Why should I go to college? Is university worth the time and expense? Should I just get a job and not go to college? Is college really worth it? <Insert famous rich person> didn’t even finish college, why should I go?
These are fair questions, questions that are being asked a lot right now. In the crazy world that we live in, continuing your schooling for another 2, 4, 6, or 10 years (depending on your goals) might seem daunting. When you add the cost and how challenging college is, making a commitment to go to college is raises big question marks.
Here are a few reasons why you SHOULD go to college:
Learn to think differently
One of the most important reasons you should go to college is to learn to think differently. For the last 12 years (at least in US schools), you have been only exposed to a limited curriculum and set of knowledge that is state-approved and mandated. There is so much more information out there! You will be introduced to career options, ways of thinking, and ideas that you never dreamed were possible.
As someone who grew up in a very rural environment (my high school graduating class has just over 100 students), the opportunities to learn and be exposed to new ideas were limited. I started at a regional college, and I’m glad I did. That regional college greatly expanded my horizons and thoughts. Taking a philosophy class, being introduced to the concepts of economics, learning to program a computer, and, most important for my eventual career, learning how people learn, were all critical to my personal development. Eventually, I went transferred to a private college, then a research-oriented university for my advanced degrees. But without that first exposure at the regional college, those next steps would not have been possible.
Learn new skills
College provides the opportunity to learn specifics skills or gain certifications required by some careers. You cannot be a teacher without a college education, nor can you become an accountant. But many careers and jobs require specific skills to succeed.
My goal as a high school student was to become a computer programmer, maybe a data analyst. Once I was in college, I learned about a lot of peripheral majors and degrees that were much better suited to my interests. Everyone hears about Computer Science, but there are a lot of closely related degrees that emphasize different skills. It turns out I was a natural in Computer Information Systems, which is the business equivalent of Computer Science.
Look carefully at the degrees that are available at the colleges you are considering. Usually, there will be a brief description of the major and the skills you will gain in the classes. If you have found the career you wish to pursue, make sure you compare different colleges’ course offerings and requirements. Frequently there is a significant difference as to what you will learn at University A or University B.
Also, look at WHO the faculty are at the university. These are the people who will be teaching you! Have they written any textbooks? What are they researching? If it becomes clear during your college visit that you will only be taught by graduate assistants during your first few years, go someplace else!! You are paying too much to be taught by a graduate assistant who is only making $15K to $20K a year (nothing against graduate assistants, I was one!). You are paying for expertise, make sure you have real professors.
College is when you are going to make connections. Important, life-long friendships and connections. Some might even be the professors! I regularly correspond and stay in touch with my students who have graduated.
These connections are much more meaningful than the ones you made in high school (IMHO). These are people who selected the same college as you did (odds are you didn’t have much say in what high school you attended). They are people who probably have similar interests, beliefs, or passions.
These are the people that you can start a business with, call when you need help, or are just a great friend for life after college.
Unless you were lucky enough to meet “the one” in high school, college is the perfect place to meet a future spouse. Just as with the connections, that future spouse selected the same college as you did for a reason. They are generally more motivated and want to accomplish things.
College is a great place to date and meet your future partner.
I put this one towards the end because it has been so overdone, and, with the high cost of higher education, many people are questioning if it is still true. In the mid to late ’80s, people started talking about going to college as an investment because, generally, a college degree is going to allow you to earn more over your lifetime.
This holds true today. College graduates do, generally, make more. While there are glaring exceptions (becoming a teacher as a prime example), if you are careful in your major selection, you can make more. Even majors that you wouldn’t think would be high income generating degrees can be if you investigate the career options and pursue them.
Also, having college experience separates you from the competition, even if you do not finish. Most businesses would rather hire someone with some college than know college experience, primarily for the reasons listed above.
College isn’t for everyone
But you should not stop learning!
I am the first to recognize that college isn’t for everyone. Some people struggle to learn in a formal environment, have learning disabilities, or just get frustrated with school.
I understand. But don’t stop learning. There is nothing scarier than to encounter someone who hasn’t grown or learned anything new since their teen years. Try to learn something new each day. Reach books, watch videos, or take online classes that expand your skills and knowledge.
And with that, learn to question the source of all information. Just because someone recorded a video or put a microphone in front of their face does not make them qualified to give advice!
Finally, I would like to address the argument of <Insert famous rich person> didn’t even finish college, why should I go?
First, usually, the person mentioned did go to college, they just didn’t complete their degree because they started their own business. Generally, these examples are outliers. If you look at what they expect of their own children, they went to college. I encourage you to listen to or read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. He does an excellent job of explaining how those famous rich people accomplished their extraordinary success.
Brian Burton, Ed.D., has been teaching and mentoring students for over twenty years. If you would like to schedule him for in-service training, speaking at a conference, or motivational speaking, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.