Should I Not Go to College? Food for Thought

By Patricia Gorden Neill - February 26th, 2013

A debate is quietly raging in America whether a college education is the prime benefit to young people that it used to be. Good, well-paying jobs are scarce, even for those with degrees and competition for them is fierce. College graduates saddled with student loan debt are moving back home with their parents because they can’t find a job that allows them to live separately and pay down their loans at the same time.

College Tuitions and Student Loan Debt

College tuition has become hugely expensive. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania in 1955, tuition totaled $800, with room and board at $835 and books at $50 per year. In 2012, tuition had grown to $37,620, with a general fee of $3,510. The price for a room in one of the residence halls came to $7,592 and the meal plan to $4,286.

Nearly two-thirds of college students graduate with student loan debt, totaling $25,000 for many of them. That student loan debt must be paid back with interest. Even bankruptcy does not wipe out student loan debt. The government can and does garnish social security payments to the elderly if they still have student loan debt to pay.

Google student loan debt and you can find multiple horror stories of young people caught in this debt’s incredibly sticky web. With the U.S. economy as shaky as it is, and perhaps to remain that way for a time, the wisdom of going deeply into debt to finance a college education must be called into question.

Uncertain Employment

Employment for college graduates is no longer the sure thing it was years ago. Only 55 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 were employed in 2012. The unemployment rate for college graduates under 25 years old is 9.3 percent. Hundreds of thousands of college graduates hold jobs as janitors, waiters and waitresses, cashiers and retail sales people. A college degree can be a ticket to better paying jobs, but it is by no means certain these days. Even people with graduate degrees such as master’s and doctorates are underemployed or unemployed or even on welfare.

Work vs. College after High School

Does this mean that young people should not go to college? No, of course not—many young people still benefit from the traditional four years of college, both educationally and socially. However, more and more people are recognizing that we as a nation must rethink our educational dogma. For decades the mantra resounded that everyone should get a college education to get a good job and succeed in life. That mantra should be laid to rest.

If you are currently in high school and trying to decide whether to go to college or not, then it will benefit you to consider these things. While you may feel pressure to head right off to your dad’s alma matter, just remember that there’s no law that says you have to go to college right after high school. You can find a job you like—preferably a job in one of the career fields you’re considering—and work for a year or two. With that work experience under your belt, and a much better idea of what that type of work it entails and whether you like it or not, then you can start applying to colleges for the education that will enhance your life and career.

Explore Other Options

For that matter, if you’re not going to college right away, consider all the other options. You can volunteer overseas in any number of interesting, rewarding endeavors. You can work as an environmental volunteer in Australia or help build houses for the poor in Honduras, for example. Consider starting your own small business, perhaps creating web pages for friends or running errands for busy executives as a man Friday, taking care of chores they don’t have time for. See if you can find an internship in a business or nonprofit organization. Many charities are constantly looking for interns and volunteers. Call your family’s friends and see if any of them can find a place for you where they work doing something that will benefit them and give you work experience. See if you can work at a nearby zoo if you have an interest in animals or work building sets for your community’s playhouse if you like theater.

Even if you can’t find a job doing something you like, just remember that on any job, you’ll be able to learn new skills and apply them in other jobs or even at college. You’ll learn time management, organization skills and learn to cope with other people. Perhaps you’ll even learn the value of saving money, which can help you when you do go to college.

If you are one of those rare young folks who have mapped out their prospective careers, say, you’ve always wanted to go into civil engineering, building bridges and roads, then you could try to get a job on a road crew working for the county to pick up some work experience. Or perhaps applying to college directly after high school is right for you, whereas your twin sister is still wondering about what she wants to do.

Whatever you choose to do, work for a year, start a business, volunteer overseas or head off to college right after graduation—just do what you feel is right for you. There is no one right way to do things. Everyone is different, and different paths suit different people. Don’t bow to pressure—but have a good plan for what you want to achieve during your year or two of work before college.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.