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Why is College Important?

Bold.org Editorial Team

Top experts in a variety of areas

In the year 1980, the total number of students enrolled in higher education institutions in the United States was just under 12 million. Forty years later, the United States had roughly 19.4 million students enrolled, showing a 62% increase in the number of college students. At the same time, the cost of a college degree has increased by 169% while average earnings for young workers between the ages of 22 and 27 have only increased by 19%.

The financial disparities between tuition and income several decades ago and the present represent two sides of higher education in the United States: its increased popularity and its increased cost. The growing cost of pursuing a college education in the United States alone has made many potential students wary of attending college, and yet millions continue to enroll.

This trend indicates that college is still incredibly important and appealing to many. In addition to being a formative experience in the lives of many young people, a college education can also lead to better job prospects and a better quality of life in the future.

At the same time, the cost of a college education can cause students to incur massive debt, with the average student graduating roughly $31,000 in debt. Steep tuition prices and college loans represent major drawback to the college experience, and can dissuade students from attending.

If you are contemplating pursuing a college education, you may be wondering why college is important. However, whether or not the benefits of a college education outweigh the detriments is an individual opinion. That being said, it is important to research and consider all aspects of pursuing a college degree before making a firm decision.

If you are wondering why college is important, read this comprehensive guide to understand all the pros and cons of pursuing higher education. The table of contents below provides an overview of what this guide will contain.

  1. Is college important?
  2. Financial benefits of going to college
  3. Financial strain of going to college
  4. Personal benefits of going to college
  5. Professional benefits of going to college

Is college important?

A short answer to this question would be yes, but sometimes no. This is because a person's individual circumstances are the largest determining factor in whether or not college is important to them. However, it is worth noting that over half of all high school graduates choose to attend college. In fact, in 2019, 66% of high school graduates enrolled in either a four-year institution or a two-year institution, suggesting that for the majority of students, college is indeed important.

This could be for any number of reasons. First and foremost, college provides students with an education. There are many college majors to choose from, and studying something you are passionate about, whether it's computer science or English literature, can be a gratifying experience, and can even help you find your future dream job

College also allows for personal growth and the development of critical thinking skills, thus giving college-educated adults promising job prospects in the future. It also allows for other financial and professional benefits that for many outweigh the costs and other drawbacks of a college degree.

A college degree is now required for many jobs, with advanced degrees also being required for careers such as medicine and law. However, depending on a student's background and career goals, college may not be a necessity.

Financial benefits of going to college

Although a college degree is expensive, and the rising cost has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent years, the financial benefits of attending college are also indisputable. College graduates with a bachelor's degree make an average of 84% more in the workforce than workers with only a high school diploma.

To put it another way, the average lifetime earnings of college graduates is $2,268,000 while the average lifetime earnings of someone with only a high school diploma is $1,304,000.

This doesn't mean that it is impossible to earn a high salary with only a high school diploma. After all, 14.3% of high school graduates make more than the average income of college graduates. However, the financial benefits of college are undeniably notable and can be a major determining factor for students who are deciding if they want to pursue a bachelor's degree.

Financial strain of going to college

As previously mentioned, debt is one of the foremost financial problems faced by college-educated adults. On average, receiving a college degree puts students more than $30,000 in debt after graduation. Additionally, compared to several decades ago, the cost of a bachelor's degree has increased exponentially, with the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board across four-year public and private colleges landing at about $28,775 in the 2019-2020 school year.

Moreover, college poses a financial strain outside of school-required costs. For many students, stepping into a college campus for the next few years also means paying for rent in a new apartment, buying groceries, and affording notebooks, pens, computers, etc. In 2019, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the United States alone was $1,216, a steep price for many college students.

Not only do these other necessities incur more costs, but they can even keep students from spending time with friends, which poses an obstacle to the enrichment of their social lives and even their mental health and personal growth.

