College: is it worth it?

For lots of students, going to college after high school is simply a given – a reasonable expectation. And why wouldn’t it be? College can offer students more knowledge, preparation for your future career, and better opportunities for higher-paying jobs. With this in mind, college seems like a pretty good deal. But when factoring in the drain on time, money, and mental health, one has to wonder if college is worth it in the end or not.

Now, it would be hypocritical to encourage students to not go to college considering my plans to be a first generation college student, and that’s not my intention with this article either. However, I believe it’s important to lay out the pros and cons and consider alternative options even when it comes to expected paths such as your standard four-year college.

The biggest criticism about college is obviously the cost. College is expensive, and it continues to become more and more costly as the years go by. “It is very expensive to be in college. Many students start college and drop out, or they change their major sometime during their college experience—which can result in more years of attending, and more expense,” Lisa Metzger, the career advisor at North, explains, “If you plan to attend college, it’s a good idea to explore your desired career (through research, job shadows, talking to someone who has the job) prior to attending. More and more students are looking to attend 2 year, technical, or trade schools for a more focused education—and that saves the student money by not being in college as long—and the student also starts their career earlier—meaning they are making money sooner instead of paying additional years of tuition to a college.”

For many adults, student debt has lasted for decades and considering that college tuition has doubled since the 1980s, it’s scary to think about the debt someone could incur nowadays. Because states have been funding their colleges less, students have been paying more. Lots of lower income students simply don’t have the means to pay for this education and can’t afford to live in debt.

College also takes up a lot more time. After being in the education system for around twelve years, the idea of willingly going to school for another four or more years might seem like a joke to some students. While college isn’t structured as an eight hour day with back-to-back classes like middle and high school, classes in college focus heavily on homework and studying. Students will need to dedicate more of their free time to their education and less of their time on jobs and making money. If students procrastinate on their assignments, this workload can cause lots of stress.

Relating to my last sentence, another reason for not wanting to go to college is that it can be damaging for mental health. College is notorious for the stress it causes its students. I’m sure everyone has heard the hopelessness of achieving a good grade when it comes to college students discussing their midterms or finals. While this self-deprecating attitude can be humorous to some, there are other students who simply aren’t fit for this type of stress.
Not to mention the issue of young adults not getting enough sleep. While legally being adults, college students are still young and need their sleep. It’s unhealthy to pull all-nighters dedicated to studying, but it’s a common phenomenon during people’s college experience.

It might not be the flaws of college that turn people away from applying. It may be that a traditional college is simply not needed for what students are specializing in. Many careers only require community college/tech school, or even no college at all. The decision to go to a technical school can also be better if someone wants a more hands-on education experience versus the standard university methods. “There are many opportunities out there for students to learn on the job in their career—and not attend college. Apprenticeships are the perfect example of learning on the job—while you are paid—and not having to pay for a college education. There are also plenty of jobs out there that do not require a college degree, and will train on the job,” Metzger states.

On the other hand, college can be greatly beneficial for students’ futures. College is a requirement for lots of jobs, and even if it’s not, someone could get paid more with college education. College offers very important experiences to young adults, giving them the opportunity to learn more time management skills, make important connections, have more preparation for their future careers, find more job opportunities, and more. “Students should explore the career that they are most interested in to see if a 4 year degree is required. I also think college is a great way for students to learn to live on their own and mature prior to starting a career,” Metzger says.

However, for many, going to college may be a decision solely based on trying to avoid shame. As previously discussed, it’s highly expected that all high school students go to college after they graduate. Those who don’t go to or complete college may also be subject to criticism by their family, friends, and society in general.

Overall, going to college shouldn’t be an expected and set path for high school students. I know the question of whether or not going to college is worth it might seem ridiculous to some, but for others this question can help consider alternative futures for themselves that may be better. There’s no shame in going to an alternative college or no college at all. The decision should depend solely on what the best fit is for an individual’s career journey. College shouldn’t be the default.