The conversation about postsecondary education in the US is constantly changing. For students thinking about pursuing higher education and wondering, “where will college graduation take me?”, it’s critical to consider the benefits of earning a two- or four-year college degree
Choosing to go to college and working toward a degree has long been the postsecondary gold standard for young people making plans after high school. But with tuition costs on the rise, the student debt crisis, and a changing job market, students are questioning whether college, and reaching college graduation, is worth the investment of time and money. Many students are considering trade school as an alternative to traditional two- and four-year options. In fact, some of today’s most in-demand career paths require skilled trade credentials in industries such as tech, healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. Trade schools also cost less(1), and students can often enter the field related to their studies in just 18 to 24 months.
Still, studies show that career opportunities, income, and overall well-being are improved for individuals who attain a college degree. For anyone asking, “where will college graduation take me?” here are seven of the most common benefits to consider.
Increased lifetime earnings
Your paystubs right out of college may have you asking, was college really worth it? But, when you consider your overall earning potential, the statistics don’t lie. The median lifetime income for those with a bachelor’s degree(2) is more than two times higher than workers with high school diplomas or GEDs, and around 70 percent higher for someone with some college but no degree. Higher levels of education can also mean you’re more likely to have employer-provided health(3) insurance, experience lower poverty rates, and have fewer periods of unemployment.
More career opportunities
Regardless of your major, an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree can increase your job prospects(4). In a recent survey of 500 recruiters(5), 100% agree that applicants with degrees are more attractive than those without. Hiring managers believe that candidates with degrees have more skills, and around a third of all entry-level positions require a degree.
Grow your network and make lifelong friends
One of the understated perks of college is the many social benefits. For many career paths, who you know can be as important as your degree or experience, and oftentimes, your classmates and friends from college can turn into professional connections. As OneGoal Houston alum, Eli Aldana said, “I have built a lot of good relationships through my school, so those connections have really opened the door to job opportunities and new learning experiences, especially.” For students that can attend classes in person or live on campus, it’s not uncommon to make lifelong friends with classmates.
Explore your curiosity and become an expert
Got a thirst for knowledge? Whether your interest is in business, philosophy, biology, music education, or any other field of study, students are expected to choose a major (or two!) and take a dozen or more courses over the course of their college career specific to that topic. Jaydeshi Lee studied Psychology as part of her journey to becoming a counselor and she valued the hands-on experience she received in college, “I got to actually offer counseling to people and learn in real time what I could do better at and what I was really good at. So that really helped me to succeed.” In addition to coursework, most colleges and universities have affinity groups, public lectures, and other events to satisfy the curious mind.
Degrees are tied to better job security
While employment numbers have been greatly impacted by the pandemic over the past two years, it is still widely accepted that earning a college degree decreases the likelihood of unemployment. According to the most recent data(6) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from April 2020, the unemployment rate for individuals with a high school diploma and no college is 9%, while only 5.5% with bachelor’s degrees are unemployed.
Improved health outcomes for degree-earners
Could earning a degree help you live a longer, healthier life? Degree-earners are less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables, and more likely to access healthcare – so YES(7)! It’s entirely possible. Researchers believe that increases in education lead to increases in cognition, which they theorize turns into behavior change.
Reach college graduation having found your true purpose and passion
With college comes exposure to many new ideas, diverse perspectives, and people of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexuality, and gender identities. You may enter college with one plan in mind and discover an entirely new passion along your way to college graduation. College can also help you focus your learning, “I knew I wanted to go into technology, but it’s a huge space with lots of different avenues,” said OneGoal alum Jawon Mayberry. “I was able to explore several different areas while talking to different professionals, and that really grounded me when deciding which path to follow.”
Still on the fence? Whatever students decide to do after high school, it’s important to have a plan. Do your research, talk with friends and family, and schedule time with a guidance counselor.
(1) College Board, Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021
(2) Broady, Hershbein – Brookings Institute, Major decisions: What graduates earn over their lifetimes
(3)(7) Ma, Pender, Welch – College Board, The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society
(4) Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, How Does a College Degree Improve Graduates’ Employment and Earnings Potential?
(5) Ellucian, How Higher Ed Can Prepare for an Evolving Job Market
(6) US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment rates and earnings by education attainment, 2020