Why Go to College?

As deadlines for early admission programs approach, it may be worth it to ask yourselves what you want from college. A massive amount of data shows that people with degrees out earn those without them. In that sense, going to college seems to be a sound investment. (I must add, though, that my father is a financial planner, and works every day with people who operate forklifts or work on plumbing who will retire long before I do.)

James Fallows has written about the ageless conundrums faced by college students–and the parents who bankroll them–for decades. He’s posting a series of responses to questions about the value of college on his blog. The difficulty lies in balancing the cost of the education you want against the prospect of future earnings. That’s why graduates in medical fields rack up more college debt than anyone else–they can be assured they’ll get a good return on their investment.

And beyond the issue of cost, you have the issue of pragmatism: is a degree merely a credential–a precursor for some entry level job–or should it reflect a specialized interest of ability, or both? I suspect that all these questions have answers that shift like sandbars. However, since y’all are about to take those courses, and accumulate those debts, it would be wise to contemplate your responses to them.

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26 Responses to Why Go to College?

  1. Kaelon McNeece says:

    I want three things out of a college: a good education to set me up for my desired field of work, a “name-brand” college that will turn heads when I apply for whichever job I choose, and I want the opportunity to have the most enjoyment I can out of the remaining years of my education. Going to a great college is, in itself, a fantastic education, but it also allows for a graduate to have a precursor that stands far above others when applying for real-world jobs. Of course, degrees do reflect a special interest in a specific topic which will mean even more if a graduate with a specialized degree applies to the same specialized job field from an amazing college. In order to attend a highly respected college, it will cost extra, but that must be a detractor I’ll need to be willing to accept if I’m pursuing success. Unfortunately, success may not pay as well as I think it might, but that is all determinate on the career I want to aim for. In the pursuit of happiness, I will focus on the job I want and am happy with. If I’m determined to become something that might return a profit after college less than that of a plumber then that is okay. My goal is to be happy, and if going through an accredited college and getting trampled by student debt is what it takes, then so be it.

  2. Thu-Hash-Slangin-Poodler says:

    I want but one thing from college. This one thing is not a shiny on my resume, nor is it an overture to wealth, I want a deeper and more meaningful understanding of those things I’m interested in. Its rather a shame that we treat life as one giant business venture, with but one goal, that being capital. In this facile approach to living we constrain ourselves to the basest modules of life and completely miss out on the joy of actually having been alive. PS: in about 30 years, you may find me rummaging through a trash can. Don’t be afraid to leave a few dollars and slowly back away.

  3. The Future Scares Me says:

    College is, in many cases, a gamble. Depending on the type of person and their desired field of interest, different results will vary drastically. However, if you look at the general college student’s situation, you will most likely find debt and attempts to find a job that will pay the bills. College can be a trap or a get out of jail free card. In the end, it’s a personalized experience, up to the individual and their plans for the future.

  4. The Future Also Scares Me says:

    I would say college is akin in some ways to starting a business. You make an investment in something you think will work out but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it goes astoundingly well and you become a multimillionaire from a lemonade stand. I can see making that investment depending on how difficult the work is, how long school is, and how much the job is expected to grow. Plus, there is also the prestige of certain jobs such as being a doctor and saving lives, but with a negative of having to pay alot more and going for a lot more years. I believe in doing something I want to be happy in, while also making enough money to live comfortably. Some people don’t need college to be happy and can just learn to be a plumber or something of that nature. That’s also a risk, because if that job becomes extinct, then you have nothing to fall back on. Life is a risk.

  5. Lane Hughes says:

    Why do I want to go to college? An education is something that I consider vital to the rest of my life. Without an education, I’ll be… Well, I don’t know what I’d be if I didn’t have my education. I’ve never thought about my life without school, or what I’d do without it. Everybody talks about school being optional and dropping out and not going to college, but it seems like a waste of potential to spend so many years learning and then just stopping. So, I guess what I want from college would be a fulfillment of my earlier plans for life.

  6. Cade Burton says:

    Coming out of a school as rigorous as MSMS makes me a lot more comfortable with paying for college; I’ll have, hopefully, plenty of scholarships to lean on when the time comes. Even if I did have to put forth a good sum of money, though, I think the sacrifice would be worth the resulting education and the promise of future financial success. When I come out of college, I want to be equipped with plenty of information and skills to excel in whatever field I choose to enter; I want my college experience to catch the eyes of employers when they see it on a resume; and I want to leave college with friends and coworkers around me. Granted, achieving all three of these benchmarks may prove difficult, but that is kind of how being alive works.

