Go Ahead, Skip College

What’s the ROI on a Bachelor’s Degree?


My BSc taught me anatomy and physiology. I took courses in psychology and accounting and humanities and rock climbing (my favorite). After four years and thousands of dollars, I graduated with a mediocre grade and took the first job I could find.


It was three years before I actually found a client to train one-on-one. And on the evening of their first appointment, as they walked through the door and I stood to meet them, I asked myself a terrifying question:


“What do I actually DO?”


The field of Exercise Science was still pretty novel in the 1990s. My degree was pieced together from a bunch of other programs (I somehow have a minor in Gerontology and another in Parks Management.) So I can’t blame my college for the gaps in my education. I blame a lack of necessity: until I was out in the workforce, training people and charging them for it, I didn’t feel any urgency to figure out what actually worked.


New graduates tell me the curriculum has changed, but the problems with our Industrial-age learning model haven’t been fixed. They are:


  • No matter what you learn in college, you’ll need to find answers to new problems after you graduate.
  • No matter what degree you possess, you’ll still have to build an audience for your service.
  • No matter what your grade, a lot of your curriculum will be obsolete before your student loans have been repaid.
  • Your grades won’t affect your authority, your credential, or your ability to buy insurance.


These facts, and dozens of others, have caused thought leaders like Seth Godin to ask, “What is School For?”


But the Covid pandemic has students asking a slightly different question:


Why wait?


Why not just start?


Why take out the largest loan of your life; spend four years living away from home; and waste time in courses that only fill a graduation requirement?


Why complete a curriculum that will be obsolete before your loans are repaid?


Why learn trivia that won’t get you any clients, and won’t help you serve them?


Why earn a credential that won’t get you a job?


As the son of teachers, I believed that an education was the path to professional respect; local authority; and financial security. But none of those things are true. Not anymore.


When I was struggling to make a living as a Personal Trainer, I first added to my credentials by taking more courses. For awhile, my business cards listed a bunch of letters after my name (like NSCA CSCS, ISSA CFT III, B.Sc., and some nutrition courses.) When those didn’t earn me clients or money, I started shopping around for a place to earn my Master’s Degree. Luckily, a friend and college prof stopped me.


“Chris,” he said, “how exactly is a Master’s going to earn you more money, or help you achieve any of your other life goals?”


When I stepped back and thought about it, I couldn’t see a direct path. I was suffering from “the curse of the technician”–the belief that being good at your job would ultimately make you successful. But having a degree doesn’t make you good at your job; and being excellent at your job doesn’t create more wealth. The world is full of influential coaches without any formal education who are having tremendous impact. And some of them have never even seen an anatomy chart! Conversely, many of the brightest coaches in the world leave the industry to get a “real job” before they can make a real impact.


The Covid crisis didn’t make school irrelevant. But “shelter in place” highlighted the irrelevance of bricks-and-mortar matriculation, and the economic shutdown punished 9-to-5 workers. Covid brought crisis. But it also brought the gift of urgency.


Many personal trainers and coaches did just fine during Covid, because they pivoted to online coaching. And every day, I get an email from someone who lost an office job but now sees the opportunity to pursue their passion in fitness. They’re not asking, “Which college should I attend?” or “How do I apply for a student loan?” because they’ve already fallen for that one. Instead, they ask “How can I get started as a personal trainer really quickly?”


The answer is the Two-Brain Coaching First Degree program. Josh Martin built it, with my support, to get coaches coaching. We wanted to teach future coaches enough to be safe; to provide positive, caring coaching for clients one-on-one; and to deliver someone else’s programming. That’s the start of their lifelong education. Colleges print diplomas; we create vocations. The First-Degree program empowers passionate fitness enthusiasts to take the first step toward professionalism. They can start making a difference in a couple of weeks.


From there, a coach can take courses in anatomy and physiology; nutrition; group coaching, or any fitness method they choose: CrossFit, Pilates, Spin… and they’ll have the foundation to leverage those methods best.


The First Degree Program answers the question, “But what do I DO?” before anything else.


Seth Godin’s bulleted list of “What Is School For?” was an epiphany for me. The great things about school–socialization, competitive collaboration, and correction of mistakes–can all be learned best on the job, under the guidance of a caring mentor. So we’re adding mentorship to the First Degree Programs (and the Second Degree Program, and the Online Coaching Program, and the upcoming Nutrition Coaching Program) soon.


Skipping college doesn’t mean skipping education. It just means fast-tracking your knowledge.


My personal mission is to make fitness coaches successful. That means making gym owners successful enough to hire more coaches–and it also means helping people enter the industry where their care can shine through. Personal training and fitness coaching are meaningful vocations; they’re mostly resistant to crises like pandemics; and you don’t need a four-year degree to start. I hope you’ll join us in the march to save humanity.




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