What good is a college degree? This is a question that six years ago I would have had a concrete and confident answer for. Now a days my position on that question has definitely shifted. So what happened between six years ago and today? Simply put, I do not see the fruits of my labor, not directly anyway. Growing up, my initial motivation for wanting to go to college was I’d have an opportunity to get better jobs, make more money over the course of my lifetime, and I’d get to do something I’m passionate about. Two year’s after getting my bachelors however, no “better job”, which of course means no “more money”, and prior to starting this blog, of which college is not required, no “doing something I’m passionate about”. So if there are no visible benefits from going to a glorified sleep away camp for four plus years what do we get for it in 2019?
Now I will say, I received my degree in psychology, and knew that one, psychology degrees as are most “liberal arts/science” bachelor degrees under valued/depreciated, and that two, I would need to get my Master’s if I wanted to actually do something in the field. Taking those things into consideration six years ago when I first applied for college, once I graduated from undergrad, I went right into a Master’s program. But guess what, even with my Master’s degree I am not in the field I want to be in because of one important yet under emphasized attribute required for most employers, experience. College gave me no marketable real world experience, which in 2019 means, I was under served and should ask for some of my money back.
Once again however, this is relative to my experience as a psychology major. My friends in college who were engineering majors for example, were given grade A treatment. I’m talking new facilities, study labs and equipment, hands on experience, research opportunities, the works, and a lot of them were able to land a high paying job right out of college; To the point where if they did not want to advance their career, they would not have to, outside of continuing education, which is a prerequisite for most careers anyway.
I recognize that this is not necessarily the institution’s fault, and that the value placed on engineering and technology by society is different than that placed on mental health. Additionally, I’m thankful that I can say that I went to a college where none of their academic programs were bad, and that they were all at the very least rigorous and above average. To my point however, during my search for a Master’s program, I applied to my undergraduate school’s master program; one because we had a really good psychology program that was research intensive which I’m into, and two because I figured, hey I got my undergrad degree here, I do not see why I would not be admitted into the grad program.
During the interview process, one of the teaching faculty who interviewed me, asked me something to the effect of: “what is your psychological perspective?”. A perspective in psychology is essentially one’s modus operandi (a simplified explanation for the purpose of this blog entry). I gave the best answer I could give at the time, and she even gave me an A for the effort of trying to properly answer that question. But alas it was not on par with what she was looking for. needless to say my own undergraduate school did not accept me for their graduate program. Not immediately anyway, they accepted me contingent upon two years of field experience prior to starting the program. That was a fair deal, but my question is why did I not have the opportunity to obtain that experience over the course of the last four years?
The fact of the matter is, higher education institutions are failing to prepare the majority of us for life in the real world. In the 2017-2018 academic year, the reported average cost a year for an instate student going to a public four year institution was just over $25,000, double that for a private school (www.collegedata.com). If the average college student after four years is coming out of school with between $100,000 – $200,000 dollars worth of debt, it should be standard practice not a program specific privilege to gain marketable real world experience while in school. And while students can find ways of reducing the cost of school through scholarships, living off campus (which cuts the bill in half), or getting an on campus job, the fact remains that students generally speaking, get less value for their dollar as it pertains to college; Not to mention, that your average college undergrad changes their major three times, prolonging their time and money spent at school.
So once again I ask the question, what good is a college degree? Here’s the deal, it’s still lucrative to get a degree in 2019. All of the attributes about a degree mentioned earlier still stand to be true. That being said, the culture around college is shifting, and that’s a good thing too. Four year Colleges are not the definitive option like they were when I was growing up. Community colleges are becoming more competitive everyday and not for nothing trades are cool again. when I was doing my college search there was always a negative connotation around trades and community colleges, now, in the conversations within the circles I’m privy to those are the way to go. The main issue with college other than the problems within the institution is that, the decision to go to college is not always an informed one. College is not for everyone and it does not have to be done right out of high school. I know in society, college after high school is just the natural progression of things; but if I were to give someone in high school thinking about going to college advice it would be this:
Take a year or two off and find out what it is you’re good at and what it is you’re passionate about, they’re different, at least early in life they are. while you’re doing that take on some responsibilities, start paying a bill and see how it feels to adult. If you feel so inclined, pick up a trade, at least that way you’re doing something you actually enjoy; you’ll be getting paid for it, and for the most part, you’ll always have a job. After that year or two, if you discover your passion and want to make a career out of it one, and two to do so requires higher education, start at your community college. If you thrive in community college and get your associates and your passion requires more education, go for your bachelors, so on and so forth.
In 2019, the best way to get a real bang for one’s buck from college is for them to use it as a catalysis for their passion; And the fact of the matter is, a person’s passion and their career could end up being two totally different things, and that’s okay as long as their passion is worth it, and they’re hungry enough to run after it. Because if they are, then they can make their passions a career, and then truly enjoy the fruits of their labor, and the debt would have been worth it.
For those students who are like how I was and are hellbent on going to a four year college right out of high school, regardless of major, the best thing they can get is the same thing I received other than my degree, something I would call non-marketable experience. This is experience that a person may not be able to put on a resume but, they can apply it to everyday life. My non-marketable experience stemmed from being in a fraternity.
Despite the negative connotation and controversies surrounding Greek organizations (a completely different conversation), I’ve arguable applied more of what I learned from my two and a half years of Greek life than I have what I learned from sitting in the classroom. Things like leadership skills, diplomacy, networking skills, time management, conflict management, teamwork, sales skills, marketing, how to dress and carry myself professionally, public speaking, interviewing skills, and healthy habits. These are all skills that are important in the real world, but cannot be explicitly stated on a resume. While in college a person can learn these skills anywhere, as long as they put themselves in a position to do so, and that’s the true immediate value of going to college in 2019. In short, get involved with extracurriculars.
It’s time to get smarter about how we do college. If the institution itself won’t adapt in favor of their students, students need to be more educated on what making the decision to go means. College students will be in debt, may not gain any marketable experience, and may not even end up in their chosen career path. Is that worth going and getting a degree anyway? Depends on what that person wants. People with college degrees will still have more opportunities over the course of their lifetime than those without, but college is not the only way to make it anymore, it never was, and its time to be upfront about the positives and negatives of that.
Students should do their research, and those in a position to advise should make every option known and appetizing for students. The military for example should not be presented to a high school student as a second to last choice if it’s a right first choice. And for those students who do go to a four year college, they need to know its important to get some immediate value from their experience as a whole. If a college graduate lives long enough regardless of the degree it will eventually pay off, but if that pay off is delayed they should have something to show for it other than just a piece of paper and an attitude.
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