  7. Reagan Conner says:

    The decision to go to college has never been difficult; I’ve always planned on going. Attending college boosts a person’s chances of getting a higher paying job while also boosting people’s positive views of that person’s intelligence. Many well-paying jobs nowadays require at least a Bachelor’s degree. College degrees allow people more options for career choice. For example, with a Bachelor’s in Criminology one could use it as an entry degree to Law School or stop with their education and become a crime-scene investigator or detective-however, those are not the only options. Many people I know that did not attend college wish they would have. Not only does college offer more options career-wise, but it also strengthens one’s mind and helps them gain more knowledge. The only con to college is debt, but eventually if put to good use, the debt will be paid off through the career you received with help from your degree.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It’s the idealization that success and big riches all rely on a college education. However, that is not the case. I want to go to college, because it’s necessary for the type of career I would like to pursue. Attending college is totally dependent upon the type of person you want to become. I, wanting to become a doctor, need to go to college in order to be successful in that field of work. I’m going to college to pursue a reality I have set for myself. The world around us is evolving. It’s getting more and more difficult to find jobs that don’t require some type of college education. College is time-consuming, it’s an all or nothing type thing and it’s supposed to be conducive to success. But, with wanting success comes harder work. College is a factor for success, but it does not equal success. You and another person may have the same degree, graduated from the same college; but the difference between the two may be that that person had more connections than you did, was more involved than you were, and worked harder than you did.

  9. Hamilton Wan says:

    College students often complain of the extravagant costs of attending college. However, their return on investment from obtaining a degree outweighs the cost of paying for college. For starters, those with a college degree earn much more than those without college degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those with a bachelor’s degree tend to earn almost twice as much as those with just a high school education, and those with a professional degree tend to earn almost three times as much as those with just a high school education [1]. Further, the Lumina Foundation lists multiple benefits of a college degree (2012 data): Americans with bachelor’s degrees earn 134% more in terms of annual earnings, 114% more in terms of lifetime earnings, have a 3.5 times lower incidence of poverty, a 47% higher chance of having health insurance through employment, higher job safety, a 44% higher change of reporting health to be very good or excellent, and a significantly higher chance of being happy when compared to those who have only a high school degree [2]. The wage gap between those who do not have a college degree and those who do is continuing to grow over time, according to the US News and World Report in June 2014, continuing to corroborate the benefits of attending college [3]. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the National Center for Education Statistics reports in 2016 that the employment rate is the highest for those with at least a bachelor’s degree [4]. This statistic indicates that in the eyes of employers, possessing a college degree is a significant sign of relative mastery of a certain field of study. Overall, obtaining a degree helps students become better prepared for the future by placing them in a better position, both financially and socially speaking. The return on investment for a college degree is clearly higher than the cost of going to college, meaning that it may be in a student’s best interest to invest in college.

    [1] “Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.

    [2] Trostel, Philip. “”It’s Not Just the Money: the Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society”.” Lumina Foundation, http://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/its-not-just-the-money.pdf. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.

    [3] Peralta, Katherine. “Benefits of College Still Outweigh Costs, Fed Study Says.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 24 June 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/06/24/benefits-of-college-still-outweigh-costs-fed-study-says. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.

    [4] “The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=561. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.

    • Lori Feng says:

      I found this comment to be particularly insightful, and I am greatly motivated by many of these statistics. It is common knowledge that those with college degrees generally earn higher wages, but these concrete statistics truly prove this fact.

      However, I noticed that you took a more analytical standpoint in responding to this post, and I can’t help but wonder if there are any personal motivations that you have for attending college other than wages. For example, are you seeking for more personal development alongside increased competitiveness in the workforce? What personal experiences do you hope to encounter or overcome during your college years?

      • Hamilton Wan says:

        Personal development is definitely a part and a motivation t0 go to college. In college, students expect to build lasting relationships and networks with other students and professors that would aid them in the long run, both personally and practically speaking. Personally, these networks would serve as moral support, guidance, and companionship. Practically, these networks can help one advance with their lives. Further, college offers personal growth in the form of a new lifestyle; college is where students learn to live independently and make decisions as adults, and this is a significant developmental stage in their lives. Going to college is the best way to ensure that you are not only economically prepared, but also personally prepared for the future.

