Comparing Career Paths: Truck Driving Versus A College Degree

by Carl Smith

I decided to hypothetically put two people seeking professional careers, one a prospective college student, the other a truck driving school candidate, up against each other in a comparison of job training, annual salary, debt accumulation, and investment capability throughout their careers. We'll start the time frame with the student entering college and the truck driver entering truck driving school.

Off To School We Go

128.jpg The college student is seeking one of the top paid careers with a degree in any of the following: Marketing, Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering, Management Information Systems, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Accounting, Finance or Economics. The truck driver is just looking for a good driving job that will put him home every day with good pay.

To be fair, we will base the cost of the college student's tuition on an average of $16,000 at an in-state public university, and about $33,000 for a private school each year for 4 years. These costs include tuition, fees, books, room and board and other expenses.

The Cost Of CDL Training Versus A College Degree

The average cost of training at a truck driving school is around $1,500 to $3,500. Some truck driving schools pay for room and board and some truck driving schools sponsored by trucking companies pay the student wages while they are training. Trucking company schools will often pay for some, if not all of a student's training if the student agrees to work for them for one year.

A Year After Training Had Begun

First, let's fast forward to the 3 month level from our starting point: The college student is learning and acquiring debt. The truck driver has completed his schooling and has been making money driving for a break-in company at the rate of $35,000 a year. The driver has just got enough experience to get hired with a career company and he does.

One year and 3 months from the starting point: The college student is still learning and acquiring debt, somewhere between $20,000 and $41,250. The truck driver has had several pay raises, and grossed about $45,000 his first year with his new company. He put $6,000 in his 401k including a handsome company match. He also put money in an IRA of $3,000 and is buying stocks. He goes home every day to the brand new house he just purchased, and is enjoying all the freedom that driving has to offer.

A Few Years After Training Had Begun

Two years and 3 months in: The total debt of the college student is around $36,000 to $74,250 dollars, but he is learning. The truck driver's gross earnings were $55,000 dollars, again topping out his 401k and an IRA for a new balance of $20,000 dollars with interest. He is making extra payments on his home and it has been appraised at a value $4,000 above original purchase price.

Three years and 3 months from the starting gate: Our college student is beginning to realize how long it is going to take to pay back those student loans. It's a good thing he chose one of the top starting salary majors or he might be in trouble. His total debt acquired so far: $52,000 to $107,250 dollars. And our truck driver's house value has gone up to a total of $8,000 dollars above purchase price. His investment account's total balance is $30,250.

4 years and 3 months later: Congratulations to our college student! Happy graduation! Your debt is $68,000 to $140,250, plus interest. Your starting salary as an Electrical Engineer is $54,599. Our truck driver has earned $60,000 dollars this year and his home value is up $12,500 above the purchase price. His investment portfolio balance is around $45,000 dollars.

A year later: In the following year our college student is working and likes his new job. He is in the market for a new home, but is very limited due to the debt he has acquired. A job starting at $55,000 seemed like a lot of money when he first started school, but with the student loans to pay back it has limited him to a home below previous expectations. As much as the student would like to save for retirement, he just can't seem to find the extra money to invest. To furnish his new home he does what most Americans do, he runs up those credit cards. Sound familiar? Our truck driver couldn't be happier. He has plenty of time at work to study and learn all of the things he finds interesting. His home keeps appreciating and stocks are doing well. He has close to a $65,000 balance in his portfolio and is enjoying all his free time driving down the road listening to audio books on investing. He is getting ready to build a new custom home, and with only about five years in this industry, he can see an early retirement on the horizon.

It's All About Happiness and Sound Finances

Now if you look at the college student's $68,000 to $140,250 debt compared to the drivers balance of $65,000 plus home equity, we have as much as a $200,000 difference at about 5 years. The college student has the power of interest working against him, while the truck driver has the power of compounding interest working in his favor!

Being happy or successful in life is not about a title or a piece of paper. It's about making wise decisions that can make your life smooth and stress free. Regardless of the reasoning, taking on debt is not a good plan if you want to achieve financial independence or experience true freedom in a timely fashion. It's a person's debt-to-income ratio, and what they do with their money that counts. In this and most scenarios, the college student may not ever catch up to the truck driver financially, and may or may not ever be as happy.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

by Brett Aquila

Related Articles:

When Will I Know If Trucking Was The Right Career Choice?

by Brett Aquila

Becoming a truck driver is a big career choice. When will you know if you belong in trucking, or if you should walk away? Read on - we'll let you know

My Salary - Finishing Up My Second Year Behind The Wheel

by TruckerMike

This is my salary as an OTR truck driver finishing up my second year behind the wheel. It's hard to find good information on trucker's salaries, so I hope this helps

Factors Affecting Job Placement In The Trucking Industry

by Tanya Bons

Finding a truck driving job after graduating from CDL training is not guaranteed. Here we cover factors affecting your chances of finding work in trucking

Keep That License Clean: Your Career Depends On It

by Rhonda

For a truck driver that CDL is everything. Here is some great advice on protecting that license.

Understanding Rights In The Trucking Industry

by Dave Ashelman

What rights do truck drivers have? Here’s a brief overview of some of the common issues drivers face with their bosses, and the remedies they can seek.

The Unexpected Call

by TruckersWife09

Home time is precious to an over the road driver and their family, and it's painful when it gets cut short by an unexpected call from the company.

Rites Of Passage On The Highway

by Dave Ashelman

Many folks come into truck driving believing they should be treated like gold without having to prove themselves first. That's simply not how it works.

The Story Of Why So Many Rookie Drivers Fail And How To Avoid It

by Brett Aquila

I've watched countless truck driving careers ruined before they ever got off the ground. Here's the story of how it happens and what you can do to avoid it.

You Won't Get Anywhere In Trucking If You Can't Get Along With Your Support Personnel

by Brett Aquila

At TruckingTruth we're always telling you that you control your own destiny in trucking. Well a big part of that is getting the right people on your side.

How Do I Know If Truck Driving Is For Me?

by Brett Aquila

We've all pondered becoming a truck driver at some point in our lives. But what is it really like? Would it suit me? Here's a great introduction to truck driving.

Join Us!

We have an awesome set of tools that will help you understand the trucking industry and prepare for a great start to your trucking career. Not only that, but everything we offer here at TruckingTruth is 100% free - no strings attached! Sign up now and get instant access to our member's section:
High Road Training Program Logo
  • The High Road Training Program
  • The High Road Article Series
  • The Friendliest Trucker's Forum Ever!
  • Email Updates When New Articles Are Posted

Apply For Paid CDL Training Through TruckingTruth

Did you know you can fill out one quick form here on TruckingTruth and apply to several companies at once for paid CDL training? Seriously! The application only takes one minute. You will speak with recruiters today. There is no obligation whatsoever. Learn more and apply here:

Apply For Paid CDL Training

About Us

TruckingTruth was founded by Brett Aquila (that's me!), a 15 year truck driving veteran, in January 2007. After 15 years on the road I wanted to help people understand the trucking industry and everything that came with the career and lifestyle of an over the road trucker. We'll help you make the right choices and prepare for a great start to your trucking career.

Read More

Becoming A Truck Driver

Becoming A Truck Driver is a dream we've all pondered at some point in our lives. We've all wondered if the adventure and challenges of life on the open road would suit us better than the ordinary day to day lives we've always known. At TruckingTruth we'll help you decide if trucking is right for you and help you get your career off to a great start.

Learn More