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Is a College Degree Worth it?

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Guest Contributor

The problem with addressing this question is that there are so many variables to consider.  In most cases, employers give preferential treatment to applicants who have earned a degree, so in this respect it certainly could pay to have one.  And with most of the globe still mired in a recession, leading to ongoing layoffs, hiring freezes, and unemployment, you certainly want to have every advantage when you apply for a job.  On the other hand, there are some definite downsides to committing four years of your life (or more) to earning a college degree.  So before you start applying to schools, there are a few things you should take into consideration.  Whether or not a college degree is worth it for you may depend on how you feel about these areas of concern.

1. Major.  It never hurts to have a degree when you’re searching for jobs, and in some cases a degree is absolutely mandatory.  You cannot become a doctor without a medical degree, a litigator without a law degree, or a teacher without at least some kind of certification.  And if you want to start a business, it would really behoove you to get a business degree so you know what the heck you’re doing.  On the other hand, there are jobs that don’t necessarily require a degree.  Although art school can be fun, you might not need it if you already have a developed talent and a wealthy patron.  For some professions, school may just be a waste of time.

2. The name on the building.  Where you go to school can sometimes be just as important as what you study.  If you want to work in a top law firm, then you need to get into an Ivy League school like Harvard (not only expensive, but extremely difficult).  But if you’re more interested in becoming a public defender, then just about any law school should suffice.  You just need to consider how far you’ll get on the name alone, regardless of personal merit.

3. Cost.  This is a biggie for most people, especially since getting loans is just about as difficult as finding jobs these days.  Not only will you be on the hook for skyrocketing tuition (even at home tuition for online degrees) and fees, you’ll also have to pay for living expenses, transportation to campus (if you don’t live in the dorms), books and supplies, and possibly even a home tutor if you get into trouble with your grades.  You don’t want to spend a boatload of money on a degree that won’t net you a salary big enough to pay back your college loans.  You need to carefully consider the field you’re going into, the cost of schooling (and whether or not you really need it), and how long you’ll be paying off your degree once you’ve earned it.

4. Experience.  If you want to manage a restaurant, you might do just as well to spend those four years working your way up in a food service establishment.  Or suppose you’ve spent years learning computer programs on your own so that you now have the ability to create stellar motion graphics (and you’ve already got a demo reel to show potential employers).  In such cases, experience may be better than schooling (practice rather than theory).  

5. Interest level.  If you’re simply not interested in going to school and earning a degree, you may as well be throwing your money away.  Even if you manage to graduate (and that’s a big if), you likely won’t get anything worthwhile out of your time there, leaving you with a load of debt and an entry-level job that you could have been working your way up from four years ago.  College isn’t for everyone, so don’t make yourself miserable by forcing it.

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