  10. Loveish Sarolia says:

    Although college might be a pit in which you throw away your, or your parent’s, hard-earned money, it is also an outlet for jobs. If you go to college, more jobs will seek you rather than the other way around. Coming from MSMS will, hopefully, provide me with scholarships beyond just my tuition, it will give me money for my dorms, my meal plans, and extra. MSMS is a school that prepares the students for college and life. It has proven itself time and time again to be more than just a “school for smart people”, it has shown colleges around the world what Mississippians can do and how they can affect change throughout the world. My reason for attending college is to ensure I get what my parents could not, college in the United States. My parents have always told me education is one thing I will regret not having if I do not push myself to my fullest extent. College, in some people’s eyes, may be a waste of time, but it is a necessary task that must be completed in order to strengthen the foundations of society.

  11. Kiera Monroe says:

    Wait, I thought we were in college (JK), but I am one of those kids that will be going into the medical field eventually. I do want a great paying job, but also a career I love because this is something I am interested in. Degrees should be both a credential and specialized interest of ability, especially a degree in medical school! However, with everyone, that is not the case. Some do it for their parents or for the money. I will be going to college.I really want to own my own medial businesses and give back to the Delta with clinics and money. This is something prevalently, significant to my community, my family, my race(as well as other races), my social class, and my educators and mentors and classmates at MSMS. I am confident that I will be comfortable at college because I will not be in debt or even have to pay a dime as well as a great investment return, intellectually, financially, and socially, is guaranteed.

    External Sources:

  12. Indu Nandula says:

    College isn’t about the salary. It’s not about the shiny diploma. Nowadays, college is instilled in this generation’s mind as a necessity, not a requirement. Going to college is about the title, and being able to say that you actually have some sort of qualification in a certain field of study. When asked about your education, if you say you haven’t attended college, or don’t intend to attend college, you immediately become an anomaly in today’s society. It’s almost the equivalent of telling a rural Mississippian that you don’t go to church every Sunday. Moreover, many of us go to college for a different reason – for the opportunity to excel, and to advance in a field of study of our interest. College shouldn’t be considered an obligation, or a rite of passage. If you want to go to college, that’s wonderful! If you don’t want to go to college, that’s fine! There are many opportunities for people who don’t go to college. Take Demi Moore, for example. She dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen in order to pursue a career in acting. She didn’t finish her education, but look at where she is now. She remains as one of the veteran actors in the American film industry.
    That said, I do intend to go on to college. Partly because I want to, and partly because it’s just what I’ve grown up hearing. Growing up as a first generation immigrant, the importance of education has been ingrained in my brain since I exited the womb. Growing up in India, my parents had to work extremely hard for their educations and their livelihoods. Those same ideals have been passed on to me. My goals are to graduate high school, and be content with myself and my achievements, and then become even more content with my education after high school. There will be obstacles, but everyone stumbles a little bit along the way right?

  13. Zion Hargro says:

    Since we’re speaking about college, this important question must be posed: why is college deemed a necessity, but treated as a luxury? Students are often told that knowledge is power, and education (the completion of high school and college) is the way to a successful life. Yes, completing college does have many lasting benefits. Statistics states that Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. Despise this positive effect of going to college, former students owe up to $1.45 trillion dollars in 2017. Popular and notable colleges Mississippi State University have fees up to $25,000. This goes for other famous colleges like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who have fees almost $34,000 for 2 semesters; this is just for California residents. The out of state fee is over $60,000 for 2 semesters. Everybody isn’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and college is often a difficult decision to make because of this. After all, what person who plans on being successful doesn’t want the best of the best education, regardless of the pricey cost of education.


  14. Arin Kelly says:

    College has never been a question of if I was going or not. It has always been expected of me to attend college. In our society, it is looked down upon to say “I do not plan on going to college.” Going to college is beneficial today, not for the education, but for the title of saying “I have a college degree.” Job opportunities are more present for those with diplomas from a college. With the being said, I do wish that it was more acceptable to not attend college. Further education is not needed for all jobs and you should not be looked down upon for pursuing those careers. College is not for everyone, and it shoul not be forced on everyone.

  15. Sabrina Solomon says:

    College is a scam, yet it is set in students minds that it is something that we HAVE to do. We HAVE to go into debt in order to get to where we want in life. But, if you don’t want to go into college debt then would you rather be in debt from living off of the government? I don’t think so. I’d rather have success from a stupid, yet expensive, piece of paper, than barely make enough money to live on from a job I don’t like.

