Why most Americans still think it’s worth it — despite rising costs.
1. Open doors for more job opportunities
One of the main reasons to go to college is to give yourself more opportunities in the future. The simple fact is that there are more jobs available to people with a college degree than those who don’t have one.
Only 36% of jobs in 2018 were available to candidates who went straight into the work force from high school, according to a Georgetown University study. Some 65% of jobs required a post-secondary degree. Going to college stacks the odds a little more in your favor — even if you skip the four-year program and get an associate degree.
Job growth is highest in sectors that require a degree
It’s likely that the percentage of jobs that require a degree will increase, according to the same Georgetown study. The fastest-growing sectors in the US are healthcare, STEM and community services — which typically require a bachelor’s or higher in a relevant field. Education is a close runner-up, which also generally requires a degree or certification.
2. Up your earning potential
Having a college degree can help you get a higher-paying job than if you’d just entered the workforce after school. Bachelor’s degree holders earn an average of $82,160 a year, while workers with only a high school degree earn an average of $46,228, according to a 2017 study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a $35,932 difference.
Even going to college and dropping out can up your earning potential slightly: Those workers made $51,324 a year on average.
3. Make lasting connections
College is a great time to form friendships and career connections you can carry with you after you graduate. You’ll meet people with similar interests that can inspire you to pursue your passions. Your professors can introduce you to experts in your field that can help you find internships and potentially even a job after graduation. And you can also take advantage of your school’s career development office and alumni network to get your job application into the hands of the right employer.
The connections you make won’t necessarily be about work, either. Around 28% of college graduates who are married met their partner while pursuing their degree, according to a 2013 study by Facebook. In contrast, only 15% of married individuals went to the same high school as their partner.
4. Take time to develop a career path
Unless you enroll in a specialized program like education or nursing, attending college gives you the opportunity to explore disciplines you might not otherwise spend time learning about. Many programs have core requirements across a variety of subjects that could potentially help you figure out what you actually want to do.
Regardless of what type of degree you pursue, the numbers show that investing in education can lead to more satisfaction with your work after graduation. Workers with a college degree are about twice as likely to think of their job as part of their career path than those without a college degree, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center report. The majority of workers without a college degree tended to think of their jobs as a means to get by.
5. Develop a well-balanced set of skills
While that 20th century poetry class might not seem completely relevant to your first job — unless you work in publishing — it will teach you some of the most sought-after skills, according to the Georgetown study.
Employers tend to favor candidates with strong communication skills: Active listeners who can articulate their ideas well and have high reading comprehension. Critical thinking is also highly useful. These are all skills college professors help you nurture and develop through taking notes, making class presentations and writing term papers.
6. Learn how to manage your time
Those first finals can feel like a blow, but they’ll help you learn a vital life skill no matter what career path you choose: time management. When you have three papers due and a test on the same day, you need to plan ahead in order to succeed.
There’s significantly less risk learning time-management skills in college than on the job. If you fail in college, you might have to retake a course. If you fail on the job, you could lose your source of income.
7. Get support for a new business
More and more schools have started offering student entrepreneurs support to start a new business while earning a degree.
UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck Fund provides up to $100,000 to new companies and a six-month incubation program — as well as a 10% investment in the first funding round. The University of Pennsylvania’s VIP-C incubator offers a three-month program to Wharton School of Business students, which includes seed money, mentoring, workshops and a space to work.
Going to a school with an incubator program can up your chances of getting accepted while offering resources you might not have as a solo entrepreneur.
8. Explore the world
College study abroad programs are one of the few times that you can immerse yourself in another country, culture and language without making a risky career move, like quitting your job to move to Thailand for six months. With opportunities to live with host families and experience another education system, these programs can teach you things you wouldn’t learn in the states.
Learning these skills not only shape who you are as an adult, but they also give you a competitive edge in the job market. Around 40% of US companies have missed out on business opportunities because their staff didn’t have the language skills and cultural understanding necessary to make deals with international companies, according to a 2014 survey by the Center for International Business Education and Research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
9. Take time to transition into adulthood
While college can be an investment, 55% of college students and parents see more value in the college experience than the economic benefit, according to a 2018 survey by student loan provider Ascent.
College gives you the opportunity to transition into adulthood and explore new ideas about the world and yourself before starting a job. It can be a great opportunity to find yourself when you aren’t sure what you want to do. These experiences are difficult to put in numbers.
How can I pay for school?
Going to college isn’t cheap. While the majority of students don’t pay the full price tag, most end up with a bill they can’t afford out of pocket. To cover these costs, go for the free options first, like scholarships, grants and work-study programs.
If you still need funding, consider applying for federal student loans to cover the remaining costs. These often have the most competitive rates and flexible repayment options — and you don’t need a cosigner to qualify. If you can’t qualify or maxed out your limit on federal funding, compare your options with private student loan providers.
Compare private student loans
Why might I not want to go to college?
While attending college comes with a slew of benefits — both career and personal — there are a few drawbacks to consider:
- College is expensive. Most college students believe their college degree was worth the cost, according to a 2019 report by APM Research Lab. But a sizable minority of 36% disagree. Consider whether you think it’s really worth the investment before taking out a loan.
- Student debt can limit your career opportunities. Having high monthly repayments can force you to turn down more interesting lower-paying jobs.
- Some degrees become obsolete fast. If you’re interested in going into tech or other fast-changing industries, what you learn in school could be useless in five years.
- What you learn might not apply to your career. One of the main reasons people felt college wasn’t worth it was because they felt they didn’t learn any skills they use at work, according to the APM report.
- You might not be any happier. Earning the higher salary that typically comes with a college degree might give you financial stability. But it won’t necessarily make you happier — at least not according to a 2015 survey by Glassdoor.
Most Americans agree that college is worth the investment — even in the face of rising costs. From helping you make connections with peers and potential employers to exposing you to a wide range of experiences, college can make the transition into adulthood easier.
Learn more about how to pay for that experience with our guide to student loans.