I got the idea for this article after overhearing a conversation the other day between two teenagers. One was arguing that getting a degree was the only way to get a good job to make good money and the other was arguing that getting a degree wasnâ€™t necessary in todayâ€™s day and age in order to make good money.
Iâ€™m sure you or someone you know have had this debate at least once and I think itâ€™s one thatâ€™s becoming louder and louder with each new generation.
One side drags the income chart out and points to the statistics of bachelor degree holders earning way more than high school graduates
The other side then gestures to famous high school or college dropouts and the successes theyâ€™ve had, proudly pointing out that they didnâ€™t need degrees to succeed and that they had college graduates working for them.
One side is proud to claim themselves as â€śwell roundedâ€ť for the education they received at university.
The other side points out that what they learned in school doesnâ€™t really help or apply in the â€śreal world.â€ť
The two seem to be endlessly at war, each countering the otherâ€™s arguments, dragging the debate to the point where there seems to be no clear winner. Every side seems to have its own pros and cons.
So letâ€™s sort this whole mess out and discover the true value of a college degree and see if it is really worth it in this day and age.
Ever since we were little, we were told college was the answer by our teachers and our parents. We were put on the college conveyor belt. It would give us the good life. It would get us the job and we would make good money because of it.
And they were right.
If they said that to us thirty years ago.
The idea that a college degree alone will help you in life today is obsolete.
Back in the day, everything that was said about getting a degree was true. If you had a degree, you separated yourself from the pack. Not many people were able to get degrees because not many people were able to afford college. It was normally reserved for the rich or upper middle class. And thatâ€™s precisely why the degree was so valued,
It was valued because it was scarce.
Scarcity creates value.
Nowadays, more and more people are going to college and in turn, a lot of degrees have been handed out so the scarcity of a college degree has dropped.
For every job opening there is, you have a hundred applicants, all with degrees. Whatâ€™s going to separate them from one another?
The value of a college degree has declined.
But is there some value left?
The answer is yes.
Hereâ€™s the thing that a lot of people overlook when having the degree debate. Most people are only thinking of college in terms of a vehicle that gets them a good job after they graduate.
They fail to realize the other benefits of going to college, aside from getting a job, that are intangible. Things like finding a marriage partner, making life long friends, making good contacts, networking with classmates and professors, the college life itself, exposing yourself to a broader scope of education, developing analytical and critical thinking skills, etc.
If youâ€™re spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education, you might as well get the most out of it because after all, it is an investment on your part.
Unfortunately, according to the rules of society, or the system, whatever you like to call it, having a college degree does open a lot of doors and thatâ€™s just the way it is.
If you donâ€™t have a degree, your employment options are significantly reduced. Getting a college degree is important if you want to open up your possibilities in terms of employment. Ask any job recruiter and youâ€™ll see just how important having that degree on your resume is in that respect.
Why that is so, I have no idea. Thatâ€™s just the way the system is set up and thatâ€™s how the game is played unfortunately.
A college degree also serves as a hammer that will help you break the glass and salary ceiling in corporate America. Itâ€™s very hard to get into management in Corporate America without a degree and itâ€™s very hard to get past a certain salary level without a degree as well.
Why this is so? Again. It beats me. Thatâ€™s just how the system is set up. And itâ€™s too bad some companies play by those rules.
But amidst all this talk of a college degree opening doors, high salaries, intangible benefits, there is one major drawback of getting a degree. What is that?
They always forget to include that donâ€™t they? But some may say itâ€™s a good investment because you get a high paying job so you can easily pay it off.
But remember, that was then. What about now?
It is precisely this factor of high debt coupled with the dropped value of a college degree in todayâ€™s day and age that has led to and sparked the debate of â€śdegree vs. no degreeâ€ť.
Because the value of a degree has dropped, many college graduates are having hard time finding work. They donâ€™t have experience or marketable skills. Just a degree. So they canâ€™t get that high paying job they want.
