I got the idea for this article after overhearing a conversation the other day between two teenagers. One was arguing that getting a degree was the only way to get a good job to make good money and the other was arguing that getting a degree wasn’t necessary in today’s day and age in order to make good money. I’m sure you or someone you know have had this debate at least once and I think it’s one that’s becoming louder and louder with each new generation.
One side drags the income chart out and points to the statistics of bachelor degree holders earning way more than high school graduates The other side then gestures to famous high school or college dropouts and the successes they’ve had, proudly pointing out that they didn’t need degrees to succeed and that they had college graduates working for them. One side is proud to claim themselves as “well rounded” for the education they received at university.
The other side points out that what they learned in school doesn’t really help or apply in the “real world.
The two seem to be endlessly at war, each countering the other’s arguments, dragging the debate to the point where there seems to be no clear winner. Every side seems to have its own pros and cons. So let’s sort this whole mess out and discover the true value of a college degree and see if it is really worth it in this day and age.
Ever since we were little, we were told college was the answer by our teachers and our parents. We were put on the college conveyor belt. It would give us the good life. It would get us the job and we would make good money because of it. And they were right. If they said that to us thirty years ago.
The idea that a college degree alone will help you in life today is obsolete. Back in the day, everything that was said about getting a degree was true. If you had a degree, you separated yourself from the pack. Not many people were able to get degrees because not many people were able to afford college. It was normally reserved for the rich or upper middle class. And that’s precisely why the degree was so valued, It was valued because it was scarce. Scarcity creates value. Nowadays, more and more people are going to college and in turn, a lot of degrees have been handed out so the scarcity of a college degree has dropped.
For every job opening there is, you have a hundred applicants, all with degrees. What’s going to separate them from one another? The value of a college degree has declined. But is there some value left? The answer is yes. Here’s the thing that a lot of people overlook when having the degree debate. Most people are only thinking of college in terms of a vehicle that gets them a good job after they graduate. They fail to realize the other benefits of going to college, aside from getting a job, that are intangible.
Things like finding a marriage partner, making life long friends, making good contacts, networking with classmates and professors, the college life itself, exposing yourself to a broader scope of education, developing analytical and critical thinking skills, etc. If you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education, you might as well get the most out of it because after all, it is an investment on your part. Unfortunately, according to the rules of society, or the system, whatever you like to call it, having a college degree does open a lot of doors and that’s just the way it is.
If you don’t have a degree, your employment options are significantly reduced. Getting a college degree is important if you want to open up your possibilities in terms of employment. Ask any job recruiter and you’ll see just how important having that degree on your resume is in that respect. Why that is so, I have no idea. That’s just the way the system is set up and that’s how the game is played unfortunately. A college degree also serves as a hammer that will help you break the glass and salary ceiling in corporate America.
It’s very hard to get into management in Corporate America without a degree and it’s very hard to get past a certain salary level without a degree as well. Why this is so? Again. It beats me. That’s just how the system is set up. And it’s too bad some companies play by those rules. But amidst all this talk of a college degree opening doors, high salaries, intangible benefits, there is one major drawback of getting a degree. What is that? Debt. They always forget to include that don’t they? But some may say it’s a good investment because you get a high paying job so you can easily pay it off.
But remember, that was then. What about now? It is precisely this factor of high debt coupled with the dropped value of a college degree in today’s day and age that has led to and sparked the debate of “degree vs. no degree”. Because the value of a degree has dropped, many college graduates are having hard time finding work. They don’t have experience or marketable skills. Just a degree. So they can’t get that high paying job they want. Meanwhile, it’s time to pay the piper and more often than not, those monthly payments on the loans they took out are pretty high.
Couple that with the fact that credit card companies prey on college kids and the materialistic attitude of today’s generation which contributes to another high monthly bill and you’re looking at Generation Debt. These college grads have to pay the bills, so they get any kind of job they can to pay the bills, even if it seems “beneath” them. People on the outside point to this and say: “Aha! That degree you got was useless. Look where it got you. You’re working in a dead end job. ” And the college graduates of course feel the need to defend their investment in college and thus the war starts.
I think in this day and age, there’s a lot of post college disillusionment. Hence, the new phrase – “quarter life crisis” (a sort of mid life crisis for 20 and 30 year olds) College students graduate with no job lined up because they were still living according to the rules of the past. They thought the all powerful degree would magically open the doors of employment for them. Meanwhile, there are bills that need to be paid and they can’t get the jobs they want because they have no marketable skills or experience, so they get stuck in less than ideal jobs in order to pay those bills.
