Around the infamous junior year of high school, many students are abuzz, making plans for their future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70% of high school students will go to college after graduating. While college has only gotten more and more expensive over the decades, it’s worth wondering: is college still worth it? From career-building to expanding your interests, here are 11 reasons why you should go to college.
College is a great stepping-stone between high school and the “real world.” It provides a path for exploration but also for learning and preparation. Whether you’re learning how to be a doctor or becoming a better writer, college can help prepare you to take that next step. It’ll give you not only the professional skills you need but also the independence, security and connections.
Not everyone needs to go to college knowing exactly what they want to do when they graduate. Instead, going to college can be a great way to explore and try to figure out what you want to do. You never know what you might love until you try it! I’ve had friends who came into college thinking they’d be sociology majors but ended up nailing their computer science courses. One of my old hallmates joined a political group on a whim and now wants to work on a political campaign after graduating. Because college offers so many opportunities in a variety of fields, there’s so much to explore and try — inside and out of the classroom.
College is all about learning, whether it’s in a chemistry or music class. No matter what courses you take, you’ll be learning new information, even things you might not have expected to learn about before! If the college you choose has general education requirements, you’ll be required to take courses outside of your major in various subjects. Even schools that don’t have requirements often encourage their students to take classes in multiple academic areas. You’ll be surprised how different courses of study can inform one another or the interests you’ll develop when you take a class on something you’d never heard of before.
One of the best parts of the classes you’ll take will be the professor. Professors are experts in their field and usually teach classes that speak to their specific interests and research. Professors who love what they’re teaching often teach the most engaging classes. If you’re also interested in their work, they may have opportunities for you to do research with them or be a teaching assistant in their class.
There’s much more to learn in college aside from academics. As you adjust to the college lifestyle and start getting involved outside of classes, you’ll pick up new skills as you function on a different schedule. You’ll gain valuable time-management skills as you balance coursework, extracurriculars and time with friends. You’ll learn leadership skills if you’re a teaching assistant or a leader of a student group. If you have a roommate, you’ll learn to live with someone and to live independently away from your family. There are so many valuable soft skills you can pick up outside of the classroom.
After graduation, a student’s relationship with their college isn’t necessarily over. In fact, many alumnae are actively engaged with the college’s network, keeping up with their classmates and students from other years. These alumnae are often excited to engage with current students and recent graduates. While they may not give you a job on the spot, many will be more than willing to talk to you about their work or give you career recommendations.
One of the best parts of college is the people you surround yourself with. Each college attracts different kinds of people; while you may have gone to high school with a group of people who just lived close to you, chances are, at college, you’ll share more interests with your fellow students. You’ll also be spending a lot more time with the people at college — whether it’s in classes, at meals, in your extracurricular activities or just hanging out in a dorm.
While it’s not necessary to go to college to be successful in the workforce, it will open up many job opportunities for you. Many jobs require a bachelor’s degree or certain academic credits to apply; other jobs might require you to have skillsets you’ll learn in higher-level academic courses. Colleges also offer job support, whether it’s through an on-campus career center or the alumni network. Even if you’re not looking for direct career support, the skillset you’ll build with your college experience can definitely help you find a job when the time comes.
Not only will college give you access to more career opportunities, but getting your degree will also increase your earning potential. According to the Lumina Foundation, those with a bachelor’s degree earn $32,000 more annually on average than those with a high school diploma. As students get more degrees, the average salary difference increases. While college tuition can be costly, you can be assured that you’re likely to make more in your career after graduating than if you hadn’t attended college at all.
The clichés about college are true. Going to college does expand your horizons — and not just academically. After acting throughout high school, I signed up to be an assistant stage manager when I saw an email from the student theater company. I’d never been involved with the production side of theater before, but I immediately fell in love with the work. Since then, I’ve stage-managed full-time for four productions both on- and off-campus. These kinds of opportunities show up every day on a college campus and often encourage students with no experience to participate. Students find new things they love all the time, whether it’s ultimate frisbee, writing for a magazine or, of course, stage managing.
With so much to be a part of, there are a thousand and one ways to get involved at college. If you’re hoping to get more involved in your academics, there are teaching assistant positions, tutoring options or sometimes even major committees. Colleges offer athletics at multiple levels, so you can join if you’re hoping to keep up with your sport from high school or play something totally new casually with friends. There are culture clubs, newspapers and magazines, a cappella groups, musicals and dramas, political groups — and just about anything you can think of. If there’s something you’re interested in that you don’t find at a specific college, chances are, you’ll be more than encouraged to start your own group.
While there are many reasons to go to college, that doesn’t mean that it's for everyone. College is costly, especially in the U.S. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. spends more on college than almost every other country, costing about $30,000 per student annually. While those with a college degree may end up making more money than those without, tuition can be a large financial burden.
The college environment is also not for everyone. The transition to living independently and balancing advanced college courses can be difficult. If you don’t want to pursue academics further, or you want a skillset you can learn through job experience or other training, you don’t have to choose to go to college. While there are numerous benefits to the college experience, it’s not necessary for success. College is a great option for after high school, but it’s not the only one.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoeakaplan.com.