Is College Worth It?

I hear a lot of questions about college. Is it worth the expense? How should I fund it? College costs are becoming more important to families. Working a private institution, we are those who negotiate how much they will for us to teach their son or daughter is becoming more frequent. Dave Ramsey has recently come our with a new college guide to help families learn how to get through college without debt. Dan Miller has recently written about the unrealistic salary expectations of college graduates. So where is the line? Is college still worth the expense?

Antioch College - Antioch Hall Building

Antioch College – Antioch Hall Building (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

I will warn you that my take on this subject is a little different from both Dave and Dan even though I agree with both of them. Dave Ramsey’s take is that you should attend college studying a field that has proven jobs tied to it (think business, engineering, teaching) and avoid as much debt as possible. Based on the article linked above, Dan’s is similar–avoid the liberal arts degrees and study what I call a professional preparation degree.

My stance on this topic can be answered by answering one basic question: Why do you want to attend college?

Is it to have a good time?

Yes, this is quite possibly the greatest reason an 18-year-old chooses to attend college. For those attending for other reasons, this is a nice side benefit. For traditional students, having a good time and loving life is acceptable, as long as it is done responsibly. Guy Chmieleski recently released a book in which he talked about delayed prolonged adolescence of college students. The idea is that instead of growing up and becoming young adults, they continue to live as they did throughout high school, extending their adolescence into their mid to late twenties until they are forced to grow up. In my opinion, this is not a great way to spend $120,000. 

Is it to get a degree to get a better job?

Most students will say this is why they chose to attend college. The problem is that many enter without knowing what they want to do. Therefore, they have a difficult time choosing a major. This only extends their time in college and usually their tuition bill. Yes, this is a worthy goal, but a poor goal that will make you poor. Take a year or two before going to college. In that time, gain some real world work experience. Have someone pay you while you discover more about yourself–what your personal strengths and personality lends itself to. Then, as you begin your degree, you will be more focused and more likely to build your college experience around who you are, rather than trying to find who you are while paying that tuition bill.

Is it to learn how to learn?

My greatest unintended consequences of college was that I learned how to learn. Becoming a lifelong learner has served me well. I have often thought of returning to get a Ph.D., but have decided that those extra letters will not serve me as well as my desire to simply learn on my own. I have found groups to discuss books and apply their lessons to my life. I have had meaningful conversations around a topic of learning. Most importantly, I have saved a lot of other dollars by learning on my own or in communities I choose. If nothing else, I encourage you to become a lifelong learner. Go to your local library and register for a free library card. Many even have e-books you can check out, can get books from other libraries, and rarely have to visit their locations. Not a reader? Check out the audio books and listen on your commute, daily walks, or bike rides.

I believe there is much more to college than getting through with the lowest tuition bill or the most prestigious piece of paper. I encourage you to strongly consider if college is for you, I believe that it is not for everyone. If you choose to go, know why you are going and how you plan to use your learning. That piece of paper you receive at the end is a perishable good, but the learning will stay with you forever!

Did you attend college? Why did you go and what advice do you have for someone considering it?

4 Comments on “Is College Worth It?”

  1. Kathy says:

    Nice Nick! And I agree. As a youth pastor I have watched many kids enter college with no clear goal of what they want to do with their degree when they’re finished. I sometimes hear kids say something like, “I want to do something with computers.” This vague goal doesn’t really work in college. Other’s have a a very clear goal and even if that changes, they seem to finish quicker and with better job prospects.
    You have made me ask a question…… You stated that college students are experiencing a “delayed adolescents”. I interpreted that as they are making a choice to delay it. I wonder what the psychological,cultural and physical phenomenon are that drives that. Are we missing some key element as their care givers in preparing them? Are there biological factors? Are their cultural factors? How wide spread is this?
    A good article that made me go hmmmmmmmmmmmmm


    • Thanks for the comments, Kathy. As I look back, it is not so much delayed adolescence, but prolonged adolescence or delayed/emerging adulthood. The basic idea is they put off growing up and become independent. Basically, they are no longer in the developmental stages of adolescence, but also not yet taken on the full responsibility of adulthood. Thanks for the clarification!

  2. ohiasia says:

    This question is so difficult because everyone is different. I went to college having no idea what I wanted to do, studied German because I liked it, graduated and eventually found a nice career in advertising. The “meandering” route worked for me (and even helps in my field) but I feel like I’m not the norm.

    Many people (like me!) don’t know what will suit them until they try it out. (And how many things has a 18 or 19 year old had a chance to try out?) For some, college will be worth it and for others it’ll be a waste. One hopes to not find oneself in the latter group, but you never know until the ship sails.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ohiasia! Yes, I do agree that everyone is different in their individual goals. The unfortunate thing is that I see many going to college today just because it is expected of them. They are not sure what they want to get out of it (even in the most general terms) and are not sure why they are there in the first place.

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