    • Lori Feng says:

      I can definitely understand how college can be considered as a scam, but I did notice that your comment included many absolutes. Student debt is undoubtedly an issue, but do you think that the improved competitiveness in the workforce could alleviate those debts?

      In addition, you mention that college is necessary, but only really provides a “stupid, yet expensive, of paper.” But you also mention that you understand the necessity of a college degree, so I am curious as to why you believe that the costs of college outweigh the benefits. For example, do you not think that college could aid self development, provide networking, or introduce new experiences? Just curious about your thoughts 🙂

      • Sabrina Solomon says:

        I do not think that there can be any more increase in the competitiveness of the job market. Therefore, competing in the workforce is not an absolute solution to help alleviate those debts. College debts college interest, too. The longer you wait to pay it off, the more money you have to spend on an expensive piece of paper. I think that the cost of college is outrageous, but there is no solution to cutting those expenses that don’t cause a chain reaction of consequences. College does aid self-development, networking, and experiences; therefore, the reason I think college is a necessity, but also a privilege.

    • Kendra Bradley says:

      I really disagree with your comment. It implies that the four years engineers, doctors, teachers, electricians, scientific researchers, etc. did not give them any more education than the years they spent in high school. Would you want to go under the knife of a surgeon that only was required to get a high school diploma from Small Town, Mississippi that didn’t even have to take basic Anatomy and Physiology to graduate? Do you think a Calculus I teacher that only ever had to take Algebra II to graduate can sufficiently teach just by reading the book? Would you trust an electrician to wire your house if the only thing the knew about electricity was that it could shock you? At most colleges, I believe that “stupid, yet expensive, piece of paper” has a lot more meaning and effort implied than you give it credit for.

  16. Michelle L says:

    My reasons for wanting to go to college are partially out of interest in furthering my education and partially to serve my ego. It is expected of me to attend college. The idea of not attending college is inconceivable to my family. I do not think even I can conceive the idea of not attending college. I considered the possibility in the past, but now I feel the desire to attend.
    I have an internal battle whether I should choose either a pragmatic or more unpredictable life. I am not like my brother in that I have known exactly what I want to pursue since age eleven. I am more of a dabbler. Sometimes I think I would like to do engineering or something of the nature, but also film or art or freelancing or entrepreneurship. Not everyone chooses “respectable” majors or career paths like engineering, medicine, business, or law that set one on rails toward “success.”
    Degrees seem to be prerequisites for many jobs, even low paying ones. A degree seems to be a tick in the box for capability and knowledge, regardless of whether the degree-holder has either. Ideally, degrees would represent specialized ability necessary for the respective jobs. Whether it matters in the end depends on the job in question. Many people achieve wealth, fame, or personal contentment in spite of or despite a college degree. I know people like my parents scorn history, political science, English, women’s studies, and similar stereo-typically unprofitable majors.
    I find the competitive college application process almost cultish‑ prizing perfect test scores, juggling extracurriculars, and amassing prestigious awards and honors­, cultivating just the right image for ultimate judgement before faceless admissions officers. Yet this cult is irresistibly alluring, and I am compelled to join.
    Ultimately, I am looking forward to the opportunities and the learning college will bring more so than the degree itself, even if it’s from “HYPSM” or similar schools. As for career prospects, I can be an engineer and an artist on the side, but I can’t be an artist and an engineer on the side.

  17. Liz Huynh says:

    I believe that a degree reflects one’s specialized interest and one’s ability to work in a professional environment. Being in a college environment can help students grow both intellectually and socially. Colleges provide ample and accessible resources for students to advance their study. A lot of professions require extensive understanding of a subject for a person to complete the job well: teacher, doctor, architecture, etc. Also, students will gain more professional connections that would have a positive impact on the students’ future. College is, essentially, the bridge way connecting adolescent and adulthood.
    Not just academically improvement, college is a great place to learn new ideas. It is one of a few settings that serve as a place where students gather to learn together and not compete over profit. The student will be exposed to a wide range of ideas and gain many new perspectives. The students will meet people from different background, country, religion, and way of thoughts. Just the act of being in college, socializing with peers, makes a student smarter. Personally, this is the main reason why I want to attend college after high school.
    For students who truly want to obtain knowledge and skills for advancement, college is a great investment. However, college is just one of the many resources that help a person’s advance in their career. If a person truly seeks for knowledge, they can do that anywhere, by any mean.

