Back in high school, I’m pretty sure you can vividly recall there being a couple of different groups of kids. There were the jocks, the pretty girls, the pretty boys, the bullies, the college prep kids, and the jailbirds (many who had already seen the inside of the juvenile correctional system). Of course, I was grouped with the college kids, and I’ll admit – we thought highly of ourselves.

If you were convinced that you were going places in life, you made every effort to overlook and dismiss foolishness from those who didn’t aspire to the same things you did. We had our heads in our books and our minds were on making sure our college applications stood out against millions of other college applicants.

Regardless of whether scholarships came through or not, we were going to college one way or another and we didn’t give a crap who was footing the bill. After people asked us whether we were going to college and proceeded to beam at us with pride once we told them we were attending a four-year university — we were pretty convinced that going to college was the right thing to do.

When the cool kids told everyone that they were going to cosmetology school or off to trade school to become electricians and such, we mindlessly dismissed them — summing them up to be folks who weren’t cut out for school.  I mean we were going to a university, after all, and once we got those bachelor’s degrees, we just knew big money awaited us. Some of those degrees paid off, but unfortunately, others have different stories to tell.

I often think about how parents, other students, school administrators — hell, society in general, pushes a certain group of individuals towards college. Of course, they mean well. They believe they are helping us realize a bigger and brighter future. Then the other kids, the ones that are written off as not being cut out for school, were congratulated with their diplomas and simply shuffled on out the door for society to handle.

Let’s consider these cool kids actually went to work sooner, started funding their retirement accounts, and avoided debt. This would mean that somewhere along the line, they picked up the common sense I didn’t have and thought about their future more than I did at a young age. This would mean they were a little more financially literate than I was because I graduated at 22 with $30,000 in undergrad debt and graduated again at 25 with $40,000 more in graduate school debt. To put the icing on the cake, I filed bankruptcy at the age of 24.

So, where am I going with all of this?

Should we really be proud of the higher education system? Should it be considered the holy grail? Should eighth graders in America be assigned to college preparatory classes without a serious conversation about the costs associated with this so called desired experience? What would the student loan debt crisis look like if we encouraged more students to focus on becoming financially literate, getting jobs, working, and paying ourselves first?

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with going to a university or college if your career choice requires it and you’re going into a field with a great return on investment. However, there is something wrong with encouraging kids to pursue college degrees believing it’s the only path to a rewarding career and a better life. Last time I checked, we still need plumbers, garbage men, retail managers, electricians, cable guys and none of these occupations come with a $40,000 degree hanging on one’s wall.

All I’m saying is, in order to lessen the severity of the student loan crisis today, we need fewer people being taught to believe that a college experience is their only ticket to provide themselves with a great livelihood. It’s not about the degree on your wall – it’s not even about the amount of money you make.

The important thing everyone needs to learn before graduating high school is that it’s possible to earn a decent wage in occupations that don’t require degrees. Just because you choose not to go to school doesn’t mean you’re destined to live a life of poverty. Oh, it’s quite the contrary. If you manage your money right, you can actually make your money work for you versus you working for it. Thirty years from now, you might even find yourself better off than those of us who decided to finance a degree for  better jobs.