Is Going To College Worth The Money?
It is widely believed that getting a college education is the ticket to success. For many, a four year degree is the key to entering the ranks of the middle class. There is some truth to this. Employers continue to look more favorably at college graduates than non-college graduates. Obtaining a degree is accepted as proof by business leaders that you can show up on time, concentrate on fixed tasks, and see work through to completion. Although it is not often viewed openly as such, college is a means of changing the behavior of individuals so that they are more conformable to the habits of work in corporations.
That said there is also remunerative value in going to college. A bachelor degree still yields, on average, a %15 percent return. However, when discussing whether college is worth the money you must go beyond mere statistics to the goals you have in mind and the circumstances of your particular life.
While it is true that as a college graduate you will likely make more money over time than a non-graduate, it is also true that you will start out more heavily indebted. And the debt will not be the relatively small, manageable low-five figure loan that your parents may have had. College has become much more expensive since that time. Tuition fees have nearly doubled, in real terms, in the last 20 years. There is room and board to think about if you decide to go away to school. And even if you decide to go to a college near where you live and stay at home, the money required for books, travel, and other expenses will put you well into the red.
The debt and expense may be worth it, however, if you believe that college will give you what you need. But what is it that you exactly “need”? Getting a satisfactory answer to this question requires you to think about how you see your life unfolding in the next few years. Below, I provide a rough way of doing so by delineating three categories of questions to reflect on:
If you see college as a way of improving your mind, then you should go prepared to work hard. The money may be worth it if you have this aim in view and you come out of the four years with greatly enhanced abilities in critical thinking and writing, as well as knowledge of the world that will make it easier to navigate. It must be said that the odds are against you in this regard. In a recent study, 45% of American college students made no gains in numeracy and literacy in their first two years. However, much of this has to do with personal application. Universities have no shortage of tools to help students achieve academically. It really is up to you to make the most of them.
Using college as way to network and connect to a large community is a worthwhile aim. Even if you don’t believe that you will learn much in college, enrolling in one can give you access to individuals whose help you might need down the line to get jobs, build businesses, and advance your professional career. Fraternities and alumni associations are among the most valuable organization on college campuses, and they should be utilized to the fullest extent.
If your interest in college owes strictly to the promised financial reward, then, as I mentioned before, you are not likely to be disappointed. Businesses tend to look favorably on those holding a bachelor’s degree. Going to college also gives you more direct access to the business world. Depending on the school you go to, you will be able to attend recruitment fairs from top companies, which will give you an opportunity to secure post-graduate employment straightaway.
Most professions—e.g., law, medicine, accounting, and teaching—require a four year degree. If you have decided to pursue such a career, then you must go to college. End of story.
It is not so cut-and-dry when it comes to the world of business and entrepreneurship. Obviously, you don’t need to go to college in order to start a business. However, doing a bachelor’s degree in economics, marketing, finance, or business can give you insights into how money and industry work. It can also help you improve your numerical and analytical skills, and this will help you become a better businessman. On the flip side, you have to consider whether the time spent doing the degree is worth postponing the full-time pursuit of your business idea.
This is another tricky one. Fine arts, creative writing, and other artistic programs may offer you the opportunity to develop your talent as a writer, painter, or designer. However, not all of the arts are the same. If you want to become a painter or a designer, learning how to use the latest tools and technologies employed in these fields may prove useful. Arts such as fiction writing and song writing, however, can be done as independent activities. Depending on the kind of artist you are, going to college may or may not be worth the money.
There is great value in going to a top private school. The world’s best companies actively recruit at their campuses, and they offer you the opportunity to establish relationships with the best and brightest in the nation. If you have the grades and the test scores, then you should make an effort to do so. Ironically, the most expensive and prestigious schools—the Ivy League—tend to be the most generous when it comes to scholarships and student aid. If you don’t have much money and you manage to get into one of them, it is unlikely that you will have to worry about paying for your education. It’s the state schools that you have to be concerned about. Most in-state schools are very good about tuition for in-state students. However, you want to be sure of the reputation of the department you’ll be studying in. I also want to make a plug for my own undergraduate choice: the Service Academies. West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, Groton, and King’s Point hold a prestige equal to that of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford. In fact, the selection process for a service academy appointment is even more competitive than that for the Ivies. If you are interested in becoming a military officer, then you should consider one of these fine colleges.
Community colleges have become more important over the last couple of decades as a stepping stone to four year degree programs. It is a great way of preparing yourself for the rigors of advanced tertiary education. And in many cases, you may be able to get government grants to help offset the costs.
If are already in work or have other commitments that prevent you from pursuing college full-time, then you should consider doing an online degree. Many traditional universities now offer online degree programs, and there are a number of universities that have been purpose-built to deliver online education. Going to college online can be a way of getting your degree while you work, which can in itself improve your career prospects.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.