Is College the Right Choice?
As students, we’re constantly driven by society to believe that we need to go to college. Even before students know what they want for their futures, people are already actively encouraging them to follow a linear path from high school to college to a career.
It’s natural that many people, especially in high school, feel confused under the pressure to choose their next steps. In the end, it’s up to each of us to make our decisions about what we want, and think is best for us, but managing others’ expectations can make it difficult to form our own opinions.
The truth is that, as we explored in last week’s article, the typical linear path isn’t always the most advantageous or even appropriate, and there are many different ways to reach success.
As you’re making your own decisions, you can consider the following reasons, which we’ll explore in detail, about why you may (or may not) choose to go to college.
The Bright Side of Being in College
Going to college can have many immediate benefits, the most obvious of which is the knowledge and skills that students gain throughout their degree.
Importantly, several jobs require an extensive understanding of an area and technical skills that can only be obtained through a college degree. As such, without attending college, you won’t be able to pursue these roles, including for example most STEM jobs.
Plus, even if you complete a degree and later choose not to pursue a job directly in that field, the skills you gain throughout this process can still make you seem more valuable to employees. In this case, many of these skills can also be built through working experience, however, many people still place significant weight on a college degree.
College isn’t just about learning though. One main advantage that draws people into college is the so-called “college experience”. For most people attending college, this is their first time experiencing true independence though without many of the hardest adult responsibilities.
This contributes to a very unique environment, wherein people are focused on exploring their interests, gaining new experiences, and widening their horizons. While it may not be what everyone looks for, attending college can indeed help people “find themselves” in the sense that students get more freedom to pursue passions and get involved in experiences that otherwise, they wouldn’t have easy access to, all without immense responsibility.
A vital part of this environment (and another great advantage of college) is the social element. Within college, students can meet and connect with people from numerous backgrounds and cultures. Some of these may become their friends for life; others can become valuable connections.
Nowadays, a strong network of professionals in your area can be very useful throughout one’s working life. Connections can help people find new jobs and opportunities, as well as contribute to their career success.
Finally, one main advantage of attending college is the chance to reformulate your views of the world. Living in one place and always being in contact with the same people, all while being restricted by other people’s rules, keeps us in a sort of bubble. This is the experience of many students before they enter college. However, once in college, they come into contact with different opportunities and people that can help them to challenge their opinions and grow as humans.
Of course, this is also possible to do without attending college, but the specific environment found there can make it significantly easier.
The Benefits of Being a College Graduate
You also have to consider the long-term benefits that a college degree can bring.
First of all, completing a higher level of education is associated with greater earnings, a tendency that has increased substantially over the last decades. This is not just seen when comparing college and high school graduates on a general level, but also as we look into differences within the same occupations. A college graduate generally earns more than someone that only completed high school, even when they both work in the same role.
Earning a degree also typically offers more job security. As we mentioned previously, completing a college degree not only opens up the possibility to work in jobs requiring a college education, but is associated with specialized knowledge and skills that make people seem more valuable as employees.
This is especially important today as we’re witnessing an increase in demand for jobs that either require a very high or low level of education and technical expertise, such as engineering and food service, respectively.
We saw this trend very clearly during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people with this type of jobs were more likely to retain their employment either because they were able to move into remote work or because they were deemed essential workers.
At the same time, the demand for roles that require a moderate level of these, such as administrative work, is diminishing substantially. This is in great part due to technological development and the rise of automation. It’s estimated that this tendency will only grow and so, getting a college degree can be a good investment to assure greater stability, especially in periods of financial difficulty.
As can be imagined, given that college graduates typically earn more money and work in jobs for which there is a higher demand, they also tend to have other related perks.
Higher wages grant people access to a better environment, safe and stable housing, improved living conditions, a healthier diet, or diminished exposure to harmful contaminants.
These factors play a major role in people’s health. On top of that, earning more money also means that those with a college education have access to health insurance and, thus, better healthcare. Further, college graduates also tend to have jobs that bring them additional benefits, including retirement plans, parental leave, and more vacation and sick days.
Overall, these factors can explain why people with college degrees typically consider themselves happier and more satisfied than those that never attended college.
Despite the many benefits of attending college, some people still opt not to go. While it may not be the “ideal” path according to the expectations of today’s society, choosing not to attend college is still a valid decision and there are many reasons why people choose that route.
To make an informed decision, we need to consider both the pros and cons so if you’re currently debating on whether to attend college, it’s important that you also consider the reasons why people may be driven out of going to college.
The Cost of Going to College
One of the main concerns that prevent people from attending college is the financial investment that is required.
