Is College Really Worth It?
As someone who attended college, but never completed a degree the thought often crosses my mind “is college really worth it?”. I use to have the strict thought that college was not worth the time or money that it costs, but as time goes on I realize that the answer is really “sometimes”. This in no way means that I agree with the way that the college system is structured, I actually think that it is quite broken, but that is a discussion for another time.
Who is college for?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics college seems to be worth everyone’s time. I will be referencing facts from a study on “Income of Young Adults” which you can find here. While the employment rate is pretty objective, the salary information is greatly skewed. The salary information is pulling from entire groups (bachelors degree holders, high school completion, etc) that have vastly different jobs rather than choosing any specific fields leaving a large gray area.
A better use of the data is to look at specific jobs and determine how many people in those jobs have degrees, have a high school education, etc. Then use that data to ask people if they feel their degree helped them to obtain this job.
My career in IT started about 3.5 years ago. Through networking with just friends and family I was able to start a job as an entry level helpdesk technician, I started out making 45k per year which was just below the average salary for the area. In a matter of just a few years I was able to move up from a position making below the average salary in the US to being far above it. According to the US Census Bureau “Median household income in the United States was $56,516 in 2015”, you can find the information here.
So the question remains, did I need a college education? No.
For my state, Maryland, 56% of students who graduated in 2015 had an average debt of $27,672, you can find the data in a study by TICAS here.
After I spend a couple years taking a college course here and there trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I was able to get a job with no degree and without paying interest on 27k worth of debt. Of course, this is not for everyone, but I urge everyone to consider whether or not they really need college before going to school for 2 or more years for a degree that will not actually help them get a job.
When is college worth it?
Lets say you want to become a diesel mechanic and you are still in high school. You have the opportunity to spend your senior year in a technical school in order to start learning your trade. In this case of course college is worth the cost because it would be $0.
I think the opportunity to take any trade or college courses is 100% worth it if you are doing it without paying for it while still in high school. It will be a much better use of anyone’s time than staying in normal high school classes and taking easy electives so that your senior year is a breeze.
College would also be worth your time when going into a few specific fields as well which include law, engineering, and medical fields. If find interest in things such as sales, management (depends on the type), web development, IT, etc your college education will have much less impact on your ability to get or move up to that job. A big problem with society today is we push a false narrative about how college is required for any job.
In short, if you are getting a job that fits into a trade or technical field (not engineering) then apprenticeship, trade school, certifications, and/or networking yourself will do just fine.
Why everyone thinks they need a Degree
Today everyone in the United States seems to think that if you do not have a college degree then it is impossible to have a “career”, to be clear this is completely false. A large contributor to this is media outlets, Forbes actually wrote an article called “10 Jobs in High Demand That Require a Bachelors Degree”, you can find it here.
In the article they list out 10 jobs that require a bachelors degree, including software developer, network and computer systems administrator, web developer, and sales manager. I can tell you with great certainty that putting 4 years of your life into a degree for any of these would be a waste of time. The cost involved cannot justify how little it would help you get a job in the field, perhaps excluding software developer in some cases.
Working previously as a Systems Administrator I can tell you that the thing most companies really care about is certifications, this is pretty specific to the IT industry, though I am sure there are others. However, even with only 1 entry level certification I have made my way to management positions by simply performing well.
Any technical skill you have is almost always more marketable than a degree that relates to your filed. It means that you can start your job understanding process, standards, and requiring less training time.
The Bottom Line
Before you decide to spend 2-4 years of your life on college, ask yourself if you know what you want to do, then determine if a degree is required. You can easily do this by finding others in your field of interest and simply asking them, but make sure you keep an open mind. College does have a place in society, but at this point we have made it seem like a requirement when that simply is not reality.