Is college worth it?

Or is it just a scam? That depends on what you’d like to get out of a college education, says our elder. 

Consider community college, and remember that a high salary is not the only route to happiness.


Dear EWC

College is seen as one of the most important decisions one can make in life, along with marriage and house ownership. Right now, I must decide if college truly is the ‘Yellow Brick Road to success’ because as early as the 6th grade, schools and society have told us that in order to be successful we need a college degree and everything else will follow and reciprocate upon that degree. Is that really the truth? Is college the biggest scam in America? Is college the salvation to my future? My decision right now is to attend Syracuse University, which I feel is the logical decision dictated by society and societal norms. I would go to SU, major in Economics and get a proper job such as a stock broker, economist, or a member of the Congressional Board Office. It definitely seems to be a very logical decision. However, there are factors that are not accounted for such as student loan debt, inflation, interest rates, and so on. Therefore, I would like to know if college is really the answer to success. If I go to Syracuse, would I be able to be a stock broker, economist, or member of the CBO. Conversely, would I end up like some college graduates who are indentured servants with a large amount of debt and unemployed after graduation.


Ketchman replies

I think that the answer to the question of “Is college worth it?” will differ based upon who’s asking the question. The answer will depend on what you hope to get out of a college education. In my opinion, and experience, going to college because that’s what your friends, or family, or associates expect you to do is not a sufficient reason. Your rationale should be based primarily on what you want to do with your life. If your objective is to make a lot of money then, yes, an economics or finance or the like degree from a good school will probably help to get you a job in investment banking, hedge funds, or stock brokering and potentially get the big bucks. Frankly, I’m not sure that getting a lot of money is a sure-fire recipe for happiness. Better you should love the things that a banker or broker does on the job with the money being a side benefit of your choice of profession.

I’m not suggesting that money isn’t important. Whatever profession or trade you decide to enter should pay enough to buy you a self-sufficient life, enough to raise a family should you decide to do so, obtain comfortable and safe housing, have some fun now and then, and set aside enough to assure a comfortable retirement. There are lots of jobs that can do that for you and many of them don’t require a four-year college degree. You can do a search for “high paying jobs that don’t require a college degree” and find lots of examples.

What I suggest for you to do is to try to figure out what kind of work would bring you the most fulfillment and happiness and then use those findings as a basis for planning your future education and training. Your high school guidance counselor could help with that as well as the career guidance staff at your nearest public community college. You might very well find that a stock broker or investment banker career is the way to go; or, to your amazement, discover an interest in becoming a wind power technician or an industrial /architectural CAD designer. It would also not be unusual to do what I’ve suggested and come up with a blank. If that’s the case then enrolling in a four-year university as an undeclared major will give you some time to explore a variety of potential pathways before making a commitment.  If you were my grandson, I’d also suggest that you, having no idea about what profession or trade to embark on, seriously consider enrolling in a public community college for a year or two, take courses that are transferable to a good four-year institution, and see what the world can offer you. You’d save a lot of money without giving up much in the way of opportunity.

So, in answer to your question, a four-year college degree is not a guarantee of success- especially if your definition of success includes working in a profession or trade that is intrinsically interesting and rewarding for you, money aside. Certainly, such a degree can open up a lot of pathways; but there are other alternatives as well. The bottom line is that there are no guarantees of success. The best that any of us can do is to pick a trade or profession that appears to offer a route to a fulfilling life, get the necessary training, and see where it takes us. The good news is that with few exceptions, nothing that you choose will set the rest of your life in concrete. We all have the ability to make changes, often drastic ones, in midstream, and embark in completely new directions. I’ve known professional engineers who became carpenters in the middle of promising technical careers. I’ve done it, myself, a couple of times. Don’t waste too much energy fretting about whether you’ve chosen the right trade or college major. Do the research and go with your gut knowing that you can always change.

I hope I’ve been able to offer you some useful perspectives. If you’d like to discuss this further you can contact us again, ask for me, and we can continue this conversation. We’re always here for you so, please, call on us again anytime you’d like a bit of help or another opinion on virtually anything that might come up. We’ll always do our best for you. I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors. Thank you for giving me a chance to help. 

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