College: Is it Worth It?

Recently, a Discover Student Loans survey was released that shows parents of college-age children are worried about having enough money to pay for college and 77% of those parents say they plan on helping their child – down from 81% last year.

I am someone who did not go to college, at the ripe old age of 18 I was positively burned out on school and learning; on top of that, I wasn’t provided a college fund by my parents. Higher education was never memorably discussed, I didn’t receive all that much encouragement and even though I applied to a couple schools and was accepted, I didn’t know how I would pay for anything.

I had a job throughout high school so I could have money of my own, but at the end of my senior year I started to grasp the cost of college; the tuition, books, housing, meal plans, and my brain immediately shut down the idea. If I went to college, I would have to work full time to support myself and pay for my education. I held a high B GPA so financial aid wouldn’t be great and when I reviewed the terms, my father made too much to be eligible for significant aid.

The school I applied to and was most interested in was across state, so I would have to move, find housing and a job in an unfamiliar place. I could stay at home and go somewhere closer but my hourly wage was around $6–how was I going to make that work? I couldn’t imagine paying for school with my job at the local deli running lottery numbers and making sandwiches. I was terrified of debt, the numbers presented to me were overwhelming and I refused to entertain the idea of paying that much for school.

That was back in 2001. I can’t imagine what the numbers look like now.

I have been in the thick of searching for a new job for a month and a half now and I fully believe that because I don’t have some sort of college degree on my resume, whether it’s relevant to the position or not, I’m not getting any call-backs. I’ve looked into going back to school (community college),  but the fields I am interested in do not allow for flexible scheduling and I can’t give up my full time job, nor can I switch to part-time. The careers I’ve researched all require a Bachelor’s Degree and four years seems like a long time to a 31-year-old.

Do I regret skipping college back in 2001? At times I do. After all, I’d be done by now, but when I’ve heard the stories about the amount of debt that young people have gone into for school, sadly, I feel as though I’ve dodged a bullet. For now, because of the time and the price tag, I still can’t swing college. Should I reconsider and make more of an effort? Have you found your college experience to be a wise investment or a waste of money? I’m very curious to know if a degree has helped you snag that job, get a salary boost or improve your life in other ways.

I was sent a link to a calculator that tells you the value of a four year college education in today’s dollars so you can look at it as an investment. I entered in the information requested and used Penn State since that’s the predominant institution around and hit calculate! Apparently going to college at my age is like someone handing me $377,728 so I should see it as a worthwhile venture into my future. I’ll tell you what–you hand me $377,728 now and I will enroll tomorrow.

Alexis Oliver
Alexis has been writing on and off since she was a kid. Her first submission was to Highlights Magazine, and though they passed on her in-depth analysis of falling leaves in winter, she continued to be a loyal reader. She is most passionate about animals, conservation, and trying to convince her county to allow backyard chickens. Alexis currently works full time in Hospitality and lives outside of Pittsburgh with her boyfriend and three cats.
  • Jen Pink

    I’m a big believer in “College isn’t for everybody,” and not just because of the expense. I could afford college, but I just wasn’t cut out for it. It sucks that it interferes with your job hunt though. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably go the voc-ed route. Or I’d invent Google.

    • AlexisO

      At the time I couldn’t imagine being able to do well in college and work full time. I told myself I’d reconsider at 25 (when your family’s money isn’t factored in for financial aid) but I was so broke and still not interested in college that I just continued working. The job search now kind sent me into a major depression so I’m working on ideas to do my own thing. Soap making, anyone?? Or is that completely played out?

      • TheeLoveCats

        In my job searching, I have learned if you know Excel, that will help you exponentially in getting hired. It’s held me back before. That being said, I think it’s because everyone hates Excel and nobody wants to use it. I keep meaning to take an online course on it…..but just never quite do it.

        • AlexisO

          I agree, and there’s a free website (Chandoo) that can teach you excel. I downloaded their PDF but have yet to crack it. While I am not all that familiar in Excel I do have on my resume about knowing Microsoft Office – though I do not point to anything specific and I’m not lying.

          • TheeLoveCats

            Thanks for the free excel site info. 😀 I also have on mine about Microsoft office aaand once I had to do a “working interview” where they basically had me come in and do the job (with some fake assignments) and uh, my lack of excel knowledge was a bit more apparent than I thought it would be. Oops. I otherwise did well but my god, was that a tough interview! But it all worked out in the end – they cancelled the position and I just stayed in the one I was in (it’s all within the same company). Phew!

          • TheeLoveCats

            I swear there was another comment from you that I wanted to reply to but I can’t find it.
            I understand your dilemma though being kinda stuck with your current work schedule and a potential school schedule. That’s why I quit school the second time. I managed by then to have a dayshift job, but the program I was in had a mandatory class, only offered at 10 am in the spring semester….no getting around it. :/
            Have you looked into working at a hospital? They have those administrative/support jobs pretty frequently and you could probably land something that is daytime hours AND get part of your tuition paid for.
            Best of luck to , though! Something has got to come up. Sending all my positive vibes your way!

