Is College Right for Everyone? | 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

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Why do we have Colleges?

Millions of people of all ages take college classes every year1. When a person mentions why they are going to college, usually what comes to mind is that the person is going to further their knowledge and gain a greater skillset, however, that isn’t everyone’s motivation for going to college. Yes, some are taking classes just to learn more, but that will account for less than 1% of all college students. Instead, college is now perceived as the gateway to more money as it has become a hundred-billion-dollar industry. By looking at current trends we can see that regardless of why the first colleges were created, the majority of people now go to college specifically for the promises of additional job opportunities and higher pay.

 The only issue with this motivation for a college degree is that colleges do not exactly follow through on the promises of higher incomes and job opportunities. In fact, they don’t always follow through with being able to give you an advanced education. Some interesting statistics on a college education:

  1. 51% of college grades are in jobs that don’t require a degree and 49% have jobs unrelated to their major. (CareerBuilder)2
  2. More employers believe that grades don’t matter in the workforce. (Gallup)3
  3. Only 42% of worldwide employers think new grads are prepared for work, but 72% of educational institutes believe grads are prepared. (Forbes)4
  4. 40% of students drop out of college (EducationData)5

Some Factors to Consider

 When deciding if college is worth it for you, I would advise to think about the following factors:

  1. Cost Benefit Analysis – One of biggest factors to look at is the financial one. In business, they call this a cost benefit analysis. This means you compare the financial cost and benefit of going to college with other options open to you. The other options might be going to a trade school or even going straight into the work force. You simply add up all the costs of the options and then the potential benefit (money) that could be earned for a certain amount of time, then you see which option has the biggest number. You can also look for a breakeven point. Usually, if you are comparing college to going to work immediately, the average years it would take you to make up for the cost of going to college is usually 8-10 years after finishing college, but on average it takes 18 years to pay off student loans6. There are also many jobs that pay very highly after college and the breakeven point is only a couple of years. When you perform this cost benefit analysis, you also have to consider financial support from the government, military, and private scholarships. I have known students that were paid a decent amount of money to go to college.
  2. Requirements for Desired Jobs – The world is rapidly changing, and we are now seeing that many jobs are no longer requiring a college degree. Business are now accepting people with equivalent experience to a college degree7. This means there are many jobs you can get without going to college. However, despite this change, there are still multiple jobs that require degrees. A person trying to decide if college is for them needs to identify if the jobs they want, or could potentially want, require a degree. It is important to make sure that you look at all the jobs you could potentially want—for example, some people want to have a successful career and then go into teaching—this often requires a degree.
  3. Social and Networking Benefits – One of the things I found to be most valuable about college is the social and networking benefits. Some people who finish college don’t learning anything, receive low grades, and don’t use their degree after they graduated, but many successful people met key business partners in college. For example, Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak met in college and developed Apple together. Even if you don’t meet your future business partner, the social development that comes from being around so many people and having to work with professors really can help you in your future career and life. Not to mention the friendships that you can develop by going to college can last for a lifetime and really improve your happiness. The college environment is unique in that there are not many other places where so many people are gathered together for such a long period of time.
  4. Quality of the Education – Although most of the information you learn in college will be forgotten or become obsolete, there are some universities and colleges where the professor(s) teaching a subject might be the best in the world. They also might have certain equipment that you won’t be able to gain experience on almost anywhere else in the world. This is always something to be aware of. Look into your field of study and see how good the people are teaching it at the college. There are certain cases where the education might be better than any other options for that occupation.
  5. The Finding Yourself Factor – There are many cases where you are not ready to be a responsible working adult and/or you have no idea what you want to do for the rest of your life. In other words, you need time. College gives you that time—it allows you up to 4 years and even 10 years if you go to graduate school. College is the best place to give you time to figure things out and get exposed to many different ideas and job potentials. You might want to go just to find yourself. Not to mention it allows you to live on your own in a safe environment that is conducive to learning how to do basic life skills such as washing your own clothes, cooking, etc.

The Benefits of College

SchoolIn short, college can have a lot of potential benefits such as:

  1. Increasing your financial opportunities.
  2. Opening up a greater selection of jobs to you.
  3. Developing your social skills.
  4. Networking and finding business partners.
  5. Getting unique experience and development opportunities.
  6. Having access to high tech equipment you normally wouldn’t have access to.
  7. Having access to the best minds in the world.
  8. Giving you time to figure things out.
  9. Helping you learn to live on your own.

The Drawbacks of College

College has a lot of benefits, but at the same time a person could be sacrificing somethings by going to college as well, if the right opportunity is not opened to them. The following are downsides that some people have experienced going to college:

  1. Lost Wealth – The average person will spend 4 years going to college and it will cost around on average $20,000 per year for tuition plus living expenses. This means the cost of going to college will be $80,000 plus the amount someone would have earned by working full time during that time. The average person might earn around $30,000 per year. Thus, the amount of tuition and lost wages would be around $200,000. This is also assuming that the person didn’t take out a student loan which could greatly increase the cost. The opportunity cost of college is very steep if you have access to a high paying job right out of high school. The loss of wealth could be up to half a million dollars. This could be added upon if the person does not find a job after college, which is about 53% of all college grads8.
  2. Wasted Time and Effort – Going to college does take 4 years of your time, and in some instance more. Those four years also require a lot out of a student to pass the classes and do the work assigned to them. Statistics show that 33% of college students go through depression9 every year, and one cause of this is due to the rigor of the experience. If you end up getting a job that didn’t require a degree and doesn’t use your college experience, then you end up spending a lot of time and effort for not a lot of return.
  3. Missed Opportunities and Experience – Since college takes time, you might miss out on other things you could be doing with your time. If you are a person going into a career field that college doesn’t prepare you for, or you have an opportunity to work with a person in your career field that is really experienced outside of college, then by going to college you could be passing up good opportunities or experience that you could have received.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Know if College is Right for You

Most students will benefit in some degree by going to college. To identify the benefit college could provide you, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is my cost benefit analysis of going to college? Do I have the resources?
  2. Will college help me gain experience or get the desired jobs I want?
  3. Can I go to a college that has expert professors and equipment in the field I want to go into?
  4. Will I take advantage of anything else besides the educational aspect of college?
  5. Do I know what I want to do if I don’t go to college?

If the answer to these questions show that college will provide you a benefit, then college is a good choice for you.

Sources

  1. National Center for Education, 2019
  2. CareerBuilder, 2014
  3. Gallup, 2014
  4. Forbes, 2012
  5. org, 2019
  6. CNBC, 2020
  7. Glassdoor, 2020
  8. University of Washington, 2021
  9. American Psychology Association, 2014

About the Author

Read more about Dr. Jacob’s latest book.
Dr. Jacob Kashiwagi is business management consultant and acting Chairman of the Board for Leadership Society of Arizona. Dr. Jacob has worked on 1,100+ industry projects valued at $3.6 billion with a 95% success rate. He has taught over 1,300 college students and 2,500 high school students.

Read more articles by Dr. Jacob.