I accidentally joined the university pyramid scheme

A how-to guide on never leaving university again


Written by Paige Riding

Check your phone — there’s a new direct message on Instagram. Is it a clueless friend, sending you ANOTHER meme you’ve already seen? Doja Cat, finally responding to the thirst trap you sent her while high? You unlock your phone, and . . .

It’s Kelsee, the girl from high school who bullied you for years. Beautiful. You already know what it’ll say.

Hey girl!! I’m reaching out because my regional President challenged me to reach out to 10 strong, fierce women who may be interested in earning money from home! Would you like to hear more about this ~amazing~ opportunity?!

You lock your phone again. You’d never fall for a stupid pyramid scheme, you think proudly. Think again, Kelsee. Not all of us will be willing to sell skin care products while wrangling other investors. Unlike some people, I have too much savvy and too much social anxiety to message anyone. So who’s the real loser?


I have some news, though. University is a pyramid scheme, too. You just don’t know it yet.


You’re accepted for your undergraduate program of choice. You beat out three other kids who attended two math classes all of grade 12. Nice. An entrance scholarship is the thimble you will use to scoop the water out of your metaphorical financial boat, sinking slowly, slowly, then, in true John Green style, all at once.

You need to spend here to make money out there, right? So, bring on hefty tuition payments. Work your ass off for four-plus years. Do you even care about what you study? It’s hard to think of an answer when you’re caught up in the afterglow of Welcome Day, the smiling faces and free food (the facades, the recruitment tactics). University, you start telling everyone you know, is an amazing opportunity.

There’s worries about money, of course. There’s gnawing anxiety about how you’ve so quickly compromised your beliefs and your personality. But you really feel accepted, appreciated. Not just by your new friends at school, who will stick by you forever (probably), but even by those fellow Reddit posters who validate your sub-par memes.


Congratulations! You have a piece of paper. Your education level is probably high enough for you to never get a job in your field of choice, and you’re still haunted by this ghastly debt. 

Most graduates like you have two choices. Compromise your desired career for a humiliating entry-level job that didn’t pertain at all to those $150 textbooks you looked at twice. Or — come right back to university for a graduate degree. 

You really do always come back.


You agree to work tirelessly for the university. You agree to being a TA and researching. Somehow, it’s Friday night and you’re marking 75 second-year papers. Half the kids still don’t know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” 

But all the while, you encourage the students — to study hard, to take that new class (you despised the prof and the assignments were dumb), to just keep working at it. Eventually, it’ll all be worth it.

It’s been who-knows-how-long since you’ve had more than six hours of sleep. And you just typed “January 2016” on the top of your report, because we may be in a new decade, but you still haven’t gotten over the trauma of that year.


With a master’s degree under your belt, you realize you’ve sunk more money and effort into the university than you ever wanted. The worst part? Your studies have been so specific that at this point, any job that actually pertains to them will once again lead you right back into the university’s warm embrace.

So, a doctorate? You could. You consider it. That degree gets you the big bucks. That lets you teach!

Just a few more guaranteed government loans, a zesty splash of interest, all this schooling . . . 

All you really have to show for it are a bunch of PDFs clogging up your laptop and a load of fashionable, Jacob Marley-esque debt shackled to your ankle. But, you resign yourself as you upload yet another pirated reading to Canvas. There is no getting out now.


Look upward — look at the university administration. The ones who lose their minds over a parking violation but can’t seem to do much about the ridiculous international student tuition or the potentially rabid raccoons waltzing through the AQ. Those are the ones at the top, looking down upon the rest of us helpless idiots with pity in their eyes. They know that they will always be just a little bit better off than us.

Until, of course, the eventual collapse of the entire system. What happens when enough families bypass the university recruitment week? Or students begin an uprising to stop tuition altogether? But until then . . . 

You’re just a cog in the multi-billion dollar education industry. Truly, however, they couldn’t do it without people like you and me. 

Check your phone — there’s a new post from Kelsee. She’s celebrating her fifth anniversary with an army man from her hometown. With three kids and a dog, Kelsee is thriving. Her low-cut Guess jeans and cowgirl boots pair delightfully with her blonde streaks and perm. 

Her years of hustling back in the day helped her become the successful bank teller she is today. She escaped . . . when do we get to?

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