On average, students spend approximately $29,400 on tuition, though this value varies significantly depending on the institution they attend. On top of that, most students also have to consider other expenses including rent, groceries, and transportation.
Oftentimes, many people completely shut themselves from the idea of going to college from the very start because of their estimation of the cost. However, research shows that students and their parents consistently tend to overestimate the costs associated with college and are often misinformed about financial aid.
That is not to say that college isn’t expensive. Many students are dependent on financial aid and part-time jobs to be able to support themselves as they complete their degrees, especially as the costs associated with college have increased significantly over the last decades.
Today, more than ever before, students are borrowing more money to cover their college expenses. As such, people are going into an increasing amount of debt when they graduate. For context, nowadays, depending on the repayment plan they opt for, people are typically in debt for 10 to 25 years. This can take an enormous toll on people who, bound to monthly payments, are forced to delay other goals, such as buying a house.
Even so, receiving financial aid and getting part-time jobs during college to cover expenses isn’t always an option.
For one, even when students are informed about their options for financial aid, they may not opt into it due to the complexity of the process. Further, not every student can borrow enough money to pay for college, as research shows that there’s been an increase in the number of potential students that kept from receiving such a lofty loan.
Students may also be reluctant to get a student loan given the prospect of graduating with such significant debt.
Not Everything Pays Off
With or without financial aid, the harsh truth that is often not discussed is that while in general college is a good investment, it doesn’t always pay off.
In reality, whether this is a worthy investment of your time and money depends significantly on factors like the major you choose to pursue and your academic capacity.
On average, college graduates have higher incomes and receive more benefits than people who only complete high school. However, this also varies greatly depending on the field you choose and your performance in college. For example, generally, STEM degrees lead to higher-paying jobs and more perks, whereas areas like education don’t always pay off financially.
Of course, if this is what you want to do in the future, you can still enter these areas; just be realistic and keep in mind the returns you can actually expect on your investment. In the end, income and benefits aren’t everything.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope. This is also true for your college experience. For many people, their academic journey isn’t linear and turns out to contain many obstacles. From failing to get their degree to simply taking longer to complete it, the college experience can become far more complicated than anticipated.
All of these unexpected events come with consequences, not just concerning cost, but also time that could have been better spent gaining experience.
Most of all, it’s important to consider that dropping out or taking longer to complete their course, isn’t always related to a lack of ability or motivation. For instance, research shows that nowadays students take longer on average to complete their degrees, possibly because they are forced to work more hours on their part-time jobs to cover their expenses and, thus, have less time to study.
College Isn’t for Everyone
It’s also possible that you may not want to go to college because it’s simply not the best option for you.
You may already have an idea of what you want to do in the future and simply not need a college degree to do it. We often forget that while many jobs require higher education, there are still plenty that don’t.
In fact, there are many ways to reach success, whether they be going straight into work, starting a business, or pursuing other forms of education, like trade school or online courses. For many people, this is a far better path, especially if they don’t see a college degree as a good investment for them or if they’re not particularly suited for an academic environment.
Deciding whether college is a good choice or not is something that must be considered on an individual basis as not everyone is suited for college and college isn’t the best for everyone.
How Can the STEAM in AI Mentoring Program Help?
It’s possible that even after you consider the pros and cons of college, you’re still unable to come to a decision. Perhaps, you’re not sure what you’d like to pursue in the future. If you’re struggling to decide on a path, read our article “The Ultimate Guide for Choosing the Right College Major” for some helpful advice.
If you’re specifically interested in STEAM, you could also benefit from our STEAM in AI Research and Build Program.
Within the program, students are paired with a professional in the field they’re interested in and are then mentored as they develop a unique project. This allows students to explore STEAM areas, with very limited risk, so that they can get a better sense of what a given field is like and how suited they are to work in it.
For students that already have a defined path that they wish to follow, this program can also be of great benefit. They will not only gain knowledge and skills that they can employ in the future but also valuable experience that may, for instance, help them stand out in their applications.
Overall, attending college has many advantages and is, in general, a good investment for most people. Nevertheless, none of these are guaranteed as you complete a degree, and finding success is also possible without attending college.
For some people, going to college is not necessary or even advantageous. For those that go, college is really only as beneficial to them as they make it, given that it’s fully up to them what opportunities to take advantage of during college and how to use the knowledge and skills gained after graduating.
The real worth of a degree lies completely with you and so, only you can decide if college is the right choice.
If you’re in high school and are either making your decision or preparing for college, consider registering for the STEAM in AI Mentoring Program. To find out more information, visit our website or book a consultation.