As the cost of college attendance continues to rise, many prospective students find themselves wondering if the experience is a worthwhile investment. While the benefits of attending college will vary from person to person, there are certain advantages that apply in most cases.
College Attendance and Intellectual Development
Exploring interests that you might not otherwise have considered is an important part of the college experience. Many college freshman end up changing their majors after discovering new passions through general education classes and extracurricular activities.
College courses also teach critical thinking, logical reasoning, and communications skills that will serve you well in all aspects of your life.
Expanding Your Social Circle
Meeting people with different experiences is another important benefit of attending college. Many colleges have students from all over the world. In addition to helping you expand your social horizons, making friends with fellow students can provide a networking advantage when you're ready to enter the job market.
Experts aren't sure why, but college graduates as a group tend to display the following characteristics in comparison to people without degrees:
- More likely to read to their children and help them with homework
- More likely to vote
- More likely to volunteer
- More likely to exercise
- Less likely to be overweight
- Less likely to smoke cigarettes
For most people, the primary benefit of college attendance is to gain an advantage in a competitive job market. Over their working lives, high school graduates can expect to earn an average of $1.2 million. In comparison, the average person with a bachelor's degree will earn $2.1 million, and someone with a master's degree will earn $2.5 million, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of course, not all college degrees are created equal. From a strictly financial perspective, the following degrees are considered a wise investment:
- Petroleum engineering
- Aerospace engineering
- Chemical engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Nuclear engineering
- Applied mathematics
- Biomedical engineering
- Computer engineering
On the opposite end of the spectrum are majors that historically lead to jobs with low salaries. Thus, such degrees may not always be worth taking on a huge amount of student loan debt to obtain.
- Child and family studies
- Elementary education
- Social work
- Athletic training
- Culinary arts
- Public health
- Recreation and leisure
- Special education
All college graduates, regardless of their major, are more likely to be satisfied with their employment choices and work in a job with employer-provided health insurance and retirement benefits. They are also less likely to depend upon public assistance programs such as food stamps or lose their jobs during an economic recession.
Are There Alternatives to College?
After becoming familiar with the benefits of college attendance, you might wonder if it's possible to obtain the same advantages from other paths. If you're interested in intellectual development, you can obtain many of the same advantages by traveling the world, writing a book, creating art, or working to master a sport. If you're interested in developing job skills, you could start a business, become an apprentice, or learn job skills by volunteering for a charity. However, none of those experiences are truly equivalent to the process involved in earning a college degree. For better or worse, college attendance will continue to be an important part of life as well as a rite of passage.