Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is it worth it?

The idea has been drilled into the minds of millions of students for years and years. Teachers, parents, administrators, bosses, and friends-- I've probably heard the advice thousands of times over the course of my life. But as I prepare to head off to college (and spend thousands of dollars, putting myself in debt for years) I can't help but wonder if I'm really doing the right thing. Has the cost of college grown to the point where I would be better off saving my money and getting a job that does not require a college degree? And if college really is so important, why is it so difficult for middle class students (the category most students fall into) to get the scholarships, grants, and loans necessary to attend college.

For an average student, a 4 year college degree can cost anywhere from about $70,000 to $150,000. For that price, it is hard to justify going to a school that costs more than double what an in-state public school costs. This is why more and more students are trying to find alternate ways to get a college degree, forcing them to make tough sacrifices in order to make it work. It's easy for the government to say that they are giving out "more financial aid to those who need it". Well, that’s great, but the reality is that most people in the middle class won't see any of that money. Most people are trapped in a catch-22: too rich to receive aid, and too poor to be realistically expected to pay for school. Yes, our parents might have money. But as a student, I don't. And with four kids to put through college, my parents really don't either.

Even if a student does quailify for aid, they have tough decisions ahead of them. It's hard to decide whether it is worth it to put yourself thousands and thousands of dollars in debt just to attend the college of your dreams. The reality is- it's not worth it. Many of us think think better of a student from Harvard than one from a community college. But a few years after college, employers care more about what you've done after school than during school. If you can go to a community college, and get out of school with less debt, you're more likely to be able to build a portfolio of accomplishments that will impress future employers. Meanwhile, that Harvard graduate will be living on the street desperately trying to earn enough money to pay his bills. He will constantly be playing "catch-up" instead of being the successful person he strived to be. I realize that this is just a hypothetical situation, but as a student its something I know we're all thinking about.

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