California Prison Academy: Better Than a Harvard Degree
Roughly 2,000 students have to decide by Sunday whether to accept a spot at Harvard. Here's some advice: Forget Harvard. If you want to earn big bucks and retire young, you're better off becoming a California prison guard.
The job might not sound glamorous, but a brochure from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations boasts that it "has been called 'the greatest entry-level job in California'—and for good reason. Our officers earn a great salary, and a retirement package you just can't find in private industry. We even pay you to attend our academy." That's right—instead of paying more than $200,000 to attend Harvard, you could earn $3,050 a month at cadet academy.
It gets better.
Training only takes four months, and upon graduating you can look forward to a job with great health, dental and vision benefits and a starting base salary between $45,288 and $65,364. By comparison, Harvard grads can expect to earn $49,897 fresh out of college and $124,759 after 20 years.
As a California prison guard, you can make six figures in overtime and bonuses alone. While Harvard-educated lawyers and consultants often have to work long hours with little recompense besides Chinese take-out, prison guards receive time-and-a-half whenever they work more than 40 hours a week. One sergeant with a base salary of $81,683 collected $114,334 in overtime and $8,648 in bonuses last year, and he's not even the highest paid.
Sure, Harvard grads working in the private sector get bonuses, too, but only if they're good at what they do. Prison guards receive a $1,560 "fitness" bonus just for getting an annual check-up.
Most Harvard grads only get three weeks of vacation each year, even after working for 20 years—and they're often too busy to take a long trip. Prison guards, on the other hand, get seven weeks of vacation, five of them paid. If they're too busy racking up overtime to use their vacation days, they can cash the days in when they retire. There's no cap on how many vacation days they can cash in! Eighty officers last year cashed in over $100,000 at retirement.
The cherry on top is the defined-benefit pension. Unlike most Harvard grads working in the private sector, prison guards don't have to delay retirement if their 401(k)s take a hit. Prison guards can retire at the age of 55 and earn 85% of their final year's salary for the rest of their lives. They also continue to receive medical benefits.
So you may be wondering what it takes to become a prison guard. For one, you have to be a U.S. citizen with a high-school diploma or equivalent. Unfortunately, you can't have any felony convictions, but don't worry, possession of marijuana is only an infraction in California.
There's also a vision test, background investigation, psychological evaluation, physical exam, tuberculosis screening, and a fitness test that measures your grip strength. The hardest part, however, is the written test, which includes word problems like this sample test question: "Building D currently has 189 inmates, with 92 beds unfilled. Building D is currently at what capacity?" If you've somehow forgotten how to add and divide, you can bone up on your basic math with Barron's "Correction Officer Exam" prep book.
The application process may seem like a piece of cake compared to Harvard's, but the correctional officer academy is actually more selective than Harvard. Over 120,000 people apply every year, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office, but the academy only enrolls about 900. That's an acceptance rate of less than 1%. Harvard's is 6.2%. The job also has a better retention rate than Harvard. Only 1.7% dropped out of the service last year, compared to 2% who left Harvard.
If your parents aren't thrilled about you turning down Harvard to become a prison guard in California, just show them the job brochure. Then explain that in another few years instead of paying off thousands of dollars in college loans you'll be taking cruises together. They'll be speechless.