  18. Madison Wypyski says:

    The importance of and gain received from a college experience relies heavily on what a student wishes to get out of the experience. I am a firm believer in the idea that you reap what you sow, and in application of that adage to the college experience, you will only find success out of college if you push yourself while there. Within recent years, college has become less of an option and more of an assumption, however, that does not necessarily mean that everyone who attends will exit with the same success. Personally, college has always been part of my “life plan”. After growing up witnessing the success of two hard-working parents, I strive for that same level of comfort and satisfaction with my accomplishments. That being said, the prospects of college are overwhelming! It can be difficult to fully wrap one’s head around the costs, the independence, and the overall, life-changing decisions to be made. In my opinion, a majority of graduates that are going to find true success and happiness outside of college are those that put themselves out there and look for opportunities around every turn during their educational experience. It is okay to be cognizant of costs, but to truly get the most out of the experience you have to immerse yourself in the environment. By taking advantage of these opportunities, you are able to truly represent your abilities. Regarding degrees and credentials, they do signify one’s specialized interests, but they also prove dedication to a certain topic(s) for 4 or more years and an unyielding mindset. Anyone can learn, they simply need the will, but what college provides, in essence, is an expensive “You Did It!” sticker proving to others that you are in fact a learned person. So why go to college and risk years of debt? To expand your knowledge, socialize with a myriad of people, learn and grow within oneself, and ultimately receive that giant “You Did It!” sticker, so you can apply to the next thing on the agenda.

  19. Helen Peng says:

    Going to college has never been a question for me. Growing up, I always heard college thrown out at me like it was an expectation and an requirement all at once. Granted, coming from a family of engineers, going to college seems like a no-brainer. While college is expensive, the degree stamped on your resume bumps up the chances of you getting the job- no matter how much that stamp means you’ve actually learned. Realistically, going to college today seems like just that- something that you can put on a resume that almost automatically makes you dramatically more well-qualified than your non-college counterparts- no matter your the intelligence or applicability of this knowledge. The reality of college compared to the standard to which it should be held are now very different notions.

    College is supposed to be a standard place for education and learning and an environment where minds come together to begin their journey of changing the world for a brighter future. When I go to college, I want to be immersed in an environment celebrating diversity and integrating the notions of common society, and using the power of free and innovative minds to its advantage. Admittedly, much of this depends on the college I attend, but as a student paying for college, I want to get as much out of it as possible. College isn’t just to get a job; it’ll help me face the changing world. The more I know, the better I can cope with and explore the world. A large part of this education lies in how I can apply it. While I hope many of my colleagues share this belief, the reality is that many view college as a stamp on a resume, which generally degrades the quality of the college environment that I am looking to experience. I know a class with students who don’t want to be there is useless, and I hope not to relive that experience for four years of my life that I am paying for.

  20. Lori Feng says:

    Education has always been one of my priorities so college has always been one of my goals. However, one issue regarding the expectation of going to college is stress on the student, as students are sometimes placed under too much pressure to attend top universities, which prohibits students from being able to fully enjoy their high-school experiences or activities that they are actually interested in. This is best illustrated by resume padding, where students join numerous clubs and extracurriculars to create a more impressive impact on college admissions.

    College not only provides more impressive standards for a future job, but it also is a source of self-growth. For the expensive cost and extensive time investment in college, the experience should not merely be for a piece of paper. Instead, college should instill values and provide new experiences that allow an individual to widen his/her horizons and find connections with other aspiring individuals. A college-education is essential platform for a higher-paying job, but this fact should not be the only reason why students would like to attend an university.

    Personally, I want to go to college to meet diverse individuals, expand my knowledge in business-related areas, and provide a solid foundation to aid my career and future aspirations. However, student debt is a crucial issue regarding a college-level education, but a study from Georgetown University, “a recent college graduate has median earnings of about $327,000, which is about $1,000 more than an experienced worker aged 35 to 54 who only had a high school education.”

    External Sources:

  21. Kendra Bradley says:

    I think that, depending on personal goals, a college degree is needed. Not everyone needs to have a high end degree that is required for high end jobs, but if one wishes to be a doctor, a high school diploma would not suffice. For some, the chance to further their education for their own sakes is an amazing opportunity. Some hate everyday they’re at college, but they wish to be an engineer and need the higher education. For me, I think it is definitely worth it. While the current cost is absolutely ridiculous and needs to be reconsidered for the entire nation, it is the price of a dream job.

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