Skipping school

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My little brother has a job he hates: he works in retail back in our hometown, and he’s exhausted all of the time. But, for some reason, he’s really convinced that he doesn’t want to go to college. I guess that’s okay, and my parents seem to have accepted it, but I’m really worried. Without an education, I’m afraid my brother is doomed to spend his whole life working this job he absolutely hates. Why would he do this to himself? Do you have any advice for him–or for me, so that I can talk to him and try to help him see a path forward?

According to the U.S. census, 33.4% of Americans over the age of 25 have a four-year degree. That’s the highest such figure in history. Add in associate’s degrees, and the number climbs to 40%–but, no matter how you slice it, you will find that the majority of American adults do not have college degrees.

In short, there are a lot of people in the same boat as your brother. Are they all in dire financial straits? Certainly not–there are many people without college degrees who do quite well. However, the median salary that non-graduates can expect is lower than the median salary for college graduates. To take things a step further, there are actually different earning tiers without the non-degree group: the median salary for a high school dropout, for instance, is $21,000 a year. If your brother gets his high school degree, he’ll join a group making a median salary of $30,000–considerably more.

And the median salary is not the whole story. Some skilled jobs don’t require college degrees, and there are variations within those jobs, too–for instance, plumbing experts told us that different specialties lead to different incomes, with diverse options in the plumbing world ranging from gasfitting plumbers to experts in trenchless sewer repair, septic tanks, and complex commercial systems. And it’s not just plumbers: aiir traffic controllers don’t need college degrees, and they make a median salary of $122,530!

Of course, not having a college degree is not the same thing as not having training at all. HVAC Tech Info, a technical school for HVAC technicians, told us their graduates enter a line of work that boasts a median income of $45,910. Getting these higher-paying non-degree jobs may not require a college career, but it will usually mean heading to a technical school or securing some type of training.

Your brother will be just fine without a college degree–most Americans don’t have one. But if you’re concerned about his financial future, speak to him about choosing a career path and pursuing some type of training program. With that said, you should also be careful to respect your brother’s decisions. Remember, it’s his life, not yours! Your job is to love and support him.

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