A college degree is rapidly becoming a requirement for white-collar and professional jobs, and more students are attending college than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 68.3 percent of 2011 high school graduates enrolled in college, and this number has been increasing over the past several decades. However, college is not for everyone, and the cost, time and stress of college can make it the wrong choice if you don't need college for a job.
On average, college graduates and people who attend some college can expect to make more money than people who don't go to college. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January 2013 that the median weekly earnings for people with a bachelor's degree were $1,066 per week, while people who only have a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $652 per week. These statistics don't hold true for everyone, though. The Department of Labor reports that 25 percent of adults with college degrees have jobs that don't require degrees. If you select a major that does not prepare you for a specific career, or if you already have a good job offer out of high school, college might not boost your earnings.
There's more to the financial picture of college than just income. College can cost a lot of money, particularly if you don't get scholarships, and many students go into debt to pay for college. The average college graduate has $27,000 in student-loan debt, according to Forbes. If you don't make enough money to meet monthly debt payments, a college degree might not be worth its high cost. Additionally, the delay in working full-time that often comes with college can prove problematic for some students who must support families, pay medical bills or meet other financial demands.
College expands access to employment and opens up the possibility of graduate and professional school. The Georgetown Public Policy Institute estimates that, in 2018, between 50 and 65 percent of jobs will require a college degree, depending upon which state you live in. Getting a college degree won't harm your job prospects even if you don't ultimately use it. But if you're not sure whether you'll need a degree, it can delay your time until you become employed. For some students, technical school or an associate's degree might be a better option.
In addition to the specific skills associated with your major and elective classes, college also teaches "soft skills." These include time management, talking to authority figures such as professors, collaboration, problem-solving and social skills. College can also serve as a networking opportunity. The friends you make in school may help you later in your career, and professors can refer you to potential employers, help you get into graduate school or enable you to participate in research projects that can advance your career.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2011 High School Graduates
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Education Pays...
- Georgetown Public Policy Institute: Help Wanted
- American Public Media: The Value of a College Degree
- Fox Business: College Not for Everyone -- 4 Alternatives
- The Atlantic: 53% of Recent College Grads Are Jobless or Underemployed—How?
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.