They can’t seem to break free from those jobs out of fear of not being able to pay the bills and they can’t break into the job they want because they have no experience or skills. A viscous cycle indeed. The college dreams have failed them. They’ve become disillusioned. What’s worse is when they don’t even know what they want to do. They had this path laid out before them ever since they were young but nobody tells them what to do exactly after they graduate. Just marry, buy a house in the suburbs, and have 2. 5 kids but nobody fills them in on the financial or career details. They realize they’ve been had.
That what they were told in high school about college was all a lie. It wasn’t a lie. It was just an outdated message. Students need to wake up. Just having a degree alone isn’t going to cut it in today’s day and age. Real world marketable skills and experience are the things being left out and those are the things that are scarce and will start to differentiate one person from another. These things comprise of the new “degree”. Now let’s tackle those who argue that a college degree isn’t worth it these days. The argument they use most often is the “Look at Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They dropped out of college and look at them now.”
Before I go any further, I want to make something perfectly clear. You don’t need a college degree. But can it help? Of course it can. We just discussed the benefits. But let me say this to those who use the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs argument. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are the exception, not the rule. And you have to realize that they DID go to college. They did. And who knows if the experiences they had in college shaped their future and contributed to their success. That’s what happened with Steve Jobs. He got the idea for Apple’s typography after popping into a calligraphy class at college.
That’s another benefit of college. It exposes you to a whole new world of ideas that might help you later on in the future. Of course there are those who never went to college and succeeded. What do I have to say to that? For every person who makes it even though they dropped out or never went to college, there are thousands who don’t. Then, there’s a third angle that’s not often mentioned in school today but I figure will soon gain a lot of momentum and that is vocational schooling. Vocational schooling mostly trains you directly for a specific job. Welder, plumber, electrician, etc.
The truth is, these types of blue collar jobs pay just the same, if not more than the jobs that can be obtained with a bachelor’s degree. The only reason why most people don’t go for these types of jobs is the lack of “prestige”. But let me tell you something about prestige. It’s highly overrated. Most people spend their whole lives trying to impress other people at the expense of their own happiness and that’s ludicrous. People who do this often feel “empty” because they are living a life dictated by the opinions of others. They are in effect, a slave to other’s opinions of themselves.
So let’s answer the question once and for all. Is getting a college degree worth it these days? The answer is: It depends on what you want to do. I know everyone wants a definitive yes or no answer but the truth is, it really does depend on what you want to do. If you want to become an electrician, vocational school is the answer so a degree isn’t worth it to you. If you want to become a doctor or lawyer, then of course a degree is worth it to you. If you want to start your own business, and you have a solid plan with capital, then you might think getting a degree isn’t worth it to you right now.
But therein lays the problem. Most of our high school students have NO idea what they want to do. And because they don’t know, they just go along with the “go to college plan”. They do it because it’s the thing to do. So they enroll as an undeclared major, party and waste time, then major in a liberal arts major, graduate, can’t get a job because they have no experience or skills, meanwhile the debt is piling up so they get any job they can to pay the bills and they throw their hands in the air and proclaim that the system has failed them, becoming disillusioned with their lives in the process.
If high school students start taking the time to think about their future and what they want to do, they can choose their direction accordingly and avoid a lot of potential problems down the road. I think that part of the problem here is that there is too much of a “Go to college or else you’ll fail in life” mentality being preached in our schools today. It’s dangerous to hold that belief because you block out all other options. Don’t get me wrong, I still think going to college and getting a degree is a great investment, but only for the right reasons.
Now in an ideal world, high school kids will seriously think about their futures and plan accordingly, but let’s face it, most students don’t. They’re more interested in looking cool, or playing World of Warcraft or buying the latest gadgets. The problem here is that our educational system is outdated. It needs to be updated in order to accommodate the times we live in today and help kids realize that there are other options other than going to college, depending on what they want to do.
But the problem is again, most of them don’t know what they want to do. One way to do that is to offer more career counseling and “real world” skill training in our high schools and colleges so that kids can be exposed to more career opportunities and choose their paths accordingly. You need that to bridge the gap because students are not going to do it on their own because they don’t realize how important that is yet.
Another big trap people delude themselves into thinking that once they choose a path, they can’t go back.
