As a young adult, thinking about going to college is super exciting. On the other hand, facing the cost of tuition and paying off student loans long after you graduate isn’t so exciting—especially when the career you want might not even require a college degree. This leads a lot of people to ask: Is college even worth it?
More and more students are wondering if they should spend time and money going to college when they can get a job that pays well without getting a degree. Here’s the thing: Our world is changing pretty fast, and there are tons of ways to learn valuable professional skills without going to college (or taking on student loans).
But for many other people, the social and professional benefits of college are worth the investment. No matter what’s right for you, there are pros and cons to this major life decision, so it’s wise to look at your options carefully.
4 Reasons Why Paying for College Is Worth It
Before you start spending money on campus tours, college applications and tuition, ask yourself: Is college the best way to reach my future career goals? Is it the only way? You’ll need to spend time thinking about your skills and dream career. Then, do some research to see if jobs in that career field require a degree. If they do, your next step is to go to college without taking on student loan debt.
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If you’re not sure you’ll need a degree but want to learn more about the benefits of going to college, here are some reasons why college might be the right decision for you.
1. Many jobs require a college degree.
There are plenty of careers you can choose from that don’t require a degree. But graduating college can open doors to certain career paths. (Jobs like teaching, nursing, engineering and law all require at least a two-year degree.) And having a degree might help you stand out from other interviewees during the job hunt (even for jobs where a degree isn’t required).
2. College graduates tend to make more money.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median income for a high school graduate is $30,000, while those with a bachelor’s degree make around $52,000.1 As long as you graduate debt-free, that college diploma could help you build wealth a lot quicker than if you didn’t go to college. (If you're looking to get ahead of college costs, a financial advisor can help you figure out a college savings plan that won’t lead to debt.)
3. You’ll learn valuable skills inside and outside the classroom.
In college, you’re not just learning information and taking exams. Your classes help you build skills you’ll need in the workforce, like problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and organization. Sure, you could learn these skills in other ways, but this hands-on experience is part of what makes college a good investment for a lot of people.
College is also a great opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. You never know what you might learn from someone with a different background than yours. Universities are usually melting pots of cultures, religions, political views and other beliefs. While your core values will probably remain the same, you’ll hopefully gain a better understanding of other points of view.
4. You’ll have access to resources and opportunities.
A typical college campus has guidance counselors, career centers, job fairs, clubs and volunteer opportunities to help you gain the experience you’ll need to make yourself stand out in the job market. Don’t forget, internships are one of the best ways to gain on-the-job experience—and maybe even a job offer. But many internships are only available to current college students.
Colleges work hard to make sure a high percentage of graduates move directly into the workforce in their fields of study. That’s a win for you and for them.
4 Reasons It’s Not Worth Paying for College
I say this all the time: College isn’t for everyone. In fact, I don’t have a college degree myself, but that didn’t stop me from building a successful career and coaching thousands of people along the way. And while there are plenty of benefits to going to college, sometimes paying for college isn’t worth it. Let’s talk about some reasons why college might not be the right move for you.
1. You might not need a four-year degree to get the job you want.
A college degree can open doors, but what keeps those doors open? Hard work and tapping into your network. Some of the world’s wealthiest businesspeople didn’t even finish college—think technology trailblazers Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Michael Dell. They’re proof the traditional college route isn’t the only path to success.
In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that about 43% of college grads are working a job that doesn’t need a degree.2 Plus, as of 2020, the employment rate of 25- to 34-year-olds who didn’t complete their college education is 78%—which isn’t too bad, considering the employment rate in the same age group with a college education is only 86%.3
And don’t knock community colleges and associate degrees. You could get the job you want for a fraction of the cost. For example, a typical two-year community college degree costs less than half as much as an in-state four-year college—and it's 80% cheaper per year than a private four-year university!4, 5
2. Your degree might not land you a high-paying job.
Sure, any degree will help you bring home a paycheck—but not all degrees are created equal. A history degree might earn a starting salary of $36,000, while a high-paying mechanical engineering degree might earn twice that. You have to consider whether your income after school is worth what you’ll pay to get your degree. Graduating college with $100,000 in student loan debt to take a job making $36,000 just doesn’t add up.
3. You could regret the experience.
According to a Payscale survey, 66% of those who pursued education beyond high school regretted their degree type, institution, major or taking on student loans.6 That’s two-thirds! If you’re not 100% sure about what you want to do, you could end up making snap decisions about your college education you’ll regret later. And quick, careless decisions can cost you money, time and peace. No thank you!
4. You might not even graduate.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but the reality is that you might not graduate (and not because you’re flunking class). You may really plan on graduating, but the pressure of balancing school, work, family and friends is tough for a lot of college students to handle. Or you might decide to pursue a professional path that doesn’t require a degree.
Either way, the National Center for Education Statistics found that only about 63% of college students finish their degree within six years.7 And if you don’t finish your degree, that’s thousands of dollars down the drain! Ouch.
How Much Does College Cost?
If you’re excited about the social and career possibilities that come from going to college and think getting a degree might be right for you, that’s great. You can start learning more about schools you’d like to attend and start saving up for tuition.
The average cost of just one year of college can range anywhere from about $9,349 for a public, in-state university to a whopping $35,807 for a private university.8 But multiply that by four years, and the total is . . . a lot.
If you’re willing to wait a few years to start college, you can enlist in the military. Then you may be able to have your college expenses covered through the GI Bill. If you don’t have money to go to college right after high school, that’s something to consider.
But if you take out student loans to cover the cost, that debt will take a major toll on your future goals and dreams. Depending on the repayment plan, it can take up to 30 years to pay off student loans.9 Think of all the ways you could use your money if you didn’t have to pay back those lenders each month!
Alternatives to a College Degree
A lot of people think if you don’t go to college, you can’t win. I don’t buy that. There are plenty of high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Becoming a real estate agent, medical assistant or web developer won’t require a college degree—but they will require some training.
And don’t forget about these other options: You could take free online classes, learn a skill at a trade school, or do an apprenticeship. You can get high-paying jobs, like a sound engineering technician, surgical tech or real estate agent, without a degree!
Or if you’re ready to be the CEO of your own company, you can start your own business. You don’t need a degree in business to be in business. You can embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and start your own business in just a few minutes, thanks to websites like eBay, Etsy and Amazon.
Should You Go to College?
Some people go to college because it’s the norm in today’s society, because their parents want them to, or because all their friends and family members did. But you shouldn’t let the status symbol of college be your motivation for getting a degree.
Many other people go to college because they hope it will help them have a better future. This can be true as long as you combine that hope with hard work and pay for it with cash.
If you’re still not sure if college is the right next step for you, that’s okay. But I want you to get a better idea of what you were born to do.
Check out my Get Clear Career Assessment to discover your top talents, passions and professional mission. You’ll also get a purpose statement that will help you discover multiple career options. This custom report will help you decide if college is the right decision for you.
So, what are you waiting for? Get clear on the contribution you were born to make.