College is expensive. There’s no way around looking at the big number on the price tag. In the midst of our less-than-desirable economic conditions, is it really worth spending thousands of dollars on a degree without a 100% guarantee of finding a job at the end of it all?
These are the questions I face every day as a college adviser and in all honesty, they are not easy to answer. I’m a recent college graduate (Millersville University, December of 2010) and I can tell you first-hand that paying back my student loans has not been a piece of cake, a piece of pie, or a piece of anything remotely tasty, for that matter. However, I can honestly say that with no hesitation, I would make the same decision to enroll again in a heartbeat.
My college experience was worth a million times more than what any calligraphy on a diploma can possibly express. I gained valuable life experience, whether that meant figuring out how to make my own doctor’s appointments when I was sick, juggling a load of coursework while working two on-campus jobs, or finding that delicate balance between work and play we all sometimes struggle with. Moving away from home, living in a new community, building friendships, maintaining old friendships, managing my money, and even paying my first electric bill were all miraculous feats I never knew I could accomplish on my own.
Aside from growing exponentially (with or without the “freshman fifteen”), college made me MARKETABLE. As a graduating high school senior, I can’t say that I had too many skills to bring to the workforce. I knew I could write essays and answer telephones (because I worked as a receptionist for a part-time job), but otherwise, I had no idea what it meant to be professional in the workplace. Here are a few ways college helps create graduates ready for the workforce:
- Communication skills: Solid verbal, written, and listening abilities. Simply fulfilling your general education requirements in college (English composition, speech, math, and social sciences electives) provides you with the opportunity to improve verbal, written, and listening skills, regardless of your major!
- Leadership skills: The ability to take charge or relinquish control according to the needs of the organization/team/project. Participating in activities from Student Government to Greek life to academic clubs to professional organizations opens up many new opportunities to become a student leader, event planner, or active participant in group-work while navigating different kinds of social situations.
- Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: The ability to identify problems and their solutions by integrating information from a variety of sources and effectively weighing alternatives. Conducting research for projects and classes allow you to fine-tune your ability to integrate, organize, and assess large amounts of data and information. Social situations, such as living with roommates and working on group projects provide endless opportunities to practice problem solving and weighing options. Furthermore, all of these experiences promote self -advocacy, which forces you to find and use resources to resolve problems independently.
- Work Related Experiences: Work experiences that provided an understanding of the workplace and served to apply classroom learning. As a college student, you have a limitless amount of work experiences at your fingertips, including internships (seasonal, semester, or year-long),writing and defending a thesis, work-study jobs on campus, academic conferences (attending AND sharing research), study abroad programs, research opportunities with faculty members, and volunteering on campus and in the community.
Coincidentally, all of these characteristics listed above are in the top-ten values of what employers look for in graduates (Source: Gettysburg College’s Center for Career Development). If it’s not convincing enough that college shapes students into being workforce-ready, then look at our nation’s employment trends: only 37% of jobs in 2018 will be for those who hold ONLY high school diplomas. Of these jobs, only 1/3 will pay an average of $35,000 per year, which is what the government considers to be the “minimum middle class income”. This means that 63% of jobs will REQUIRE further education beyond high school, whether in the form of a certification, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
Look at it this way: college is an investment. But what you gain from it, an education and valuable experiences, are things that can never be taken away from you.