Is College Worth It in 2020?

You’ve graduated from high school — or you’re about to — and now it’s finally time to face the questions: Is college still worth it? Should I really go to university?

It’s a tough decision, one that can change your life in many ways. I know it’s not easy to make it, especially when you’re young and haven’t found your calling yet. There are many factors to think about; some of the most important ones are:

  • Do you want to go to college, or do you feel like it’s what others expect from you?
  • Do you have a career path in mind?
  • Have you considered taking a gap year, travelling, and working before deciding?
  • Do you feel that if you don’t go to university now, you’ll postpone it forever afterwards?
  • Do you have enough money for a college degree?
  • Have you looked for grants, scholarships, and other financial aid programmes?
  • Have you considered a student loan?
  • Are you willing to study abroad and pay lower or no tuition fees?
  • Could your favourite profession be practised only with some training, a certificate, or a two-year Associate degree?

There are many other aspects you should consider as a prospective student, but this list is a great place to start. While only you can answer these questions, I can help by going through the pros and cons of going to college.

As you read this list of benefits and disadvantages, remember that it’s not exhaustive. My goal is to avoid taking sides and simply provide you with useful info. In the end, you should be in a better position to decide about your studies.

Let’s dive right in!

Why college is worth it

  • People with a college degree earn more
  • College degrees are a ticket out of poverty
  • The number of jobs requiring a university degree is growing
  • Jobs demanding college degrees come with additional benefits
  • University life makes you more mature and responsible
  • College means networking, making connections and friends
  • Many university students receive career support and guidance
  • College can increase your awareness of other people, cultures, and mentalities
  • You get to explore different cities, regions, or even countries

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People with a college degree earn more

It is generally known and accepted that going to university opens the door to better careers, especially in terms of salary. Let’s take the United States as an example. Over their careers, Americans with a college degree earn around 570,000 USD more than people who only have a high school diploma.

College degrees are a ticket out of poverty

This applies especially to low-income students and other people who have faced many challenges in their life. Even though attending university might be an effort, it is the ticket to a better life for these students. A college degree also enables them to give back to the same disadvantaged communities, because they know what it’s like to live that way.

The number of jobs requiring a university degree is growing

According to a study made by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, around 65% of jobs in the US require some type of college degree, many demanding at least a Bachelor’s diploma.

Long-term, keep in mind that if automation is implemented on a large scale, many jobs that don’t require advanced knowledge, creativity, or technical skills will be replaced by machines and robots. You wouldn’t want R2-D2 to take your place, would you?

Student working on her laptop

Jobs demanding college degrees come with additional benefits

  • Higher income
  • Higher levels of fulfilment
  • Flexible work schedule
  • The ability to work remotely
  • Private medical insurance
  • Private pensions
  • More paid vacation days
  • Gym memberships
  • Massage therapy
  • Free psychological consulting

How do these benefits sound? Of course, you won’t enjoy all of them at the same workplace — if you do, please let me know when there’s a job opening — but having several advantages like these will make a job much more appealing.

University life makes you more mature and responsible

This is obviously not a given; it all depends on you. But college life is often a culture shock for most students. It’s not similar to high school, where teachers were striving to monitor your progress and provide individual help.

During university, a lot of work and responsibility will be on your shoulders. Professors won’t come to remind you about projects, assignments, or being late with the last chapter of your thesis. It’s up to you to create a schedule, stick to it, find a balance between studies and fun, and not end up with a burnout. No pressure, huh?

Remember that during and after college you won’t — hopefully — be living with your parents. Things like laundry, cooking, cleaning, and paying the bills need to be taken care of. They’re not always enjoyable or fun. But someone has to do them, and in this case, that someone is you.

College means networking, making connections and friends

During college, you can meet some of the most important people in your life: best friends, lovers, business partners, who knows? There are numerous opportunities to connect, share ideas, find like-minded people, and express yourself.

You never know what might happen and how these people will reshape your entire life. It’s not about having expectations; simply be open and don’t take for granted the special relations you will build as a student.

