*Full version of article to be featured in The Undergraduate Times online magazine.
As student debt exceeds $1 trillion and unemployment remains high, most people in their teens and early 20s have subconsciously or consciously asked themselves the inevitable question: is college still worth it? In today’s society, the widely accepted answer is still yes. Despite the skyrocketing costs of an undergraduate degree, many adamantly believe that the benefits of college outweigh the costs. However, others argue that high school graduates are better off working after they finish high school or choosing more applicable, “real world” alternatives to the traditional college experience.
But after researching both sides of the issue and interviewing the founder of a college alternative program called Praxis, I came to the conclusion that there is no simple way to define the value of a college degree. The answer is different for everyone. What is intimidating and reassuring at the same time is that college is really what you make of it. It’s an individualized experience. What matters even more than our decision of whether or not to attend college is the thought process we engage in when we make that decision. Everyone has a different dream. For aspiring doctors and lawyers, a college degree is the next logical step after high school. But how about aspiring musicians, artists, and entrepreneurs? Oftentimes, the value of college is not a black-and-white story, but a field of gray with nuances depending on what you put into it, who you know, how hard and smart you work, and your attitude.
Still, I do think that in this day and age, there need to be more alternative options to the four-year undergraduate university. Entrepreneurial programs are great for innovative-minded students, and online universities, accelerators and incubators, and apprenticeships or technical programs are also strategic choices to consider. And what about simply taking a gap year or two and traveling the world? So much can be learned when we dare to think outside of the box. Still, I foresee more programs being started that allow young adults to get a taste of multiple professions with rotating internships in different fields (i.e. students undergo a mini-medical school, mini-law school, and mini-business school to see what they like best).
We also need to eliminate the heavy social stigma that surrounds not choosing the traditional route of going to college right after high school. Even today, people automatically assume that because I’m 18, I’m going to college. They will ask me, “Where do you go to college?” instead of “What are you up to after high school?” There’s nothing wrong with not going to college, as long as you have the determination and courage to forge your own, unique path.
As the daughter of two immigrants and first-generation college students, I personally still believe that college is 100% worth its cost. For my parents, college was the ticket to upward social mobility, the reason they could afford to move to America and start a better life for themselves, for my two brothers and I, and for many generations to come.
In my eyes, college is a transitional time, a time when we can explore ourselves to the fullest, take bigger risks, or take up a new hobby or passion without having to worry about working to pay the bills or raising a family. Yes, we are postponing the real world temporarily. Yes, college still shelters us from the reality of many issues we will have to face eventually. Yes, we are putting off the process of “finding ourselves.” But instead of jumping straight into the real world, I’m enjoying every step of this crazy, rollercoaster journey known as college life.
*Read the full article, including in-depth research and a featured interview with Isaac Morehouse—founder of the entrepreneurial program Praxis—in the first issue of The Undergraduate Times magazine to be released on September 1.