College is also a time commitment - the number of hours students spend in class or studying each week can make it difficult to work and earn money, making it even harder to come up with the necessary funds for college.

However, it is worth noting that college does not cost the same in every country. If you are worried about the financial strain of attending a university, one option to consider is the price of becoming an international student in a foreign country, where tuition is often less steep. Furthermore, students worried about the cost of a college education can also apply for scholarships, which can immensely alleviate the burden.

Personal benefits of going to college

Despite the steep price, college can provide a number of personal benefits in addition to financial and educational benefits. Outside of academics, social and emotional learning is an integral part of one's education and can hold a great influence on professional success.

College exposes students to diverse people, cultures, ways of thinking, and more, allowing for the development of better self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and overall emotional intelligence. This occurs not only through classes and interactions with professors and faculty, but also with new friends, clubs, sports, political movements, and other extracurricular activities.

Furthermore, Americans with a college degree report being happier overall than those with only a high school education. They also report being healthier and having a higher quality of life. With the General Social Survey as an indication, the personal and social benefits of pursuing a postsecondary education illustrate that for the majority, college is indeed important and beneficial.

Professional benefits of going to college

In addition to the educational, financial, and personal benefits of college, there are also many professional benefits. Most notably, holders of a bachelor's degree have much more promising job prospects than those who have not attended college. In fact, on average, a college graduate will see 57% more job opportunities than a non-graduate. To put it simply, there are more jobs available to college graduates than non-graduates.

Furthermore, not only are there more jobs available but finding jobs with a bachelor's degree is easier. This is because over 80% of job opportunities for those with a bachelor's degree are advertised online, which is the primary way job seekers find work in the present day. By contrast, only 50% of jobs available to those with only a high school degree are advertised online, making it more difficult to find employment.

Finally, a college degree does not only make you eligible for more jobs, but it can also expose you to more work as you make professional connections. In other words, it is a great environment for growing a professional network, and college students often find work through connections made at their university, an opportunity that is not available to those who do not pursue an education after high school.

Frequently asked questions about the importance of college

Is college worth the cost?

Whether or not higher education is worth the cost is dependent on an assessment of one's current and projected finances as well as personal and professional plans. Although college can impose a major financial strain on students, it is also possible to pay these costs with a variety of sources of financial aid.

While student loans can be helpful, they often place students in debt, and the average time it takes to pay off one's college debt is 18.5 years. Fortunately, there are also other sources of financial aid, like scholarships or federal work-study. These sources do not need to be repaid, so they are often a better option for those pursuing a college education.

If you are considering applying for scholarships, it is best to begin earlier rather than later. In fact, the Federal Office of Student Aid advises students to begin working on their college applications as early as the summer before their senior year of high school.

After reading this guide and conducting more independent research, you should weigh the pros and cons of a college education to determine whether or not it is the path you want to pursue.

Can I get a job without a college degree?

A college degree is by no means necessary for finding a job, meaning that you can indeed find a job without a college degree. However, attending college will increase your chances of finding work and receiving a higher salary.

In the year 2020, 86% of 25-34 year-olds with a bachelor's degree were employed, which is 18% higher than those who have only completed high school. Furthermore, college graduates tend to make more on average than non-graduates. Ultimately, while employment is possible with only a high school diploma, a college degree increases your chances of both employment and higher earnings due to the wider variety of jobs you'll qualify for.

How do I know if college is right for me?

Knowing if college is the right path for you is up to a number of personal factors. Most importantly, you should assess your future financial, personal, and professional plans, as well as your current circumstances. Knowing what you want in the future and what you are passionate about can influence how you perceive college and how happy you will be in your pursuit of higher education.

Many college graduates report an overall higher quality of life, but it is important to note that you do not need to attend college directly after high school. Many students choose to take a gap year before college to travel, explore multiple career paths, and consider their own personal development. If you are not sure about attending college, taking a gap year may be an appealing option. Once you have taken the time to assess your circumstances and your future, you can decide whether or not college is right for you.