Meanwhile, itâ€™s time to pay the piper and more often than not, those monthly payments on the loans they took out are pretty high. Couple that with the fact that credit card companies prey on college kids and the materialistic attitude of todayâ€™s generation which contributes to another high monthly bill and youâ€™re looking at Generation Debt.
These college grads have to pay the bills, so they get any kind of job they can to pay the bills, even if it seems â€śbeneathâ€ť them.
People on the outside point to this and say: â€śAha! That degree you got was useless. Look where it got you. Youâ€™re working in a dead end job.â€ť
And the college graduates of course feel the need to defend their investment in college and thus the war starts.
I think in this day and age, thereâ€™s a lot of post college disillusionment. Hence, the new phrase – â€śquarter life crisisâ€ť (a sort of mid life crisis for 20 and 30 year olds)
College students graduate with no job lined up because they were still living according to the rules of the past. They thought the all powerful degree would magically open the doors of employment for them.
Meanwhile, there are bills that need to be paid and they canâ€™t get the jobs they want because they have no marketable skills or experience, so they get stuck in less than ideal jobs in order to pay those bills. They canâ€™t seem to break free from those jobs out of fear of not being able to pay the bills and they canâ€™t break into the job they want because they have no experience or skills. A viscous cycle indeed.
The college dreams have failed them. Theyâ€™ve become disillusioned.
Whatâ€™s worse is when they donâ€™t even know what they want to do.
They had this path laid out before them ever since they were young but nobody tells them what to do exactly after they graduate. Just marry, buy a house in the suburbs, and have 2.5 kids but nobody fills them in on the financial or career details.
They realize theyâ€™ve been had. That what they were told in high school about college was all a lie.
It wasnâ€™t a lie.
It was just an outdated message.
Students need to wake up. Just having a degree alone isnâ€™t going to cut it in todayâ€™s day and age.
Real world marketable skills and experience are the things being left out and those are the things that are scarce and will start to differentiate one person from another. These things comprise of the new â€śdegreeâ€ť.
Now letâ€™s tackle those who argue that a college degree isnâ€™t worth it these days.
The argument they use most often is the â€śLook at Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They dropped out of college and look at them now.â€ť
Before I go any further, I want to make something perfectly clear. You donâ€™t need a college degree. But can it help? Of course it can. We just discussed the benefits.
But let me say this to those who use the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs argument.
People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are the exception, not the rule.
And you have to realize that they DID go to college. They did. And who knows if the experiences they had in college shaped their future and contributed to their success.
Thatâ€™s what happened with Steve Jobs. He got the idea for Appleâ€™s typography after popping into a calligraphy class at college. Thatâ€™s another benefit of college. It exposes you to a whole new world of ideas that might help you later on in the future.
Of course there are those who never went to college and succeeded. What do I have to say to that?
For every person who makes it even though they dropped out or never went to college, there are thousands who donâ€™t.
Then, thereâ€™s a third angle thatâ€™s not often mentioned in school today but I figure will soon gain a lot of momentum and that is vocational schooling.
Vocational schooling mostly trains you directly for a specific job. Welder, plumber, electrician, etc. The truth is, these types of blue collar jobs pay just the same, if not more than the jobs that can be obtained with a bachelorâ€™s degree. The only reason why most people donâ€™t go for these types of jobs is the lack of â€śprestigeâ€ť.
But let me tell you something about prestige. Itâ€™s highly overrated. Most people spend their whole lives trying to impress other people at the expense of their own happiness and thatâ€™s ludicrous. People who do this often feel â€śemptyâ€ť because they are living a life dictated by the opinions of others. They are in effect, a slave to otherâ€™s opinions of themselves.
So letâ€™s answer the question once and for all.
Is getting a college degree worth it these days?
The answer is:
It depends on what you want to do.
I know everyone wants a definitive yes or no answer but the truth is, it really does depend on what you want to do.
If you want to become an electrician, vocational school is the answer so a degree isnâ€™t worth it to you.
If you want to become a doctor or lawyer, then of course a degree is worth it to you.
