In recent months, there have been many articles and discussions about the value of a college education in today’s economy. Perhaps most notably, the cover of the August 2016 issue of Consumer Reports presented a quote from a 32-year-old college graduate: “I kind of ruined my life by going to college.”
While the article focuses on the problem of student debt in America and what can be done about, the overall tone of the piece—the photographs and quotes from other college graduates who are overwhelmed by debt—suggests that for many individuals, college just wasn’t worth it.
But there are other factors to be considered. First and foremost, let’s take a look at unemployment rates. As of June 2016 (the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), the unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college was 5%, but the rate for individuals with even some college (or an associate's degree), dropped to 4.2%. And for those who completed a four-year degree, the rate was exactly cut in half at 2.5%. So your chances of being unemployed are currently twice as great if you didn’t graduate from college.
Another factor is how you have spent your time in college. In addition to relevant skills and education, there are three things that employers look for when they are hiring new college graduates: a good GPA, involvement in extracurricular activities, and internships. If you have earned at least a 3.0, can demonstrate active participation in student organizations, and include at least one internship (and ideally three or four internships) on your resume, you are going to increase the likelihood that you will find appropriate work after graduation.
How much debt you have, the type of debt you have, and how you are planning to repay that debt are certainly going to affect your quality of life, but they shouldn’t outweigh the advantages of earning a college degree. If you’re thinking about the need for a loan, or if you’re trying to figure out how to repay your loan, don’t try to handle it on your own. Get assistance from your college or university financial aid office and contact an organization such as Great Lakes, whose whole purpose is to help students and their families work through the wide variety of options for student loans and repayment plans.