The last few generations of Americans have been indoctrinated with the idea that a college degree is an absolute must-have in today’s economy. While this is largely true, the answer to “To have a college degree or not to have a college degree, that is the question”, is not so black-and-white as it may first seem. There are some legitimate reasons why delaying or even foregoing a college degree may be the best choice for certain individuals. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons to getting a college degree.
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The most obvious pro of a college degree is money. Over their lifetime, a college graduate can expect to earn about 60% more money than those with only a high school degree. While some jobs do not require a college degree to start, such as many law enforcement jobs, oftentimes a college degree is required to advance within the field.
Occasionally there are good paying jobs that can be landed without a college degree, it’s usually the case that when two individuals occupy the same position, one with a degree and one without, the one with the degree usually earns more money.
Interestingly enough, there is also a correlation between having a college degree and an individual’s relative level of happiness. This correlation was shown in 2005, when a survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that 42% of people with a college degree said they were “very happy”, whereas only 30% of people without a degree said the same.
Just because a college degree comes with many benefits doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone, or right for everyone right away. Inevitably, there are those college grads who lament the degree that they earned, wishing they had delayed college for a few years until they knew what they really wanted to do. For these individuals, entering the workforce or the military out of high school would have been a good way to increase their maturity level before spending the time (and their parents’ money) earning a degree they didn’t really want.
There are also many educational alternatives available to standard, four-year university degrees. A “degree”, in other words, doesn’t necessarily mean attending a traditional college or university. Many careers, such as the aforementioned law enforcement officers, nursing assistants, dental assistants, emergency medical technicians, plumbers, and electricians, can gain the training or certification they need through their job, a local union, or vocational school without getting a college degree. As an individual progresses in a career such as this, they can always choose to go back to school later for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Those who say, “You must have a college degree to be successful in today’s workforce” are only partially right. In the sense that someone with a college degree will earn more money than someone without one, they are usually (but not always) correct. Many entrepreneurs start home-based businesses and years later find themselves earning far more as a business owner than they could have “using” their college degree. Furthermore, one person’s idea of a successful career might be another person’s idea of Chinese water torture. Do you really want to earn a college degree only to find out that you hate your job?
Before you decide whether or not to pursue a college degree, first define what “success” means to you. Do you want to use your career to get rich, or is excitement more important to you? Would you be happy with a desk job, or would you rather be working outside? Do you want to work with your hands, or with your mind? The answers to these questions will define what career path you take and whether a college degree is right for you now, later, or never.