Why Higher Education is Still Worth It

Why Higher Education is Still Worth IT

There has been a great deal of discussion of late as to what exactly is the value of a college degree. With a still-high unemployment rate having sidelined a great many workers sporting a bachelor’s degree (or higher), tuition costs and student loan debts which are increasing substantially faster than the rate of inflation, and of course the constant barrage of anecdotes involving people without a degree of any kind earning comfortable or even lavish incomes, it may be tempting to downplay the importance of being able to display that nice accredited sheepskin on your wall.

Don’t give in to the temptation. Higher education may be increasingly expensive and no ironclad guarantee of the proverbial good-job-for-life, but the job market’s current (and projected) upheaval and uncertainty makes having advanced training and education more, not less, essential to navigate the shifting landscape. There are a number of reasons for this fact, and any one of them could mean the difference between an excellent job and a mediocre one. Or any job and no job, or any number of other doors that may hinge on your education.

College Life

One of the often-overlooked reasons is simply this: you will meet people in college. Lots of people, both professors and fellow students, many of whom will share interests and professional aspirations and, most importantly, information and connections. It’s often said that getting a job is not necessarily about what you know, but who you know, and college can provide the who. Connections don’t just flow from your social ties, either; universities run things like job fairs on a regular basis where you can go get the lay of the land. Company recruiters love to target campuses for fresh graduates, and a huge variety of career services are usually offered as well.
College also offers you a chance to learn to make more effective connections in other ways. Every profession has its own culture, jargon, expectations; you’ll learn how to navigate, how to relate, how to speak. This is absolutely essential training, and very difficult to acquire by anything but experience. Whether you come off as outsider or insider will be noted and acted upon in more than just job interviews. It will affect your promotions, your professional reputation, and your ability to get along socially with your co-workers. It’s a vital communication skill.

Classroom Skills

And speaking of communication skills, one of the most important contributions to the value of a college degree is learning how to write, and do it well. The difficulty of finding a candidate who can write well is one of the key gripes of today’s employers, and for good reason. The ubiquity of email has made written communication skills one of the most important (and universally visible) you can possess. In larger workplaces, your writing may be the only thing any of your coworkers ever sees of you. Writing all those papers, with perceptive feedback from your professors, may be one of the most valuable things you ever do.
Education has enormous value in and of itself too, of course. Even if, as an increasing number of people do, you end up working in a job that would seem to have little to do with your specific course of study, your learning will have value that goes beyond just teaching your job skills. A high-quality education will teach you new ways of looking at the world, help you to comprehend the rules by which it works, kindle an inquisitiveness and hunger for understanding that will serve you well for the rest of your life in all its areas. If education were simply about taking in and remembering as much information as possible, college wouldn’t be necessary; learning how to think is what gives it its real worth.
All this can have enormous social value as well. A college education can teach you how to discuss, argue, and defend and idea, how to pick it apart and examine it from every angle. It can expose you to a myriad of other points of view and experiences, letting you relate to others in a much wider variety of ways. It’s difficult if not impossible to put a price on looking good in front of prospective in-laws, impressing a new friend, or being able to keep up with an involved conversation on a complex subject.

Financial Results

Then, of course, there’s the money. This chart from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sums things up pretty neatly: higher education means substantially higher earnings and less unemployment. This is fairly common knowledge, but a close look at these statistics might surprise you at just how large the differences can be. Even a little bit of college credit can boost your earning potential substantially and make it more likely you can find a job. An Associate’s degree will push you right up to the median earnings line, and anything beyond will put you above average. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, but it’s a very serious leg up.
Looking at all this together, a college education will more than pay for the investment of time, money, and hard work it requires in a huge variety of ways. That said, of course, not every education is created equal. There are any number of considerations you should be aware of when choosing where and how to pursue higher education.

Accreditation

First of all, you should look at accreditation. A degree from a non-accredited institution is generally considered vastly inferior at best, less than worthless at worst. There are two kinds of accreditation you’ll generally be looking at: national, and regional. Counter-intuitively, regional accreditation is almost universally considered to be superior to national, and you should choose a college that has earned it whenever possible.

Doing Your Homework

Second, you should consider your educational goals. A university may have an excellent biological sciences program but little to no engineering department, for example. It’s not just about which college is ‘best’, but which one is best for you. If your schedule is tight, check to see which classes are offered online or with flexible times. Ask about financial aid options, what loans are available, the exact cost of tuition (make sure you account for all the various student fees, which can add up very quickly) and, of course, the location. Depending on your situation, it may be worth going through the upheaval and moving to attend your ideal institution. Make sure you talk to at least a few current or former students and professors to get a feel for the place beyond just the official literature.
Finally, don’t be intimidated or discouraged at the whole process. Besides being a valuable experience and a lot of hard work, college is also supposed to be fun and interesting. You should look forward to expanding both your mind and your prospects.
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