If you decide to start your own business after high school but realize entrepreneurship is not for you and you want to become a lawyer instead, you can always go back and get that degree. If you graduate with a degree, but can’t get the job you want, it doesn’t mean you’re screwed. You can always develop skills and experience to get that job or you can always get that job through other means such as networking, or you can even start your own business. Or if you decide that a white collar job is not for you, and you want a more hands on experience job, you can always enroll in vocational school and become an electrician instead.
All I want to say is that a degree IS worth it, for the right reasons, and provided that you maximize your investment in college to help give you that edge that will differentiate yourself from all the other people who have the same degrees. This includes getting experience, developing marketable and cross marketable skills, paying off as much tuition as you can so you don’t graduate with a lot of debt, making valuable networking contacts, landing internships relevant to your field, etc.
Unfortunately it is true that “the system” is set up to open more doors and higher salaries for those with degrees, but the fact remains, it’s always up to you. If you want to get in those doors and get those salaries then get that degree. But if you want to go through a different door that doesn’t require a degree that offers the same salary or higher salary or lower salary, then go for it, because that’s the door YOU want to go through. A college degree isn’t the only investment you can make that can open up more doors and get you more money. There’s another investment you can always make and that’s YOU.
Develop yourself to your full potential. Learn how to sell yourself and your ideas. Be the best person you can be. Learn how to communicate, socialize, and connect with all kinds of people. Learn how to negotiate with other people. Learn how to get the information you need. Learn computer skills. Getting through the doors you want to go through will largely be a result of these kinds of investments you make in yourself , not just having that piece of paper. I think we need to stop instilling the idea that college is the answer to everything and instead, encourage our young ones to look within first.
Help them discover what kind of work they want to do. What kind of lifestyle they want to live. Maybe work isn’t even that important to them so much as spending time with their families. Whatever it is, they should decide what they want to do and choose their actions accordingly, whether that’s just getting a job out of high school, going to college to get a degree, getting some vocational training, or starting their own business. Regardless of whatever path you choose, always remember that the best investment you can make is always in yourself, because after all, it always begins and ends with YOU.
College may be getting more expensive, but most studies indicate it still does pay off. There are some compelling reasons why it’s not a good idea to skip the degree, despite rising costs. Higher earnings A degree may cost a lot, but it gives you access to higher-paying jobs when you graduate. The College Board states that college graduates make $20,000 more each year on average than high school graduates.
Over a lifetime, it is estimated that a college graduate will earn 1 million dollars more than a non-college graduate. More options Most higher education programs, such as those for law, medicine, and education, won’t let you start without a college degree. Many business, professional, government, and white-collar jobs won’t accept resumes from applicants who didn’t go to college—no matter how qualified they are. Without a college degree, you may be held back from advancement in your company simply because you don’t fit the education requirements for the position.
If you don’t like that policy and try to find another job, you’ll have more difficulty getting hired without a college degree. An edge in the job market One of the reasons high school grads have such difficulty in the job market is that they’re competing with a rising number of college graduates. A college degree ensures you’re competitive against others at your experience level. With the costs of college rising and funding for students shrinking, it’s becoming more costly to get an education. But most sources will tell you that the benefits still outweigh the costs.
Online education is becoming more and more accepted as an alternative to traditional college, and many adult students find that online degree programs are more practical for them. If you’re thinking about whether or not to go to college, consider your options carefully—your choice will have a strong effect on the rest of your life. Being in college is hard in many ways: financially, academically, personally, socially, intellectually, physically. And most students question why they are trying to get a college degree at some point during their college experience.
Simple reminders of the reasons why you want to get a college degree can help keep you on track when you feel like getting off.
Either way, knowing you earned your degree will undoubtedly give a lifetime of pride to yourself, your family, and your friends.
Too many times do I hear people saying that college education is a waste of time and money. To them, life experiences are worth more than a degree. I do believe what they are saying is correct to a certain degree, but one has to keep in mind that college education is only what you make of it! If a person is going to college only to party and get a piece of paper after 4 years, its probably better for her to just save the money. For others who are going to college to learn how to think, to make connections and to absorb the material that helps humanity advance, you have made the right choice!