If you want to start your own business, and you have a solid plan with capital, then you might think getting a degree isnâ€™t worth it to you right now.
But therein lays the problem.
Most of our high school students have NO idea what they want to do.
And because they donâ€™t know, they just go along with the â€śgo to college planâ€ť. They do it because itâ€™s the thing to do. So they enroll as an undeclared major, party and waste time, then major in a liberal arts major, graduate, canâ€™t get a job because they have no experience or skills, meanwhile the debt is piling up so they get any job they can to pay the bills and they throw their hands in the air and proclaim that the system has failed them, becoming disillusioned with their lives in the process.
If high school students start taking the time to think about their future and what they want to do, they can choose their direction accordingly and avoid a lot of potential problems down the road.
I think that part of the problem here is that there is too much of a â€śGo to college or else youâ€™ll fail in lifeâ€ť mentality being preached in our schools today.
Itâ€™s dangerous to hold that belief because you block out all other options.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, I still think going to college and getting a degree is a great investment, but only for the right reasons.
Now in an ideal world, high school kids will seriously think about their futures and plan accordingly, but letâ€™s face it, most students donâ€™t.
Theyâ€™re more interested in looking cool, or playing World of Warcraft or buying the latest gadgets.
The problem here is that our educational system is outdated.
It needs to be updated in order to accommodate the times we live in today and help kids realize that there are other options other than going to college, depending on what they want to do.
But the problem is again, most of them donâ€™t know what they want to do.
One way to do that is to offer more career counseling and â€śreal worldâ€ť skill training in our high schools and colleges so that kids can be exposed to more career opportunities and choose their paths accordingly. You need that to bridge the gap because students are not going to do it on their own because they donâ€™t realize how important that is yet.
Another big trap people delude themselves into thinking that once they choose a path, they canâ€™t go back.
If you decide to start your own business after high school but realize entrepreneurship is not for you and you want to become a lawyer instead, you can always go back and get that degree.
If you graduate with a degree, but canâ€™t get the job you want, it doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re screwed. You can always develop skills and experience to get that job or you can always get that job through other means such as networking, or you can even start your own business
Or if you decide that a white collar job is not for you, and you want a more hands on experience job, you can always enroll in vocational school and become an electrician instead.
All I want to say is that a degree IS worth it, for the right reasons, and provided that you maximize your investment in college to help give you that edge that will differentiate yourself from all the other people who have the same degrees.
This includes getting experience, developing marketable and cross marketable skills, paying off as much tuition as you can so you donâ€™t graduate with a lot of debt, making valuable networking contacts, landing internships relevant to your field, etc.
Unfortunately it is true that â€śthe systemâ€ť is set up to open more doors and higher salaries for those with degrees, but the fact remains, itâ€™s always up to you. If you want to get in those doors and get those salaries then get that degree.
But if you want to go through a different door that doesnâ€™t require a degree that offers the same salary or higher salary or lower salary, then go for it, because thatâ€™s the door YOU want to go through.
A college degree isnâ€™t the only investment you can make that can open up more doors and get you more money.
Thereâ€™s another investment you can always make and thatâ€™s YOU.
Develop yourself to you full potential. Learn how to sell yourself and your ideas. Be the best person you can be. Learn how to communicate, socialize, and connect with all kinds of people. Learn how to negotiate with other people. Learn how to get the information you need. Learn computer skills.
Getting through the doors you want to go through will largely be a result of these kinds of investments you make in yourself , not just having that piece of paper.
I think we need to stop instilling the idea that college is the answer to everything and instead, encourage our young ones to look within first.
Help them discover what kind of work they want to do. What kind of lifestyle they want to live. Maybe work isnâ€™t even that important to them so much as spending time with their families.
Whatever it is, they should decide what they want to do and choose their actions accordingly, whether thatâ€™s just getting a job out of high school, going to college to get a degree, getting some vocational training, or starting their own business.
Regardless of whatever path you choose, always remember that the best investment you can make is always in yourself, because after all, it always begins and ends with YOU.