ith how much your guidance counselors, teachers, and parents talk about how important it is to go to college, you might be surprised to find out how many people dropout. So, is it worth it? We’ll try to answer that question in this post by talking about:

  • The college dropout rate
  • The student debt crisis
  • What you might miss by not going to college
A group of students sits in a college class during a lecture.
There’s a lot more to college than just interesting classes. You should look at the whole picture before you decide if college is worth it. 

The College Dropout Rate

What Your Guidance Counselor Didn’t Tell You

In many school districts, the narrative is that each student should be working towards college starting shockingly early. Tracking and class placement tests starting as early as sixth grade tell students and teachers who is on the right path and who is behind before students could reasonably be expected to know if they’re at all interested in college. 

There is incredible pressure on high school students to know what major you’ll study, at which college, in preparation for what career. That’s a lot of really big decisions to make as a teenager. As John Mulaney puts it in his bit about college, “I agreed to give them $120,000 when I was seventeen years old, with no attorney present. That’s illegal!” 

Before you make the decision to commit your time and money to a college, you should know all the facts. 

Wait, That Many People Dropout of College??

Let’s look at those facts, starting with college dropout rates.

  • Community college - 61%
  • Bachelor’s degree - 45%
  • Master’s degree - 39%
  • PhD - 50%

That means almost half of students working towards a four year degree and more than half of students attending community college drop out. That’s a lot of people who for one reason or another didn’t stick with the decision they were pressured to make at 17. 

Why Do People Dropout of College?

There is no single answer to this question--the reason for dropping out is different for everyone who does it. Most likely there are several factors at play that eventually add up to the decision to leave college. The most common reasons for dropping out of college can be generalized as:

  • Financial difficulties: Paying for college is a huge burden for most people. Once you add up tuition, housing, food, books, transportation, technology, and all the other expenses that come from living on your own, the bill can be frightening.
  • Work obligations: Working enough to pay for everything you need in college can easily conflict with college itself. People often have to make the decision between studying and making money to pay for groceries. At a certain point it might make more sense to dropout and advance in your job rather than continuing to pay for college and everything that comes with it.
  • Family obligations: Needing to take care of or provide for family members is another common cause of dropping out. Whether familial obligations mean dedicating time, money, or both it’s hard to meet those expectations while also attending college full time. 
  • Academic struggles: Sometimes students find that their high school education didn’t adequately prepare them for collegiate learning. The combination of a substantial workload and new found complete independence is challenging for students to adapt to.  

Aside from academic struggles, you might notice a theme running through these dropout reasons--money, money, money. The time and energy that college requires doesn’t quite line up with making enough money to afford it, especially while supporting yourself and your family.  

A tip jar for college students sits on a coffee shop counter.
It isn’t easy to balance school, a social life, and work, which is sometimes the reason people choose to drop out of college.  

The Money Issue

The Student Debt Crisis

There are around 44 million Americans with student debt, adding up to $1.6 trillion. Needless to say that’s a lot of people and a lot of dollars. 

A college degree is necessary for more and more jobs, meaning more people have to go to college whether or not they can afford it. The cost of college has also increased a great deal over time. All of this adds up to debt.

The average debt for a college graduate with student loans is $29,000 upon leaving school. Almost $30,000 of debt is scary, especially if you’re not sure if you like your major or are graduating into an uncertain job market. The coronavirus pandemic has only enhanced the burden of student debt as unemployment numbers rise. 

The risk of debt alone shouldn’t stop you from going to college, but if you’re already on the fence it’s an important factor to consider. A large amount of debt looming over your head might pressure you to stick with a major you don’t enjoy as an attempt to secure a job later, which isn’t really what college is about. 

Where Can You Work if You Don’t Go to College? 

