Is college worth the money and time? If yes, how do you choose the right one?
While these questions have never been easy, they’ve grown even trickier with time. From the one hand, the earnings gap between college graduates and everyone else is wider than ever. From the other, student debt has reached record levels, too. Hardly a surprise, two-thirds of American employees regret their college degrees.
This article offers practical tips for an informed decision.
1. Work experience comes first.
Building work skills is just one advantage. What’s even more important, work experience in high school helps you understand which college you need and whether you need it at all. If you’re already in college, experience shows whether you’ve chosen the right specialization. Anyway, you’ll hardly be able to find out whether you like a particular kind of work or hate it unless you spend some time working.
While almost any type of work experience is valuable, try to focus on the most relevant jobs. For instance, you may find a job shadow: watch someone doing a job that is of interest to you and get some insight into workplace culture and norms. Other options include client-related projects, internships, and summer jobs. The Imblaze app and Handshake network can be helpful.
2. Use a step-by-step approach.
Start from a position with minimal educational requirements and see whether the specific workplace is for you. In the case of medicine, for instance, before going to college, you may work as certified nursing assistant. The program typically takes between four and 12 weeks, and you can easily find CNA classes in Michigan or any other state.
3. Consider whether a degree is actually necessary to get the job of your dream (or join the company of your dream).
In 2019, at least 14 large companies dropped degree requirements. Here’s the list: Google, Apple, IBM, Bank of America, Penguin Random House, Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods, Hilton, Publix, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Home Depot, Chipotle, and Lowe’s.
4. Consider the numbers. But don’t let them trick you.
On average, those with bachelor’s, master’s, professional or doctoral degree earn around twice (or even three times) as much as everyone else. Also, they are by far less likely to be unemployed. At least, this is what the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest (research was made in the spring of 2018).
Weekly earnings ($)
- Doctoral degree: 1,825
- Professional degree: 1,884
- Master’s degree: 1.434
- Bachelor’s degree: 1.198
- Associate’s degree: 862
- Some college, no degree: 802
- High school diploma: 730
- Less than a high school diploma: 553
- Doctoral degree: 1.6
- Professional degree: 1.5
- Master’s degree: 2.1
- Bachelor’s degree: 2.2
- Associate’s degree: 2.8
- Some college, no degree: 3.7
- High school diploma: 4.1
- Less than a high school diploma: 5.6
So, looks like those with a higher degree have a clear advantage over everyone else?
28% of Americans with an associate’s degree make more than those with a bachelor’s degree (according to a study by Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce). It’s the type of work you do, not your education that matters most.
Typically, humanities are considered the least lucrative choice, although there’s evidence that over time, humanities graduates close the earning gap with professional peers.
5. Consider a gap year.
America is suffering from a student-loan debt crisis (nearly $1.5 trillion of student debt). While going to college may seem like the next logical step, many career advisors recommend a gap year, at the end of which you’ll need to have a timeline of your future education and a financial plan.