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Is a college degree worth it?

April 6th, 2016 at 09:23 pm

Here's the truth, some people are better at making "returns" on their college degree than others. The truth is that for many career tracks you need a college degree. It's very difficult in the US to go to graduate or professional schools without a bachelor's and even joint 6 year pharmacy programs are starting to give away bachelor's as well. But medical, dental, law, business, and most phd programs won't take you without a bachelor's. It's the way it is in the states (please correct me if i'm wrong).

Second there are many career tracks that a bachelors is absolutely necessary, but the pay is terrible like being a teacher, social worker, public health worker. Jobs that people might love but don't necessarily pay well. I think that perhaps people who choose careers that a degree is absolutely necessary should get paid more but they aren't. So perhaps the answer is loan forgiveness and it should be "highlighted and encouraged" for those who choose low paying careers with lots of debt. Another option is pushing for those who choose such careers to maybe go to a community college then transfer to a four year institution to save money. I certainly would support either of my kids if they wanted to be a teacher or social worker but I'd tell them to do it as cheap as possible. I have A LOT of teachers in my family and my mom was a social worker. They would be the first to tell you the pay sucks but they loved their jobs. They would also agree it makes sense to do it as cheaply as possible.

Third there is the argument to be made that any degree will get you into the door of a corporate job. Even if the first job is being a bank teller, cashier, barista, or administrative assistant. That degree gives you an opportunity to move up.

My relative started at a costco punching a register with a college degree. She soon moved into corporate and started to "climb" the ladder till she quit to stay at home with the kids. Most of the people she knew started with college degrees in the warehouse then got promoted internally. It was rare to find someone just jumping into corporate without knowing the ins and outs of the company.

Second relative went into broadcasting. She did a degree in communications and started as an administrative assistant. Eventually she got to start writing her own new clips and filming. Then she got another promotion into directing or managing the 10 pm news. It all took paying her dues and working her way up. Many people do it.

I have friends who started as bank tellers at wells fargo, bank of america, and chase with college degrees and then worked their way into corporate. They are doing analyst, teaching tellers, etc. The entry level job was a stepping stone and the degree allowed them to move into something else.

I don't think that only "some" degrees valuable. I think that it's what you use it for and the purpose. I had a roommate who wanted to be a teacher and did. Her pay still sucks teaching 3rd grade, but she has been doing it now for ~15 years. She had lunch (on facebook) with a student from her 1st year of teaching who is a teacher now!!! OMG. She has inspired at least 3 previous students to become teachers themselves. I think her contributions are amazing. And imagine if someone had said "well teaching pays crap, you shouldn't do it." Where we would be today?

Did having a college degree help? Do you think it's needed today? Is it useless? Or is it still useful but tremendously expensive?

9 Responses to “Is a college degree worth it?”

  1. CB in the City Says:

    All in all, for people who love learning, college is a valuable experience even if it doesn't lead to a high-paying job. If it leads to a job they love, even though it is not high-paying, again, it is valuable. On the other hand, people in high-paying jobs may have hated the courses they had to take to get there, but the end result made it worth it. Who should skip college? People who don't care if they ever get beyond service jobs, who aren't intellectually curious -- and people who are lucky! I say college is mostly worth it.

  2. Butterscotch Says:

    I think college would be worth it if you knew better at the time of enrolling. I enrolled at 18 and, like most 18 years olds, I either didn't know what I wanted to do, or didn't understand that my choices wouldn't take me anywhere career wise. I see people on this site, in the forums, talking about how people are idiots and get worthless degrees and it is their own fault that they cant get decent jobs with them. And how people should have known better before taking out loans that they would never find a real job. It is so hateful. I took out a bunch of loans and pay back $1000 month, with no end in site...I took out way too much. I was a kid, and it just didn't seem real at the time. At this point going to college is my biggest regret. Maybe I will feel differently one day.

  3. Mrs. Frugalista Says:

    I decided to finally finish my degree when I was 33 years old and my children were entering middle and high school. Without my education, we would have never afford to cash flow their higher education. My husband is a high school drop out but fortunately managed to make enough money to afford us a decent living but it was not enough to put the kids through college or to afford a bigger house. We lived in a 900 sq.ft. house for 10 years. Honestly, the money spent on my education definitely paid off for our family.

  4. alice4now Says:

    I borrowed way too much money for my college degree, I really had no idea what I was dong at 19 years old. Looking back throughout my higher education experience, I have certainly wasted money on some classes throughout the years, as I figured out where I needed to be. But now things are settling and I am grateful that I have my education, for lots of reasons.

