Over the last few years, more and more pundits have asked the question: is college still valuable? Interestingly, many of these pundits have looked to the titans of technology such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Bill Gates of Microsoft as examples of successful business executives who did not graduate from college. What these questioners forget is that both Zuckerberg and Gates attended Harvard University, which is where they created the very companies that allowed them to leave school early.
For every superstar athlete, Silicon Valley business executive, or internet influencer who achieved success without attaining a college degree, the workplace landscape is littered with the crushed dreams of cubicle-dwellers who hoped to skip college on the path to financial and career triumph.
Studies conducted by numerous government and academic institutions have shown time and again that workers who have completed a bachelor’s degree earn a higher median salary than workers who have not finished school. Even attending some college, yet not graduating, can have a positive impact on earnings potential.
Beyond the financial benefits accrued to college graduates, attending a college or university, ultimately to completion, can have numerous other benefits for students. For the majority of students starting college, freshman year represents the first time they have lived away from home. For a large number of these students, freshman year also represents the first time these students have fended for themselves.
I moved to my freshman dorm room having never prepared a meal for myself and having never done a load of laundry. My first week of freshman year was a crash course in figuring out how to wash my clothes, including deciphering the byzantine instructions on the washing machines, measuring appropriate amounts of laundry soap, and managing to avoid turning my clothes pink. And while I didn’t have to cook my own food, due to the cafeteria in my building, I was in charge of my own dietary needs for the first time in my life.
College can be a laboratory for experimenting with adulthood for students living, essentially, on their own for the first time. Students who are seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen, will have the opportunity to navigate the complex relationships they develop with roommates and the students on their dorm building floor with whom they share common bathrooms, all under the supportive gaze of resident assistants (RAs) and dorm parents. Students are free to make mistakes that generally have limited consequences, especially compared to renting an apartment with their own money earned at a day job.
This sense of freedom around making mistakes extends to their classwork as well. The average college student changes majors two or three times in the course of their college career. Imagine changing not merely jobs but careers two, three, or four times over the course of a few years. College allows students to experiment with radically different career paths with limited to zero consequences, provided they pass their classes.
In addition to the safety net around students regarding their class selection, the college provides an environment in which students can explore different social groups and communities that might not normally be in close proximity. All centered around one or more social centers on campus, students can explore clubs, organizations, and social events freely.
Unfortunately, some college-bound students sacrifice the chance to live on-campus and benefit from everything that school has to offer, in an attempt to save money on room and board. For some students, this compromise may be unavoidable, however, for the majority of students, living on campus may not only not add to the out-of-pocket cost of attending college due to the financial aid packages offered by many colleges and universities, but may actually end up saving the student in question money on travel and food expenses. Commuting, whether by car or public transportation costs money, and eating at home or on the road can add quite a bit to the bill. Living in the dorm and eating in one of the facilities on campus may end up costing less, especially if students take the time to maximize their financial aid through scholarship and grant applications.
The transition from childhood to adulthood can be eased and enhanced by attending college, and the benefits, whether social, financial, or personal often outweigh the costs. More importantly, college is a place to make beautiful, edifying mistakes without the worry about consequences such as losing a job or a place to live.