Not sure if getting a degree is worth it? Here are four good reasons to consider furthering your education:
1. A path to a better-paying job: College graduates in general earn at least 60% more than high-school grads on average, both annually and over their lifetimes, and the income gap has been growing over time, says a 2007 report by the College Board, New York.
2. Preparing for a rich, well-rounded life: To Megan DeLamar Schroeder, Texarkana, Texas, planning the college experience based entirely on future income demeans its true value. “The intangible benefits … cannot be reduced to some kind of short-term cost benefit-analysis, as though one is purchasing a piece of property or an expensive sports car,” she says.
College grads generally show higher rates of civic participation, engaging in volunteer work and donating blood at more than twice the rate of high-school graduates, says the College Board study. They are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise daily. College grads also have a much higher likelihood of being happy, says a 2005 survey of 3,014 adults by the Pew Research Center; 42% of college grads reported being very happy, compared with 30% of those who only finished high school or less.
3. Finding work you love: James Landon, Apache Junction, Ariz., says this is a good reason to attend college, and he sees big public universities as the best and most cost-effective place to conduct such a search. Four of his five children attended big public universities. Two of them had no idea as freshmen what they wanted to do, Mr. Landon says, and the universities’ broad offerings of programs, majors and facilities helped them figure it out. One wound up in finance and is a successful real-estate broker; the other majored in psychology and political science and is now pursuing a foreign-service career in graduate school.
College degrees can guide students’ career choices in subtler ways. Jason Wotman, 24, loves his work as a co-founder of Tailwaiters, a Great Neck, N.Y., startup that runs tailgate parties for clients at sporting events and concerts. “It’s mine, it’s my baby. Every step, every ounce of progress, feels good,” he says.
His degree in human and organizational development from Vanderbilt University helped launch him as an entrepreneur, he says. His courses in marketing, human-resource management and leadership equipped him well to size up opportunities and run a startup. “Taking it from an idea to an actual business, I felt like I had the tools,” he says.
4. Gaining an influential network: Many graduates of elite colleges swear by the value of their network of campus buddies in opening doors after graduation, and say striving to gain admission to such schools is worth the effort. However, a long-term study of 6,335 college grads published in 1999 by the National Bureau of Economic Research found graduating from a college where entering students have higher SAT scores—a sign of exclusivity—didn’t pay off in higher post-graduation income.
What matters more, it seems, is graduates’ personal drive. In a surprising twist, a stronger predictor of income is the caliber of the schools that reject you. Researchers found students who applied to several elite schools but didn’t attend them—presumably because many were rejected—are more likely to earn high incomes later than students who actually attended elite schools. In a summary of the findings, the Bureau says that “evidently, students’ motivation, ambition and desire to learn have a much stronger effect on their subsequent success than average academic ability of their classmates.”
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