“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question, perhaps several thousand times. The answer for me changed from Dallas Cowboy cheerleader at age 3, to architect at 11, to PR specialist at 18, to Social Media Consultant at 23.
But I can tell you something I never wanted to be: $55,000 in debt from student loans and living at home with my parents at 26.
Yet this is my reality.
I’m a Social Media Manager now, so I have achieved part of my dream, but I am saddled with the debt I accrued. I went to a top university to earn my Masters’ degree, and it’s an education that I wouldn’t trade for the world. But I’m now asking something that almost seems taboo in our culture:
Is college worth it?
The Hard Numbers on Student Loan Debt
Although the economy is improving, many recent grads are finding that high-quality jobs are not readily available; up to 42% of them are considered underemployed. Those with an undergrad degree able to find meaningful work that takes full advantage of their skills and education, however, make almost twice as much per week as someone with only a high school diploma (according to the Wall Street Journal).
So yes, for about 6 out of 10 graduates, on paper college is worth it; they are earning more money.
But of those college grads who are not just underemployed… they are also buried in debt that will take decades to dig out of?
The average graduating student from the class of 2015 has just over $35,000 in student loan debt.
A Story Too Often Told
When I graduated with my graduate degree, I got a job as a nanny. I loved those kids, but it wasn’t my first choice for jobs; I couldn’t get hired anywhere else and the debt repayment was looming. I was employed, but I definitely did not need a graduate degree in digital media to take care of toddlers.
I was among the terminally unemployed.
And I’m not alone. Most of my friends took jobs right out of college they were way overqualified for just to pay the bills; jobs as a barista at Starbucks, a nanny, a tutor, a receptionist – and as interns, some for the fourth and fifth times. None of these jobs required a college degree! None of these jobs required the huge investment we made in the name of higher education – and having a better life.
Higher education has become a Catch-22:
- Young people are told that college degrees are a requirement for employment
- Having no choice, we take out way-too-easy-to-get student loans to afford the education
- When we graduate, the “real” jobs are nowhere to be found
- We’re then forced to take a job paying minimum wage to pay down our debt
So, Is College Worth It?
Ultimately, the answer is different for each of us.
For a high school student who isn’t interested in a career that requires a higher degree, maybe a four-year college degree isn’t worth the price. Perhaps starting at a community college with an Associates degree, or maybe a Technical certificate, makes more sense – and can certainly cost less in the long run that a four-year school, which means less debt after graduation.
Or maybe more contemporary education will be of more value: many young careerists building meaningful careers through Codeacademy, Udemy, Skillshare and other online platforms.
For me, though – a straight A student in high school and a geek for knowledge even today – college was the next step in my education. I matured as a person, developed skills I’d need for a career, made connections with people from several professions and all walks of life and developed an expansive portfolio that includes an app that’s in the AppStore. True: some of those things I may have accomplished without the enormous cost of my education, but what I learned both in and outside the classroom is invaluable.
So my answer, despite all the challenges, including making that payment every month, is (drum roll, please…):
“Yes… getting both my degrees was absolutely worth it.”
But I’m not here to say whether you should or shouldn’t get a higher education degree. Especially today, college isn’t for everyone. It isn’t or practical – or profitable – for everyone, or every situation.
All I can ask is that you to think carefully about what you really want to do in life, and whether a degree is absolutely necessary. Then, it’s just up to you to answer the question… is college worth it?
About the Author: Lauren Kirkpatrick is YouTern’s Social Media Manager. She graduated from San Diego State in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Public Relations and University of Southern California in 2013, with a Masters degree in Digital Media.
In her personal life, Lauren is never more than 3 feet from her iPhone or Macbook – she says “they have their own side of the bed” (and our guess is they probably also have their own iNames!). Lauren is a sports junkie, TV aficionado and expert baker. Follow Lauren on Twitter!