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Millionaire Money Habits

September 28th, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Is College Still Worth It?

The recession is affecting more than the average daily worker who is searching for (or struggling to keep) a job.  It’s taking a toll on students and their futures, too.  There’s always been debate over whether or not college is worth it, but the question arises more frequently today, even among students who have been dead-set on going to college since entering high school.  The inevitable debt appears more difficult to handle, knowing how tough the job market is.  So should you even bother with college?

I’ve been told plenty of stories about people who have gone straight into the job market after high school to become car salesmen or servers in restaurants and seem to make significantly more than their peers who attended college.  Not only that, but they’re perfectly content and not nearly as deep in debt.  And I agree with these people—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If your job provides stability, comfortable pay, and you don’t loathe going to work everyday, why on earth would you consider a change?

College Salary vs. High School Salary

The College Board also reports that it can take up to 14 years for a college graduate to match the salary of a high school graduate, taking student loan payments into consideration.  It’s also a fact that once you do obtain a higher salary, you’ll be in a higher tax bracket.  Bummer.  Next, consider that college costs continue to rise while financial aid becomes less available.  Schools and companies that provide scholarships are always more than happy to make getting an education a little easier, but the recession has hit them, too, limiting the funds that they can set aside for those scholarships.

Tough Job Market

There might be many more college graduates without jobs right now than there have ever been, but despite all this bad news, I believe college is still worth it.  First of all, in a tough job market, your degree gives you an edge.  The sharpness of that edge may have decreased due to the high number of unemployed graduates, but that’s simply a numbers game.  You still want to be part of the crowd with degrees that will at least be considered for the position you apply for.

And if you do want the higher-paying jobs that allow you more responsibility or more creative freedom and less packing and sorting, you’ll need a degree.  Occasionally, you’ll come across a listing that asks for a degree or equivalent experience, but in most cases, it’s difficult to get the experience without the degree and a portfolio to prove your skill.  It’s in your college classes that you’ll be able to take sufficient time to learn and hone the skills related to your field, and more importantly, apply them.  You’ll also get more opportunities for internships so you can use those skills in the job market itself, and an internship could always turn into a full-time job right after graduation.  (A word to the wise, don’t let those opportunities pass by!)

Is College Part of Your Dreams?

Here’s a small tip, though.  Especially because of today’s market, you’re better off knowing what you want to study before you enter college.  You may not get to attend the college you’ve been dreaming about because of financial aid obstacles, so you may have to choose either a different school or a different field.  Know what the average salary is for people in your field.  If it’s not sufficient enough, or if your field doesn’t bring you enough joy to make up for the discrepancy in pay, choose a different field or forego college altogether to avoid the unnecessary debt.  Or if manual labor or selling cars fits your personality, makes you happy, and provides a comfortable, steady income, the college experience may not be worth your time and money.

I tell people that I graduated college with a Starving Artist degree—I went after more artistic pursuits in writing, theatre, and music.  Not too unexpectedly, my pay-the-bills job is not in any of those fields, and if I were only now entering college, I might rethink my majors, but I know I’d probably still go with the same ones despite all that rethinking—I’m too much of an optimist.  And I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything.  I learned quite a bit there about my fields and myself that I don’t think I would’ve learned, understood, or accepted as easily and quickly on my own.

But like many things, college is always going to be a personal decision.  If you know what you want and believe that a college education can help you get there, don’t let the recession hold you back.  Don’t be discouraged by the lower number of scholarships around; apply for every single one you can find, and don’t forget about grants.  They don’t have to be repaid, either.  If your field doesn’t require a degree, you might consider college for the experience, but you should consider the recession and perhaps wait for better days.

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