It is true that not every person that goes to college is making the right choice for him or herself. But do not try to tell the people that are going to college that they are wasting their money just because you chose not to. One thing almost everyone forgets is that not everyone has the same goals as others when they make a choice to attend college. For example, you might have been blessed with a way to make money without ever having to step in a classroom, but that same opportunity is not going to be available to everyone else. Just because never having to attend college worked out for you, it might not work out for others.
For too long I was under the impression that I did not need a college education. I was making really good money for almost a decade and thought it would continue that way. Only in the last few years did I realize that money is not the only thing that matters in life. Not only that, but what works for you right now might not always be there in the future. Then you are back to square one.
I said earlier that college education is only what you make of it. Let me elaborate on what I mean so you can understand clearly. Going to college is not simply for learning what you read in a book. You can do that by yourself. So why do people even want an education? Why is there such fierce competition to go to ivy league colleges that charge you so much money? Why not just learn on your own if a college education is not worth it? To answer all these questions, you have to look at things a little more closely. People go to college not only to get an education, but to also make connections, learn discipline and earn respect.
Making connections is crucial to any student. Not only does a person have to know things, they also have to know the right people. Imagine if your classmate is the son of a senior vice president of a company. That translates to you never having to worry about getting a job after graduating. You can probably stomp over all the other schmucks who are waiting for a call back. Connections or networking, then, is just as important as knowing the material in the book. The perfect example of this can be found in the nation’s elite Masters of Business Administration colleges such as Harvard, Stanford, Berkley, etc.
In order to get into their MBA program, they require students to have real world experience. They ask that you must have connections you can bring to the classroom. They care less about what your bachelors degree was in and more about who you know. Getting your college education can be one of the most important things you can do for yourself. We all want to jump right in and start making the big bucks, but that often leads to us missing out on pursuing bigger opportunities in life that can take us further. By going to college, we learn the process of learning, become more disciplined and meet more people.
This information then can be passed on to our children who will be better prepared to tackle the demands of the world. Unless of course you want your child to never go to college and get educated. Next time you have to go to the doctor’s to get a checkup, think about what would happen if nobody got their education. It would be like living in the dark ages again. Next time you go to an Accountant, think about what would happen if they never went to college. You think you would be online right now if it weren’t for universities such as MIT, Stanford, UCLA and others that made it all happen? What about your beloved search engine Google? Too many people take things for granted that allow them to live their life without realizing that colleges and universities have had a huge hand in it. If you do not want to go to college, please don’t tell me that college education is a waste of time and money.
Learning is not education. Sitting in a hotel lobby in Martinborough, New Zealand after a bike ride, two professors from Vancouver asked me if I thought education was important for success. They hit my hot button. If, like the old saying goes, knowledge is power, then librarians would rule the world. They don’t. Something else is more correlated to success than education. Millions of higher degree recipients make less during their careers than people who dropped out of high school. And millions who never finished high school make huge impacts and a lot of money. We miss cause and effect all the time. As an example, people love to say, “College graduates make a million dollars more in their lifetime than non-college graduates. ” Is it because they went to school, or because they are motivated to do anything that will make them successful?
I think it’s the latter. If they were told they needed to apprentice with a businessperson they would do that instead of getting an MBA (that would be my advice). They are motivated and committed, and will do whatever they have to in order to be successful. There is some clear correlation between education in the hard sciences (pharmaceuticals, engineering, plumbing, etc. ) and success. If you violate hydrology ($%@* flows downhill), you’ll make a lousy plumber. But there is little correlation in the soft sciences. People build committed communities all the time without ever taking a sociology course.
Others help people get past their bad habits without ever taking a psychology course. Business is one of the soft sciences where education is least correlated with success. Dropouts from college (or people who never went) start hugely successful companies all the time. “Is college necessary? ” is becoming a mainstream question. What makes business owners successful? According to research, education doesn’t show up in the top five. (Entrepreneurial Intuition, an Empirical Approach, La Pira, April 2010), but these do:
Education fills our heads with information, while learning transforms our lives and the world around us with grounded and applied intelligence. If you want to have your head filled with facts, get an education. It you want to learn, change lives and/or make money, you’re better off apprenticing with someone who’s done it.
They won’t try to educate you, they’ll just make sure you are effective and becoming something you aren’t, yet. The Greeks were wrong. We don’t think our way to a new way of acting; we act our way to a new way of thinking. Go do something with someone who’s already done it; and learn from their experience.
I know I am biased (being a school teacher) but I feel the most recent unemployment statistics show why having an education is so important – probably more now than ever before.