literature, psychology, sociology, languages, political science, etc.. He has the job offer before getting the degree, making more than most people get WITH the degree. Mission accomplished.

Take the job. And take some guitar lessons. Take a language course. Travel, a lot! Learn to sing. Learn jiu jitsu. Learn to hang-glide. Keep the education going, lifelong, but for personal reasons, for things that will make you a "better person", whatever you feel that is. The job thing is nailed already. You've already won that game. Play another.

Yeah, I got my master's degree, and I could design some pretty advanced nonlinear controllers and crunch the hell out of some higher order partial differential equations back in the day, but I have never ONCE used even basic calculus in my job or in life. I took a job half-way through my master's degree and did finish up school -- the job was only $40k/yr (ok, 15 years ago), and even then I strongly considered dropping out. For $150k/yr?? That's a no-brainer. Done deal.

No, in the "grand scheme of things", $80-90k isn't the mother load. But for a 24yo, half-way through school, yeah that's a whole lot of money, and a great start on a retirement fund, worth several times that when you're 65. Most people save for years to buy their first house. Done. Any of my mid-20s new college-graduate friends (who are currently hovering between waiting tables and unemployment) would go utterly ballistic at the suggestion that $80k isn't a lot of money. Heck, they'd kill your mother for the $60k/yr job.
posted by LordSludge at 11:38 AM on July 10, 2009

Anon, there are several answers posted here that are just reeking of jealousy. I would hazard a guess that there is a lot of projection going on, people who were too afraid of going off the Prescribed Track of The Only Way to Be Successful... and when they did get their paper, they still didn't land 6-figure gigs, and money like you're talking about might never be on their horizon.

Don't carry their baggage. Take the job. It is in fact easy to go back to school; you are in fact so young that if this ends up being the wrong choice, you can undo it.

I do agree with the poster who suggested taking a sabbatical -- don't just drop out of school. If your resume and potential are half of what you say, the prestigious university will look at you as a potentially very lucrative alumni contact. There will be some way to leave the door open for you to return.

And I do agree with the suggestion that you should be putting a substantial chunk of change away. A degree makes a good fallback, but you are taking the calculated risk without that insurance, so have a nest egg.

Just wondering aloud... I read the OP as a female poster. Did I miss something?
posted by pineapple at 10:13 PM on July 11, 2009

pineapple, there are plenty of people who make money in 6 figures who could be described as idiots. And before you accuse people of jealousy, take them at their word. As long as I'm making, say, a comfortable amount of money per year, which is maybe a hundred or two thousand, I don't really need that much more; I'd probably shunt a considerable amount of my income toward my lab (I'm getting my PhD in neurobiology and am also not planning to have children).

Sure, you can have a lot of money, but what the hell are you going to do with it? Let it sit there and hoard it? Set aside maybe six figures or so for what you need for savings, et cetera, and then use the rest of it to donate to charity, to start a business, to fund a lab, to fund a really awesome trip abroad, etc. Because experiences are worth more than the money that can buy them.
posted by kldickson at 10:05 AM on July 12, 2009

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