A college education takes time, effort, dedication and a lot of money, but it's all worth it, right? That diploma or degree shows that you have acquired a level of skill and depth of subject knowledge that should make it easier to land a good job and make more money over the course of your life. People often end up starting their working lives in considerable debt from paying for that college education, so is it worth it?
A college education doesn't guarantee a better job, but it can result in higher wages over the length of your career and is a prerequisite for some professions.
Is It True that a Good Education Guarantees a Good Job?
There will always be people that claim that you don't need a degree to make money and that you can have a successful career without further education, especially if you have the next big idea.
Some of the biggest names in business and technology didn't complete a traditional education, instead choosing to drop out of college and pursue vocational opportunities or launch their own companies. Famous billionaires like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all amassed their staggering wealth and global success without the benefit of a college degree. In fact, according to an article on CNBC, the majority of independent business owners don't have a college degree.
In the age of the entrepreneur, it can seem like hard work and opportunity trump academics. If you see yourself as the next big entrepreneur, you might think your time and money are better spent on traveling or investing in a startup. However, it can be difficult to get your ideas heard or get your foot in the door of most companies without their minimum education requirements being fulfilled. Many new ventures fail and these big name success stories are really in the minority. It's worth considering also that many well-known business leaders didn't achieve their success alone, and they likely filled their teams with experts and advisors who did have a college education to support their decisions and structure their companies.
What Are the Benefits of Having a College Education?
The traditional thinking is that by obtaining a college degree you're proving to future employers that you have achieved a baseline understanding of the subject matter and that you have developed a certain set of useful skills during your academic career.
These skills can transcend the particular subject matter of your major and relate to many areas of life after college, including time and project management skills, research skills and writing and editing abilities. This is why a college degree can be beneficial even if you end up working in a different industry compared to the one in which you studied. You may decide that you don't wish to become a teacher, but your degree in education can be a marketable achievement in a range of other adjacent professions.
By achieving a degree you're signaling to employers that you're reliable, that you can meet deadlines and that you can see projects through to their completion. A degree in any subject affords you a slew of marketable skills that are desirable to employers.
Beyond your actual education, attending college can further your career in other ways. It introduces you to people that widen your social network and increases your opportunities for internships and job placements. Being a college alum can mean that you're part of a community of people with a shared experience. This can help open doors for you as you enter the working world.
Having a college degree can also give you the confidence to apply for opportunities that you may shy away from without those letters after your name. A 2016 survey by the Pew Research center found that one-third of Americans without a college degree had declined to apply for a job because of their lack of higher education.
How Much Do College Graduates Make a Year?
When people say that a good education guarantees a good job what do they mean? It depends on what you mean by a "good" job. Some people would consider a good job to be one where they can be their own boss and set their own hours, perhaps work from home and take time off when they need to. For other people a "good" job can only be defined by the amount of money you can make and for others, a rewarding job needs to benefit other people or change the world in some way.
If making a good salary is your primary motivation for attending college, then you'll want to know how much do college graduates make a year? A study out of Georgetown University found that college graduates make on average a million dollars more over the course of their life than high school graduates.
When the Pew Research Center asked graduates what were the benefits of a gaining a college degree, more respondents mentioned intellectual growth and development rather than simply job opportunities. The results also showed that higher education has a cumulative effect. The longer people stayed in school, the more benefits they felt. Those with post-graduate degrees were more likely to say that their experience had been "very useful" in their job prospects.
College Degrees and Unemployment Rates
Does having a college degree guarantee a job? This is a question many prospective college students find themselves asking, but there are no guarantees in life. Some people achieve phenomenal success without a college degree, and some people excel at university but can never manage to convert this to career success.
However, overall, unemployment rates are lower among graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently compared unemployment rates among college and high school graduates and found that for college graduates only 2.1 percent haven't found work while the rate for non-grads is over double that at 4.3 percent.
Your chances of landing and keeping a job are also affected by the type of degree you choose to pursue. Business Insider found that unemployment rates for graduates vary by the degree type and industry with social science or history teacher education having the lowest rate of unemployment. Nursing and science careers were also mentioned as good choices for job security.
Some Careers Require a Degree
Although many people can achieve career success without a college education, there are a number of career paths that are closed to those who don't meet the minimum requirements. Careers in law, medicine, education and engineering, just to name a few, all require a minimum education, which includes acquiring a college degree.