Many university students receive career support and guidance

You’ll discover that a significant number of universities go above and beyond to support their students and help them find jobs after graduation. This is achieved through career counsellors, guidance programmes, internships, job placements, or even job shadowing.

As long as you’re open to new experiences, and you attend a university with supportive programmes, you can gain a lot of hands-on experience during your studies. Don’t take it lightly; experience often makes a CV stand out in the eyes of HR specialists and employers.

Student receiving support from her professor

College can increase your awareness of other people, cultures, and mentalities

There are over 7.5 billion people on the planet who have different backgrounds, life stories, cultures, and dreams. With so many unique perspectives and ideas out there, it’s easy to see why we get trapped in our own bubble. We often fail to understand what others might think or feel because we have our own things to worry about.

Studying abroad or studying alongside international students can change our preconceptions and open our mind. It’s very interesting to hear another person talking about the traditions in their country, about the problems faced by the young generation, and it’s even more interesting to find common ground and understand each other.

You get to explore other cities, regions, or even countries

If you’re passionate about travelling, you cannot go wrong by choosing a university in a different state, region, or country. It’s an excellent opportunity to explore what’s out there while investing in your education.

Travelling is easier than ever nowadays thanks to many services like Airbnb, BlaBlaCar, CouchSurfing, and others. In Europe, for example, going from one country to another is simple, relatively cheap, and super fun no matter if you travel with a group or by yourself.

Even if you study at a local university, you can still go abroad with programmes like:

Why college isn’t worth it

  • College tuition and student debt are at an all-time high
  • Certain big tech companies no longer require employees to have a college degree
  • University degrees don’t guarantee better or high-income jobs
  • Not all high-paying jobs require a university degree
  • A significant number of college students do not graduate
  • Many university programmes constrain students and limit their creativity

College tuition and student debt are at an all-time high

In fairness, this applies especially to the United States — and other countries with a similar model — where tuition has more than doubled in the last 30 years. It reveals how huge fees and student loans can ruin the college experience. In 2020, for example, student loan debt has reached a staggering 1.5 trillion USD.

Student loans in the US also come with additional problems:

  • They prevent people from achieving financial independence or investing in other major life goals like marriage, owning a house or a car, etc.
  • You still have to pay the student loan even if you drop out of college
  • It can take up to 30 years to pay the full amount

But not all countries follow the American model. In the United Kingdom, for example, tuition at public universities is limited to around 10,000 EUR per academic year, and student loans are paid in instalments, only after reaching a certain income threshold.

Still, only UK citizens and European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), and Swiss students can apply for these loans, and 2020 is the last year when people from the EU/EEA and Switzerland will enjoy this benefit.

There are more affordable colleges, even in the US. But most students still aim for Ivy League universities or other prestigious academic institutions. The problem is, they also have some of the highest tuition out there, sometimes reaching over 50,000 USD per year.

If you want to study in America, you can always check out Bachelor’s degrees that cost under 10,000 USD per year. In Europe, you have even more flexibility:

Learn more about tuition fees at universities in Europe.

Here are other ways to reduce the cost of a college degree and avoid student loans:

  • Grants – money you don’t need to pay back
  • Scholarships – awarded based on various criteria, like academic results, country of origin, online contests (e.g. the Studyportals Scholarship), etc.
  • Working part-time during studies

Student loans and high tuition fees

Certain big tech companies no longer require employees to have a college degree

It might be hard to believe, but it’s true. CEOs and HR experts at these companies have realised that hands-on experience and practical skills matter more than a three or four-year university degree.

Especially when it comes down to programming, coding, and technology in general, all the information you need is out there. You can find free online courses on mastering Linux, developing a website, administrating WordPress, and so on.

In addition to free tutorials and how-to videos on YouTube, there are many other popular online education platforms, which offer free or affordable courses in any area you can think of:

Here are some of the top tech enterprises that don’t ask job candidates for college degrees:

  • Google
  • Apple
  • IBM
  • Tesla

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean the application process will be easy, or that you won’t be tested thoroughly. You just don’t need to stress about an official diploma. If you claim you have the right skills, put your money where your mouth is. Apply, ace the interview, and show everyone how it’s done.

