Wednesday, January 16, 2008

To Be or Not To Be- A College Degree

Contemplating the debt (+80k) I have amassed during the four and a half years spent getting my undergraduate degree, I cannot help but question the importance of such a time consuming and costly endeavor. Was it all worth it?
My mother and father, ever since I can remember, both pushed the importance of a college education, claiming it was a necessary part of a successful adult life. They painted a grim picture for those who didn't attend college. "They'll never get a good job," they would tell me. "You need a college degree." And that was all they ever told me. There was no detailed explanation. It was a simple as that. No degree, no job.
So I, like most people I knew, though not all, applied to colleges, chose the one I liked the best, and as one of the more unfortunate ones, took out massive loans to cover my tuition. I attended school out-of-state, so my tuition costs were more than double my resident counter-parts. By the time I understood what an advantage taking a year off to obtain residency would be, I was a senior. So I decided to finish, taking an extra semester on top of the average 4 years to finish.
What I found, looking into the job market, was not a network of employers eager to take anybody with BA. In fact, that was less often a requirement than the dreaded 2+ years of experience I was faced with nearly every time. 2+ years of experience? I was busy getting my degree.
The lesson here is that college students should not bank solely on their degrees as a keys to that 50k salary they figured they'd get after graduation. It's necessary to start thinking about the future perhaps years before they graduate. Internships, and/or part time jobs in their desired field are an important tool, and will give students a much needed edge when applying for work after school.
The question, however, is still loud and clear. Is a degree worth the cost? The answer is: it depends. "Fifty-eight members of The Forbes 400 either avoided college or ditched it partway through." Bill Gates being one of them, had an uncanny flare for computers. A friend of mine who never went to college, is making 75k a year doing personal training. And my cousin, who is the same age as me, makes 41k a year working for his father.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. You've got to go out and claw away to get your share of the pie. If all you do in four years at college is get a degree, then as far as earning is concerned, you are four years behind the curve. All of the people who didnt go to college (and who aren't still living with their parents) have been gaining real world experience. They are learning how to earn, which is ultimately everybody's goal.
However, "Lifetime incomes of college grads in today's dollars average nearly $300,000 more than high school graduates over a 40-year career.(2)" Though this may be due to a variety of factors (I suspect socio-economic class is one of them), it is still a potentially important statistic. Long after one graduates college, the degree remains a strong presence on his/her resume. However, actual experience and tangible work related success, is perhaps just as strong, if not stronger.
Finally, if you see something, grab it. If you think a business idea that you have will take off, or you see an oppurtunity that intrigues you, go for it. College or no college. Though you might fall into a sect of the population with a lesser average income, your drive and ambition most likely distinguishes you as part of another sect, whose average income I suspect is much higher. A college degree is not necessary. It may help, though.

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