The idea of paying for a liberal arts education is over. It is elitist and a rip off and the Internet has democratized access to information and communication skills to the point that paying $30K a year to get them is insane.

Ben Casnocha has one of the most thorough, self-examined discussions about the value of college on his blog. He went to college, probably, because so many people told him to. (Here are some good links on Ben’s blog.)

Ben left college. Early. And he’s fascinating, and he’s educating himself through experience, which is what the Internet does not provide. The Internet provides books and discussion, so why would you need to go to school for those things?

It’s the time of year when college students start looking for the return on investment for their education: They start worrying about what they’re going to do this summer.

More than 90% of college kids get internships at some point or another, and, whether or not internships are fair (some parents buy them), it is really, really important to have productive summers that can distinguish a recent-grad’s resume.

And, of course, it’s a tough time to graduate into the workforce. Tough is totally relative, though. It’s not as tough to be entry level as it is to be, say, a baby boomer with 20 years experience at a newspaper, or 20 years of experience underwriting ridiculous mortgages. But still, it’s tough to be in college right now.

It would be so great, and helpful, if college career centers could be front and center in every student’s planning. But most career centers are useless, because most colleges presume you still need college to teach you how to think critically. So they can get away with having incompetent career centers.

This is why you should be really careful using career centers – because colleges have this ivory-tower delusion that supporting yourself is ancillary to why you went to college.

Here’s why career centers are terrible:

Career centers cater to companies, not candidates.
Career centers are in the business of booking interviews on campus. They already have the students on campus, so they worry about getting companies on campus. This means that career centers do things that are not necessarily good for students. For example, companies want to compare apples to apples, so they want all the student resumes to have the same format. Career centers encourage this, so that companies are happy.

But if everyone has the same format, then only the students who excel at what is emphasized by the default resume structure will benefit.

So ask your career center for input on your resume, but don’t let them dictate structure to you.

Career centers don’t understand social media.
Most people get jobs from their network, not from a career center. And social media is the fastest, most effective way for you to build a network. Career centers want to get credit for everything they do — it’s their job security. So they want your blog, your domain name, your online identity — everything — to be tied to the university career center. How does this help you? It only serves to limit you in the social media world. You can crosspost to the career center, fine, but making the career center the focal point of your online identity is extremely short-sighted and could only be promoted by an institution failing to put student needs first, or to understand them in the first place.

Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance.
Colleges have not, typically, focused on career centers as an ROI focal point.

Colleges, especially the really expensive ones, think of vocational school as pedestrian. So they track how many students go on to get a Ph.D in Russian from Columbia, but not how many students get jobs. Therefore, the career center is not exactly the hot button in budget meetings, and it’s not the landing ground for visionaries, because what visionary goes to a part of an institution no one cares about?

Here’s what you can do to make your college investment pay off:

Forget the idea of paying for a liberal arts education.
It used to be that people only did writing and critical thinking for school. So they needed school to teach them communication skills and critical thinking skills.

The generation that grew up with social media is the most effective at communicating of any generation in history. Despite their schooling, not because of it. Students today don’t need teachers who don’t know how to write a blog post to teach them how to persuade people. Because the bar for communication is high, and it’s in the blogosphere, and if you can write a blog post that gets a decent conversation started, then you already know how to write a persuasive, engaging argument.

Pick a school based on their track record for getting students jobs.
Look, did you get into Harvard? Did you have a 4.0 in high school? Then forget paying a lot of money for some chi-chi liberal arts school. Just go to a cheap school and get the degree. Don’t delude yourself that the 40K a year is worth it for a mid-tier school. And, since you’re not picking from a list of brand name schools, make your choice based on their track record for getting their graduates great jobs. (Hat tip: Melissa)

Look, I’m not saying school is stupid. I’m one of the people who constantly commented on Ben’s blog that I thought he should go to college. But I’m saying that you need to calculate the return on investment on going to college before you go to college so that you make sure you’re going to college for rational reasons. Just because the liberal arts education was a default goal to the bourgeois of the last three centuries does not mean that route will work for you, right now.