Check out other non-tech companies that hire people without a university degree.

University degrees don’t guarantee better or high-income jobs

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. There are way too many factors involved in finding a great job, and a university degree alone won’t get you there. Some of these relevant factors are:

  • Having the necessary hands-on experience to stand out from other candidates
  • Having knowledge and practical skills in addition to your college degree; graduating university is one thing, mastering a profession is another
  • It often takes time and patience to go from a junior position to a senior or even management role
  • For well-paid careers in areas like Healthcare, Law, Computer Science, and IT the competition among job applicants is very high
  • If you only go to college for the diploma but don’t learn and develop yourself, future employers will figure it out fast

You should also remember that not all students with a college diploma get the job they want or deserve. Many graduates find themselves underemployed, struggling at workplaces that don’t make full use of their skills and know-how. Others end up with professions that either don’t require a university diploma or are not related to what they studied.

Not all high-paying jobs require a university degree

But they do require skills, skills that can be developed online, through workshops, internships, or even volunteering activities. Here are some of the highest-paying jobs in the US that don’t require a college degree:

  • Media and communication equipment worker – 79,580 USD/year
  • Elevator installer and repairer – 79,780 USD/year
  • Detective and criminal investigator – 81,920 USD/year
  • Commercial pilot – 82,240 USD/year
  • Nuclear power reactor operator – 94,350 USD/year

Check out other similar jobs on the official CNBC website.

A significant number of college students do not graduate

Whether it’s due to financial reasons, personal struggles, or realising the degree has little to offer or isn’t what they’ve expected, many college students choose to quit and start something else. It’s not all bad since figuring out what you don’t like can help you discover what you truly enjoy, but it is something to keep in mind.

Here’s how university drop-out rates vary from one country to another:

  • University drop-out rate in the US: 40%
  • University drop-out rate in Canada: around 15%
  • University drop-out rate in Australia: around 15%
  • University drop-out rate in the UK: around 7%

Dropping out of college means lost time, which could’ve been spent learning a skill or transforming a passion into an income source. I’ll also remind you — again — that in some countries, like the US, dropping out of college doesn’t save you from paying the student loan. Unfair? Maybe. Worth knowing? Definitely!

Many university programmes constrain students and limit their creativity

For many years, students have been complaining that numerous academic programmes and education systems are constraining, limit their creativity, and force them to fit into fixed ideas, political agendas, or development plans.

Not all universities fall into this category, and some systems are more open-minded than others. But the overall feeling of lost potential remains, as future graduates need to focus more on passing exams, learning definitions and theories, instead of experimenting, developing their own ideas, and learning from mistakes.

And making mistakes or failing is a sensitive topic because traditional education systems often teach us to avoid failure and to feel bad when we don’t succeed. But mistakes are essential in life, and everything we’ve done and achieved as a species relies on trial and error.

The best way to avoid old-fashion constraining college programmes is to do proper research and find out as much as you can about your classes, professors, and teaching style. Student reviews are a great place to start.

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How to decide about going to college without regretting it later

Quite a lot to consider, right? If you’re still unsure about going to college, here’s what you can do to avoid making a rushed decision or one that will come back to haunt you later:

  • If you didn’t like high school or weren’t a great student during that time, things might not be a lot better during college. Of course, if you enjoyed one subject, like Physics, for example, but found the other classes boring or overwhelming, going to university could still be a great experience.
  • What you study is more important than going or not going to college, because some career paths are more in-demand and offer higher salaries than others. At the same time, for many professions the competition is high, and a college degree — at least, the Bachelor’s degree — won’t be enough to stand out.
  • Before considering a student loan, look for grants and scholarship programmes to partially or fully cover your tuition or living costs.
  • Make sure you get what you’re paying for. Check out university and programme reviews and see if lecturers have hands-on experience or have worked in their respective field.
  • Ask yourself if you really need to go to college; just because it’s expected of you, it doesn’t mean you should do it.
  • Delay college for a year or two if you’re not sure. Taking a gap year can be an exciting time to travel, get your first job and learn more about yourself, about the world, and what’s it like to earn your own money.

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