The Cost of Not Attending College

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College is one of those things your parents likely drilled into your head when you were younger, some more so than others.  If you were like me, there was a constant reminder even at a young age that I should be preparing and thinking about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.  Did I know that as a freshman in high school?  Hardly.  Then on the other side there are parents who never attended themselves and put no pressure on kids to do anything but graduate 12th grade.  There are reports everywhere showing those who attend make significantly more money than those who don’t.  What’s interesting is in Generation Y (born mid-1980’s-2000) there have also reports showing college being a waste.   That is quite a stark difference.  What could cause that?  Let’s look a little closer.

One of the biggest arguments for college is giving you an opportunity to discover what you want to do with your life.  That’s respectable.  College provides an area where it’s safe to try out new things.  As a freshman, most of us have no idea what we want to do with the next 50 years.  We pick a subject that sounds good and just start going.  It’s quite common, then, to change your outlook entirely Junior or Senior year when you figure out Psychology also requires a lot of math, which you hate.  In fact it’s not uncommon for folks to complete their degrees and begin working as a barista in their local coffee house.  Why?  While gaining all that education, you miss out on real-world practice.  Selling cars sounds like a really cool career until you find yourself standing on an empty lot for 12 hours, battling the dozen other dealership hunters for the unsuspecting duck pulling in to check out the new Camaro.  Real world scenarios really help in this sense.  “You don’t know until you try,” is a motto for a reason.  The important thing for those not attending college is to use these years to develop a sense of what you’re good at.


Another argument is wages, and it’s an argument many can get behind.  Studies show that college graduates make more money on an annual basis.  That is and has been fact, with graduates averaging around $18,000/yr more than their counterparts.  That’s a lot.  Is it worth it though?  Another fact is college graduates tack on around $15,000/yr of debt.    Depending on your school, many students finish degrees upwards of $60,000-$100,000 in the hole. Yikes.  Take into account the few years of income those non-graduates make and you’ll see it takes a while for that degree to pay off.  The bonus to going through schooling is once those debts are finally paid off (which could be well into your 30’s or even 40’s for some) you’re likely to come out ahead.

As both an employer and someone active in the job market, what I think the biggest argument for/against is the availability of quality jobs.  Searching job listings with major employers such as ADIDAS and Intel, you’ll find most positions require a 4 year degree.  If you don’t have one your options with these top-notch companies are slim and you’ll be battling a larger amount of people for that title.  There is a lot to say for that, especially as the middle class in America has been eroding rather heavily the last few years.  Some industries are beginning to provide professional training in their fields as college often doesn’t prepare workers for their industry, though those options are few and far between.

As you may have picked up,  having a college degree on your belt is generally a positive acquisition.  In our parent’s world, it was easy to say college should be a no-brainer.  Tuition was low and income disparity was high.  As tuition has skyrocketed and the opportunities in this country change, you’re finding more and more who feel college isn’t worth what it used to be…. and they’re right.  Professional training specific to a career (such as IT or wind energy) are still new and yet to see an outcome over a generation or two.  The chances of finding a career that fits your needs and satisfies your income requirement are getting higher without schooling.  This does not overtake your chances of success with a degree, however, so college is worth it in the end.


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