College or Not – That is the Question
You’ve heard all of the hype. If you want a real career, you have to go to college and get that degree. And if you want to specialize at all, you have to go to graduate school – then you can really “write your own ticket.” Maybe you are still undecided about all of this. To make that decision, you really need to stop listening to the “hype” and do some careful research, and, more important, take a look at your personal career goals and see where they fit into this whole higher education thing.
Here is a pretty comprehensive list of higher education pros and cons. Higher education, for our purposes, means a four-year college that ends with a Bachelor’s degree.
Higher Education Pros
In the 1950’s, we had a huge middle class, and parents wanted their kids to go to college in order to do better than they had done. And college educations were pretty affordable at the time. It became first a status symbol to go to college and then a necessity for a high-paying career. Today, many families still value a college education for their kids, both because they did not go, and want their kids to have that opportunity or because they themselves went to college and have done well. And certainly, there are some pros:
- College exposes students to many things – a wide diversity of young people from all geographic regions and foreign countries; the opportunity to explore lots of possibilities before deciding on a major field of study and a career.
- College allows kids to enjoy still being young and yet gradually transition to adulthood, as they become more independent and take on more responsibility for themselves.
- College graduates still, according to statistics, will make hundreds of thousands more, over the course of their careers, than high school graduates will make.
- Good jobs for students with only a high school diploma are disappearing rapidly, and those that are left are horribly low-paying with little opportunity for real advancement.
Higher Education Cons
- Students will spend the first two years of college pretty much immersed in general education required courses that have nothing to do with the major field of study they have chosen. Many feel that this is an expensive waste of time.
- Because students only focus on their career fields in their last two years, many are forced to attend graduate school in order to be employable in those fields. While some fields will always require some graduate level training (e.g. medicine, law, scientific research), some should not (e.g., business, sociology, psychology), if students could begin their career field studies when they enter as freshmen.
- The additional money that college grads earn over their lifetimes is offset by the huge amount of student loan debt with which they graduate. Even when they compete for funds by writing essay scholarships and win some, these funds will only cover a very small percentage of the total debt they will have upon graduation.
- There are a growing number of post-high school vocational and technical training programs that students can complete in two years and enter the work force with valued and in-demand skills. And many of these programs are now being offered at community colleges, with a very low price-tag. Even if students need to borrow to get through these programs, the total debt is quite reasonable.
In order to make a good choice, you must identify a career field that is attractive to you. Doing this in high school can be difficult, but you should remember that no career choice has to be permanent. You can always change your mind down the road.
If you wish a professional career – business, education, engineering, medicine, law, etc., then, yes, you will have to get a Bachelor’s degree. But, if cost is a factor, you can get your general education requirements out of the way at a community college and then transfer to a 4-year school for your last two years.
If you wish a technical career, then, by all means, check into your community college or other vocational/technical schools in your area. Be careful, however. Some of the private schools are not reputable, and you would be wise to discuss options with your high school counselor.
You may very well change careers a few times in your life. And if you need a different school program to do that, those doors will stay open.