Why Should I Go To College?

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“Why should I go to college?” You or someone you know must have asked yourself this question at one time or another. Maybe you are right now. After looking at the increasing price tag of many degree programs and the time a degree requires, it’s not surprising that you would ask questions like:

  • “Why go to college, will the financial return of earning a degree outweigh the student debt I’m going to take on?”
  • “Is the time and effort I invest on a college degree going to be worth it?”
  • “What will college teach me that I can’t learn in a job or life?”

Quick Answers: “Yes, Yes, and Lots.”

In a recent poll by College Board/National JournalNext America, “Ninety percent of those who pursued higher education immediately after high school said they would do so again—while a majority of those who moved from high school directly into the workforce said that if they could reconsider their choice today, they would instead seek more education.”

Going to college opens doors to increased salary potential, broader career opportunities, and options for individual and professional growth that you can’t get anywhere else. As a college student, you’ll get to experience new areas of interest, expand your vision of possibilities, develop new friendships and networking connections, establish and accomplish difficult goals, push yourself, and define yourself in ways that you cannot imagine.

These all sound nice and like they could be true, but how true are they? Let’s get into the data and statistics.

The Financial Benefits of Going to College

Increased Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics research found that, on average, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree typically earn up to 40% more per year than those with a high school diploma or its equivalent and almost 30% more than those with an associate degree. When we compare national median annual earnings of someone with a bachelor’s and someone with a high school diploma, that’s a difference of almost $24,000 each year in expected gross income.

Median Annual Earnings by Educational Attainment

Open Doors and Be More Competitive

You can increase your job options simply by earning a degree. About 32% of jobs in the U.S. require an associate or bachelor’s degree and an additional 14% require a master’s or professional degree. By earning a degree, you automatically give yourself the opportunity to apply for the 46% of U.S. jobs that now require a secondary degree.

Increase Your Job Security

According to employment projections released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, having an associate degree suggests that you will be 30% less likely to be unemployed. By earning a bachelor’s or master’s, this same data suggests that you will be 48-56% less likely to be unemployed.

Improved Living Situations

According to a study done on Millennials Ages 25-32, PewResearchCenter Social Trends found that almost 22% of those with only a high school diploma live in poverty, while only 15% of those with an associate degree and 6% of those with a bachelor’s degree live in poverty.

Percentage of millennials living in poverty by educational attainment-real

Invest in Your Future

When considering why you should go to college, it’s worth imagining what your life is going to be 10, 20 or even 30 years down the road. What do you want your future to look like? Attending college will help you figure out a realistic plan for accomplishing your goals. It will also equip you with the knowledge and skills you’ll need to progress in your chosen career or field. A recent Pew Research Center survey shows 86% of employed adults ages 25 to 32 with a bachelor’s degree or higher felt they were in a career or career-track job.

The Social Benefits of College

Attending college isn’t just about studying and attending lectures – it will also give you the chance to discover activities you’ve never tried before, meet people from different backgrounds and parts of the world, support causes that are important to you, and explore new ideas, art forms, and cultures.

The benefit of learning from your fellow students is also very valuable – the discussions you get into when you’re surrounded by people studying different subjects and pursuing different paths will give you new ways to look at the world around you.

The Networking Benefits of College

Attending a good college gives you the chance to make friends and connections relevant to your career, opening doors for your future career. It’s never too early to get started, and you’re more likely to get career help and advice from alumni and other professional contacts while you’re still a student. You’ll also have opportunities to apply for internships and join professional organizations. When you finish college you’ll have a great collection of contacts to help you find a graduate job.

