NR Digital

The College Trap

by J. D. Vance
Our higher-education system hurts the poor

A few years ago, a friend learned that a mutual acquaintance had accepted a job with an elite D.C. law firm, at a starting salary of $160,000. She turned pre-law almost overnight. Because I was thinking about law school myself, I knew that those high-paying jobs were vanishing for all but the luckiest graduates. My friend was undeterred: She took an extra year of classes to raise her GPA for the applications (incurring thousands in debt in the process) and crammed for the law-school admissions test. It was an admirable effort. But eventually the reality of the employment market set in, and she took a different job. She never did go to law school.

My friend displayed a classic middle- and working-class mindset. In his 2010 book How Rich People Think, Steve Siebold criticized the almost religious belief “that master’s degrees and doctorates are the way to wealth.” I had that belief too — it’s why I wanted to go to law school in the first place — and so does virtually everyone I’ve ever known. When you grow up at the bottom or even in the middle, advanced education is the Holy Grail. Parents mortgage their homes and children donate their plasma (seriously) to pay for it.

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