Choosing to attend college means devoting at least four years to it--four years when you could have been making money, building credit, advancing in a company, and saving for a house, car, or other big expense. Despite the fact that a college degree has become increasingly essential for many jobs, there are still plenty of high-paying careers that don’t require a college degree. Consider careers like:

  • Real estate brokers
  • Construction workers or supervisors
  • Welders
  • Claims adjusters, examiners, and investigators
  • Mechanics, installers, repairers 
  • Subway and streetcar operators
  • Postal workers
  • Electrical and power line installers and repairers
  • Transportation inspectors 
  • Power plant operators
  • Retail sales supervisors
  • Power distributors and dispatchers
  • Commercial pilots
  • Criminal investigators
  • Elevator installers and inspectors

This is of course just a cursory list and there are many more careers out there that do not require a college degree. There are different forms of training and on the job experience for these careers, but the investment in the preparation for these jobs is far less than that of attending college. There are also high paying jobs that only require an associate’s degree (two years), such as dental hygienists. 

Explore your options to see what interests you. You might find a dream job you didn’t even know existed and save yourself the unnecessary expense and time of attending college. 

A young woman works as a real estate broker instead of attending a four year college.
If you’d rather spend four years establishing yourself and advancing in a career, college might not be worth it for you. 

What You Might Miss by Not Going to College

Reasons to Go to College

Now that we’ve looked at some cons, we can go through some reasons you should go to college. If there weren’t anything positive about obtaining a college degree student debt wouldn’t be in the trillions--so why are all these people going into debt for college?

Jobs Available to You with a Degree

There are many, many jobs and opportunities that are only available to you if you have a college degree. If these aren’t jobs you’re interested in then you have a really strong argument for not going into debt and wasting your time attending college. 

If you’re on the fence, it might help to know with jobs that require a college degree:

  • You’ll probably earn more. In 2016, the median income for people ages 25 to 34 who had a bachelor’s degree was $50,000, while that of those without a degree was $31,800. More higher paying jobs are available to you if you have a degree.
  • You’re more likely to have job security. Although it takes you longer to get to the job market when you attend college, you’re more likely to stay in a job once you get there.  The unemployment rate for people with high school diplomas is almost double the unemployment rate for people with bachelor’s degrees. 
  • Your job will likely have benefits. A job that requires a degree is more likely to have benefits provided by the employer. This means health insurance, dental insurance, and maybe even vision insurance can come from your company instead of whatever plan you can find and afford yourself. 

A Whole Bunch of Learning

Believe it or not, you’re going to learn in college. Okay, maybe you knew that--but you probably don’t know how much. College is designed to teach you not only the skills you need to excel in your major, but critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and how to be open minded. 

Sometimes you might hate one of those classes that’s supposed to broaden your horizons, but that’s part of the learning as well. You learn how to get through things, overcome challenges, and work with people you don’t agree with or even like. You will get over obstacles that feel impossible, like a midterms week with 5 papers due and 3 exams, and realize you can accomplish more than you realized. 

You can switch your major, pick up another degree, or add more than one minor when you find other subjects that fascinate and excite you. You learn about so many different topics and learn about yourself in the process. 

For many people, college is also where they learn to be independent. All of the sudden you’re in charge of when and what you eat, whether you go to class, what you do on the weekends, and how much time you dedicate to schoolwork. Making these decisions for yourself might backfire sometimes, but in the process you learn how to be an adult (kind of). 

Making Connections in College

Odds are you’ll make some pretty amazing friends in college. You’re with each other constantly, going through the same struggles and sleep deprivation, and learning how to adult together--those factors make for lasting bonds. 

The other valuable connections you make in college are the kind that can get you a job. Networking might sound like jargon you hear in business school, but it’s essential for everybody. When you’re looking for your dream job all you need is one professor, internship supervisor, former boss, or colleague who can say, “did you know this place is hiring? You’d be great there!” 

You’ll also expand your arsenal of people willing to write you a glowing letter of recommendation beyond a few high school teachers. College helps build your resume, boosts your recommendations, and introduces you to the people who can tell you about jobs you’d never find on your own, not to mention put in a good word for you before your interview.  

A college student drinks coffee and works on her laptop.
Learning to be independent isn’t on any syllabus, but it’s definitely something valuable you learn in school that might make college worth it. 

Is college worth it? Unfortunately, there’s no real answer to that question. It all depends on you. Before you make this huge decision, think about what you love to do, what you want in the future, and explore your options both with and without college. 

Aug 15, 2020