          • AlexisO

            I haven’t seen anything for hospitals on the boards (but I also haven’t specifically looked) I will check it out! Thanks for the vibes!

    • Mung Beans

      I wasn’t cut out for college either. This came at somewhat of a surprise to me, because I had always had problems in school (behaviorally and grades-wise), but I was always told that I would enjoy college more (freedom to choose classes and schedule, less authority, more independence) and I definitely bought into that idea. But it turns out I am just not really good for it. I don’t regret going even though I didn’t graduate, but I wasn’t even aware that not going could be an option, or that community college or voc-ed was something I could do. I am sure a lot of that was a gross pride/snob issue, but I do wish someone had opened my mind a little to alternate pathways

  • WrongAsRain

    I know it’s unpopular to say this, but I question my decision to go to college every single day. I’m supposed to be grateful for the fact that college was ever an option for me. My parents also had no college fund for me.

    I’m in debt so badly. I went underground, lived “off the grid” and yet those banks TRACKED ME DOWN.

    I didn’t even study a lot of art and writing, which were my main interests–I studied things I thought would be marketable, like policy and management, bureaucracy, and tons of statistics courses. But the jobs available to me after college were jobs I could have gotten without the BA.

    I wrote an article about the Value of College Calculator when it came out in the early 2000’s. I was pretty skeptical, because it was just prior to the economic meltdown and it overcompensates for the average savings rate. It told me my BA degree would be worth $200,000 or so. Yeah, right. But then again, if I had studied something vo-tech, especially had I studied computer science or website design, it would have been worth it.

    Case study; My brother went to a smaller, cheaper college and got a computer science BA and lives the fucking life.

    Liberal arts, politics, and the writing-intensive creative degrees, the ones that used to create the next generation of thinkers, authors, and cultural critics, are currently the least valuable in the US economy. And that sucks, because if I could do it all over again, I’d go back for the arts just because it’s so important to me.

    • AlexisO

      Thank you for comment! I really think what you said should open up some discussion about options after high school; the cost and if a degree in X is actually viable in the real world. I’m the type of person that I need to know all the steps, costs, everything, before making an informed decision and the fact that getting that special job after college was an unknown was too scary. My boyfriend got an Associates in Graphic Design at one of those for-profit schools and he’s been in construction since 2005. Before the school closed he went back to them so they could help him find a job per their “job placement” guarantee and they offered him a job as a bank teller.

      That’s crazy that a bank found you off the grid. If you would ever want to write about that, you have a reader!

  • TheeLoveCats

    I have gone to college and quit college a couple times. I think about going back but then I feel like I am doing well enough without it. My student loan debt isn’t terrible so I don’t feel tooo encumbered. My friends who finished college the way you’re supposed to, have enormous debt and some make less money than me. (And that’s kind of a shame especially since they have done “the right thing” and the degrees we are talking about aren’t useless ones)
    I think maybe taking a couple classes might help your resume and give you some talking points….give you the boost you might need. However, some jobs really do require the degree so there might not be any way around that.
    I am in the same boat though. 31 and degree-less. :/

    • AlexisO

      I’m trying to get out of hospitality and the positions I’m applying for are all low-level (administrative assistants, or other positions labeled “support”) so I can get my foot in the door and work my way up. Those positions are asking for a combination of degree or relevant experience and I have the experience. I did take a Business Ownership class back in 2012 so I have that on my resume but other than that, that’s it. I’ve looked into the Excel Classes to take but again, working in hospitality with my unpredictable hours makes it hard to commit. For some reason my community college doesn’t offer those types of classes in the summer – it’s spring and fall only which is of course, the busy seasons for me.

  • Ashlie

    As someone who just got her Masters, I say that no, college isn’t worth it. I’m over $150,000 in debt and I can’t find a job. When I do finally get a job, it will pay about $40,000/year if I’m lucky. My sister didn’t go to college and makes over $80,000/year at 24 years old. Her “college” was getting started at the bottom of a company and working hard to move up. I wish I would have done that so that I could MOVE ON with my life. It sucks to be just getting started for relatively low pay at 26 when I could have done this at 20.

    • AlexisO

      Thanks for sharing! That’s what I did – worked my way up in Hospitality but now, because I hate it with a passion and I don’t have a degree I feel cemented in. I think you’re right, the grass is always greener!

      • Ashlie

        I want to give people actual numbers so they know. I’m always pretty open about my debt, tuition, rent, etc. 18 year olds going into college have no concept of what is “a lot” or “cheaper.” I hope this helps. Also I had a mom who was really bad at money so I was never taught these things. My debt amount wasn’t something I could actually understand until it was way too late.