  5. PatientSaver Says:

    I think college is most definitely worth it if you define "success" not just by how much money you make but by how you grow and mature as a person. College taught me how to think, and how to learn. I mean seriously, how much did I as a 17-year-old from a small suburban New Jersey town know about life, about people and how to get along in the world? Barely anything.

    The whole 4-year college experience is priceless. Obviously it doesn't come without a price tag but as with anything else, people need to go in with their eyes wide open and an awareness of what they can afford. That being said, I do agree with Butterscotch that it's hard for a young person of limited life experience really understand how much debt they are taking on. I was lucky, I had some scholarships and grants along with 3% federal loans. I guess that's where you would one hope the parents would be involved and provide some much-needed guidance.

  6. LuckyRobin Says:

    I'm not necessarily sure about college. I think trade school is better in this day and age. Welders, electricians, plumbers, locksmiths, HVAC technicians, and mechanics all make very good living wages. Solar installers, the guys who go out in the storms and fix the power lines, the guys who run cables, surveyors, even the guys who lay down new pavement on road crews, make living wages. The barista at Starbucks with an History major is not making as much as a flagger, not even with good tips. Lawyers and doctors seem to be saddled with crushing amounts of debt. Teachers seem to be set up to live without making money right from their student teaching days where they can't hold another job while doing it.

    I kind of think that the university system has been used by the loan and banking industry and the government to create new generations of debtors. One, because it pays the bankers to do so, and two, people living under crushing debt often give up and don't rebel or protest anything so are better controlled by the government. Maybe I'm just a cynic, but from what I've seen these last 20 years, I don't really think I'm wrong.

  7. MonkeyMama Says:

    I think it just depends. The answer to all of your questions is it depends. I know many people who were successful without degrees. I know many for whom it changed their lives and opened up opportunities.

    I've noticed this year a lot of people mentioning college opening up their mind and horizons. (You said this too LAL?) I did not get that from college. That was more my high school experience.

    I kind of feel like money is no object for my kids because we have two prior generations who did not spend a lot on their degrees. But on the flip side, it has to make sense from a cost/benefit standpoint. If the only option was to spend six figures for a college degree, I can't say that I would encourage my kids to go to college.

    My entire degree cost $10k and was more than worth it. I needed the degree to pursue what I wanted to do. (It would have been cheaper if I finished in 4 years or had gone to community college).

  8. MonkeyMama Says:

    Second post because my comment was getting long!

    I wanted to say thankfully that no adult ever pushed me to go in over my head when it came to college. (Peers were another story).

    I sense a LOT of pressure (already) when it comes to my own kids. I personally went to a huge high school and was not the tippity top of my class. No adult ever pressured me to go to a fancier college. Since my kids are so close in age I always figured community college was the obvious route. Plus the public colleges are so impacted that they want their students to go to cc first two years (is all I ever hear). But the high schools really want to brag about 100% 4-year college acceptance rates, etc. (I got the message loud and clear already, with a 7th grader).

    My kids' K-8 school is VERY college focused. My 10yo keeps mentioning how Bernie Sanders will make education free or if we moved to Finland or wherever education is free. I have to laugh. I keep telling him we live in California and college is cheap here. Not to worry about it. But just another sign of the pressure these kids are feeling. I actually told him the other day he didn't *have to* go to college and he looked absolutely horrified. I think his school is laying it on a little thick. (His parents and grandparents are ALL college grads. I don't know about dh's family, but my parents and I would say that college is not everything. IT was good for us, but it's just not meant for everyone).

  9. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    No college experience does broaden and give you opportunities to meet others. Can you get that at a community college? Absolutely possible more MM. But unfortunately many careers like accounting, teaching, social work, etc require bachelor's. So does dental, medicine, law, optometrist, professional schools. And crushing debt there does occur to many of them. But how to curb this? I suggest maybe loan forgiveness if they work in X areas or something.

    LuckyRobin, I agree college isn't for everyone. And we should push trade schools as a viable option. Except from talking to people who are in trades and those with parents in trades many feel like jobs are being taken by immigrants and manufactoring jobs are being outsourced. I don't say that meanly because I also have hired immigrants from the local hardware or 7-11. So how are some of these trades supposed to compete they ask? I don't know the answer because sometimes contractors themselves hire these workers and just oversee them. It's a terrible cycle. That being said that history major working at starbucks? I hope they didn't go to a private school paying full price and instead maybe went to a CC then 4 year public university and had a plan for their history degree.

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