Even Your Kids and Future Generations Will Benefit

You may not have kids and they may not be in your picture for another 5-10 years. But, whether you have your own children, have nieces or nephews, or you just want to be a good example for future generations, getting your college degree will help. A recent poll by College Board/National JournalNext America found that a parent’s educational attainment and attitude toward education is now a stronger indicator of a child’s education attainment than parent’s income; parent’s income used to be the highest predictor of a child’s educational achievements. Just under 60% of those with no-degree families reported finishing college, compared with almost 70% of those from families with two- and one-degrees. Additionally, 55% of children from two-degree families reported earning a college or postgraduate degree, whereas only 23% of children from no-degree families reported earning a degree.

Remember The Bigger Picture

Keeping your options open can help prevent you from being blinkered by a fixed idea of what you want to do with your life. As many successful graduates will tell you, best-laid plans often give way to more exciting opportunities, and sometimes starting down a path will give you a much clearer idea of what you want to do in the future, even if you end up diverting from that path.

Some individuals who search for reasons to go to college simply suffer from commitment phobia. Don’t look at college as a long-term contract that you’re not going to be able to get out of once you start. And don’t feel like you need to decide on a major area of study before starting college. College is a time for you to test yourself, explore your interests, see what the possibilities are, and to see what you can achieve. And don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most other students attending college are going to be in the exact same boat you’re in. There are also a variety of resources, provided by most universities, to help you through college, including academic advisors, professors accessible on campus, tutoring academic support, full-time counseling staff, and more.

It’s also a great idea to gain some work experience both before and during your college degree. According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of graduates regret not taking advantage of more work experience opportunities at college, whereas only 29% wish they’d picked a different major.

While the prospect of attending college may seem daunting, even suffocating, don’t forget that you still can live your life and make it an exciting one. You’ll be able to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, join social groups, maintain a job, or even pursue a career while completing your studies. You may even find that college ends up being much more enjoyable and fulfilling than you expected.

Deciding Which College is Best

Sometimes when students wonder, “why should I go to college,” they are actually just nervous about picking the right one. There isn’t necessarily a “best” college. Each college offers a different experience and unique educational opportunities. Your task shouldn’t be to identify the top ranked colleges but rather to figure out which college is best for you. Your choice of college will depend on your personal and career interests, occupational goals as well as past academic record. If you’re still in high school you should talk with your high school counselor about all your options. Consider attending any open houses provided by local colleges in your area, use the Internet to research colleges that fit your expectations and requirements, and contact individual colleges to speak with their guidance and admission counselors.

Sometimes larger, prestigious or “Ivy League” type universities can seem very attractive. However, you may discover (hopefully sooner rather than later) that you prefer a smaller, less prestigious, community, or church-affiliated college. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, especially when it comes to a college education. When considering reasons to go to college, think about the environments you are most comfortable in. There are a large variety of smaller colleges and community colleges that can provide you an excellent education without the big school feel. The only way to find out what you really want is to take the time to visit each college campus, meet the people, and experience the atmosphere. You’ll get the most out of your college experience if you take the time now to investigate your options and stay open to any possibilities.

It’s also important to know that earning a degree from an Ivy League school or private college can be very expensive and there is no guarantee that you’ll get a great job once you get your degree. In fact, there is typically only a marginal difference in future earnings for those who earn their degree at an Ivy League school versus those who earn their degree from another reputable college.

Having Trouble Affording College? Consider Financial Aid

Where there’s a will there’s a way. If you’re really interested in attending college but don’t have the funds right now don’t get overly concerned. There are several ways to finance your college education. Financial aid programs include scholarships, grants, student loans and prepaid tuition. At many larger colleges and universities, you’ll also find on-campus jobs that offer flexible schedules to accommodate your personal life and studies. With so many reasons to attend school, instead of wondering why should you go to college, the question becomes—why shouldn’t you?

Maintain Realistic Expectations

As you make plans for your future, spend some time considering what it is you want to do with your life, what you want to accomplish long-term. As with any major decision, you’ll want to consider all your options, compare costs and benefits of attending one college over another. Think about what’s most important to you and which school can provide it. College doesn’t ensure happiness or success, but its opens up a lot of doors and helps you create opportunities for the future.

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