Is College Right for You?

Going to college can be a very difficult decision to make.

Nicholas Culross, Staff Writer

As we get closer and closer towards the end of the year, seniors are forced to face one of the hardest decisions of their lives. Am I ready to go to college and is it even right for me? Although the process can be stressful, there are many benefits to going to college. That being said, many negatives come with committing to something so large, so it can be a very tough decision whether you want to go or not. There is also the option of taking a gap year, which provides graduates with the opportunity to explore their interests before starting college.

With all these options to choose from, it is easy to become lost with what you want to do after graduation. It can be a very stressful decision to make, so this article is meant to help with making that decision. First, although it can be expensive, college provides many benefits for those who endure it, and there is no doubt that it will help later in life.

A college is a place for students to continue their education, mature, and unlock future opportunities. For years, it has been known that people with a college degree have better employment prospects than those without one, as well as better earning potential. Studies in 2019 show that people with a college degree ages 22-27 earn an average annual income of $44,000, compared to high school graduates that earn an average annual income of $30,000.  With that being said, an average college graduate makes $570,000 more than an average high school graduate over their lifetime. 

As well as financial benefits, going to college can provide you with better opportunities for the future. Over the years, there has been an increase in jobs that require college degrees, and employers are increasingly looking for employees with degrees. As of 2017, only 34% of American jobs require a high school diploma or less. Along with this, college graduates are 20% more likely to receive employer-provided health care, which can protect you from unexpected and high costs later in life. Going to college is not just about job opportunities, however, as people who go learn essential skills that could be useful to them later in life. Students have the opportunity to learn interpersonal skills while interacting with other students and faculty. In a 1994 survey conducted with 11,000 college students, “interpersonal skills” were voted as the most useful skills used in daily life. Although there are many benefits to going to college, there are also reasons not to go.

First and foremost, we need to be aware that you must earn the degree you are pursuing to receive any of these benefits. This may sound obvious, but many people waste their money on college and don’t follow through. Only 56% of students that enroll as first-year students will earn a certificate or degree, and 19% of students do not return for a second year. The next major negative about college is the cost of attendance. The average price of four-year tuition leaves many students and graduates in debt, as it can exceed $100,000. This number doesn’t even take into consideration out-of-state tuition, which can increase the cost to well over $250,000 over four years. This being said, only 39% of students graduate with a bachelor’s within four years, increasing the cost of attendance by even more. This leads to even more student debt, which many say is not worth attending college for. 45% of people with student loan debt say college was not worth it, which is a very substantial and scary number.

Even though colleges teach their students’ useful skills for the future, student loan debt often forces them to delay the opportunities to use these skills. Student loan borrowers delayed retirement savings by 41%, car purchases by 40%, marriage by 15%, and homeownership by up to seven years. Along with these numbers, not all college graduates have jobs that require degrees.

According to the Department of Labor, there are as many as 17 million college graduates that work in positions that do not require a college education. This also means that your four years at college and money spent were not put to good use, as most of the benefits for attending the colleges won’t apply to you. Just going to college does not guarantee you a job, either. Out of all the workers, college graduates have the highest unemployment rate at 4.0%, which exceeds those without a degree by .4%. With all that being said, there is a third option that many people choose if they are unsure of what they want to pursue later in life or college.

Taking a gap year has become increasingly popular with high school graduates since it allows them time to decide if college is right for them while learning other skills useful to them. It can provide students with a better sense of self, as opportunities are presented to learn what makes you happy and what works best for you. Understanding the world around you is very important, as well, and taking a gap year can provide you with this opportunity.

Students will also get the chance to expand their social networks, as they get to make real-world connections while interacting within a workplace. Taking a gap year has also been shown to increase mental stability. As written by Joe O’Shea and Nina Hoe in Quartz Magazine, “Gap year experiences have been shown to equip students to approach college from a place of increased mental stability.”

Gap years are also becoming increasingly popular among colleges and universities. Schools like Tufts University, University of North Carolina, and even Harvard are providing incentives such as financial aid, preferred admission, and course credit to increase the number of students doing it. Gap years are also great ways to boost your resume and help you stand out from other applicants, as it shows motivation and confidence to not only schools but employers.

So this leads to the final question, which option is right for you? If you know what you are pursuing in life and what you want to achieve, college can provide you with a stable way to achieve it. Having a college degree opens up many new job opportunities that someone with just a high school diploma might not be able to achieve, which can be beneficial to you down the road. Some negatives come with this decision, and the only way to tell what’s right for you is your perspective. The cost of a college education may not be worth it if the career you are pursuing does not require one, while a gap year may be beneficial to someone unsure of what they want to do in the future. The decision is yours to make, just be sure to way out all your options before making it.