If you have your heart set on becoming a veterinarian, a doctor or a speech therapist, for example, you'll need to attend college. Some job advertisements also insist that applicants have a college degree in any discipline to prove that they can perform at a specified level regardless of subject content knowledge.
What Is the Cost of College?
There's no denying that a college education is expensive. When you ask how much do college graduates make a year, you'll need to deduct the initial cost of obtaining your degree to have a fair idea of the numbers involved.
Prospective students will need to remember to calculate all the hidden costs that add up over the course of a four-year degree program. The cost of books, supplies, laptops, accommodation, food and transportation will need to be included along with the tuition and course costs.
According to CNN, the average cost of a college education is $57,000. A steep price for parents to consider or for self-funding students to manage even with a part-time job. It can be hard to make ends meet as a student.
But students can access support to help cover the costs of college, including grants, scholarships, aids, tax credits and by taking part-time jobs.
The Heavy Burden of College Debt
At the end of your degree program, you'll likely be hoping that a good education guarantees a good job, especially as you may have amassed considerable debt in order to pay for your education. In fact, college debt has increased in the last year, up 6 percent over the previous 12 months according to Student Loan Hero. It totals a whopping average of $39,400 of lingering debt. This heavy burden of debt can limit your choices, forcing you to accept jobs based solely on the salary rather than other important factors.
Student debt outweighs credit card debt in the United States by over $620 billion according to the same report by Student Loan Hero and can significantly impact your standard of living as high repayments deplete your take-home paycheck.
What Is the True Value of a College Education?
When deciding if the cost of a college education is worth it, you need to consider the whole picture. Having a diploma or degree can benefit you in many ways. It can give you the confidence to apply for jobs and present yourself as a knowledgeable person in a particular field or discipline. It can fill you with a sense of pride and accomplishment as you have completed a course of study and likely encountered some setbacks and challenges along the way yet persevered regardless.
It can give you access to a network of similar people in the same industry which can help open doors to arrange networking possibilities, internships or even job opportunities.
It can allow you to progress in your chosen career and statistically result in higher pay for the duration of your entire career. If you're toying with the question of what do college graduates make a year, the answer is usually more than non-graduates.
But does having a college degree guarantee a job? No, there are unfortunately people who have spent time, energy, effort and money on a college education and who are still not employed in their desired profession. You'll also be left with significant college debt unless you were able to pay this all off with scholarships, savings or part-time employment.
But despite some of the negative drawbacks, a college degree is still a life goal for many people. Interestingly, the value of a college education is perceived differently by people from different ethnic communities. For example, the Pew Research Center found that Hispanic and black parents considered a college education to be more important for their child's future success than white parents did. In fact, 86 percent of Hispanic parents and 79 percent of black parents said that their child obtaining a college degree was either extremely or very important. A college degree can be seen as a way to escape your current circumstances and make a better life for yourself and your family.
What About Vocational Training?
Those wishing to train in a particular industry and make a higher income have another option open to them. Vocational instruction to train in a technical career or trade can certify students in a profitable career which typically has lower tuition costs than degree programs.
Although the answer to does having a college degree guarantee a job is probably no, a vocational training program can provide students with a better chance at securing work post-graduation. These types of programs often have a work experience component and work in conjunction with companies looking to hire apprentices after they have completed their course. The difference between the potential income of a skilled tradesperson and the amount of money they have to spend on their courses can mean that they represent better value for money than a traditional college degree. For example, according to the Money section at US News in 2016, the median wage for an electrician was $52,720 yet the entire cost of the course is only $3,800.
When deciding if a college degree will benefit you, you'll need to consider both the cost of the course and your career prospects after graduation and weigh all the pros and cons.
- CNBC: 10 ultra-successful millionaire and billionaire college dropouts
- CNBC: A secret many small-business owners share with Mark Zuckerberg
- PEW: The value of a college education
- CEW: The Economic Value of college majors
- TED: The economics daily
- CNN: You'll probably pay at least $57,000 to send your kid to college
- PEW: Hispanic, black parents see college degree as key for children’s success
- Student Loan Hero: A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2018
- Money: How Much do Electricians Make?
Fiona Tapp is a freelance writer and educator. Her work has been featured on The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Toronto Star, Readers Digest, and others. She writes about a variety of topics including Homes, Parenting, Education, and Travel. Fiona is a former teacher and masters degree holder. ᐧ