In 1970, only 7.4 million Americans chose to pursue higher education. Today, that number has increased by 170%, with almost 20 million people enrolled! This trend shows that a university education is indispensable, right?
Actually, the numbers have been slowing down at a steady 2% each year since 2010. So, why the downward trend? It turns out that university education has a lot of negatives as well.
Need some help figuring it all out? Let’s look at the pros and cons of getting a degree and explore some popular alternatives!
Should You Get a Degree?
People often say that a college degree can open many doors. Others believe that it’s impossible to make a living without one. But even with everyone’s advice about getting a degree, there is no correct answer.
Your post-secondary education decision is highly personal and individual. But analyzing the pros and cons of higher education can help you make an informed decision.
Con: Tuition Is Expensive
These days, the average university degree comes with a price tag of $35,000. And with a stable 6.8% increase per year, the cost of studying has nearly tripled in the last two decades.
Tuition is expensive, even if you choose one of the cheaper options. You can expect to pay under $10,000 per year in some Southern states. Or head to Utah, which has the least expensive tuition in the U.S, with the total cost sliding in just under $7,000.
But add in the expense of living, textbooks, and fees, and the price skyrockets! Most people can’t afford to pay these hefty sums without some help. Student loans, school grants, and scholarships can help you finance your education.
Pro: Scholarships Can Help
There are over a million private scholarships available for post-secondary students. There are also federal scholarships like the Pell Grant, which helps over 7 million students each year.
It’s critical to understand which scholarship types you can apply for to get the most financial aid. If you’re an exceptional student, you can apply for merit-based scholarships. These are also available to highly skilled and talented students.
Financial need scholarships are reserved for students from low-income backgrounds. You can apply if your income or the household income falls below a certain threshold. Other factors, such as your tuition cost, factor into the decision.
Lastly, private scholarships are available for specific groups. For example, women in STEM programs can find dedicated grants. Scholarships for minorities are often offered through private providers as well.
Con: A Degree Won’t Guarantee a Job
Even if you spend the money and log endless hours in the library to get that degree, you might not find a job. At least, not right away. And even then, experience beats education most of the time.
If you browse a few job boards, you’ll often see ads stating you need 5+ years of experience. In a survey of top companies, 37% claimed that experience was the most important hiring factor. A paltry 2% stated that education mattered most.
Pro: Higher Chance of Employment
One of the strongest reasons to get a degree is the increased employment opportunities. As of March 2021, degree holders experienced a 3.7% employment rate, falling below the average. On the other hand, non-degree holders sat above the average at 6.7% unemployment.
So a university degree can increase your chances of finding and holding onto a job. To get ahead and set yourself apart, aim to get work experience through internships while studying.
Con: High Student Loan Debts
Everyone knows the horror of the student debt crisis in the United States. Some estimates place the average total student loan at $400,000 for a basic bachelor’s degree. What an astonishing amount of debt to carry throughout your life!
And if you factor in interest rates and minimum payments, it might seem nearly impossible to pay off. Of course, grants and scholarships can reduce that amount, but the bulk of that cost will be student loans.
Pro: Graduates Have More Earning Potential
On average, graduates who hold degrees earn 74% more than those who stop studying after high school. The median annual salary for post-secondary graduates is over $50,000, a whopping $20,000 more than a high school graduate.
Sure, paying back the student loans might prove difficult, but it’s not impossible. With higher salaries and often better benefits, the cost of a university education might be worth it!
Con: Technical Skills May Be Hard to Gain
If you’ve ever taken a Psychology 101 class, you know that theory, rather than skill, is the focus. University classes are usually general and based on theoretical learning. If you want to work in a field that requires technical skills, you might not get them from the classroom.
If your goal is to be an x-ray technician, you might be better off attending a community college. A program at a community college can provide the experiential education required for this technical career.
Pro: Specific Career Path Preparation
Universities offer clear-cut pathways towards specific careers. Lawyers and doctors, for example, need to attend university. These jobs often require post-graduate work, which is very difficult without a bachelor’s degree.
Some careers are virtually impossible to enter without any university degree. If you have a specific goal in mind, research the right track to get there. You’ll often find that non-trade careers require university pathways.
Con: Higher Education Is Stressful
A large number of college students nationwide experience mental health issues. Research shows that over 40% of students struggle with depression. On top of that, 30% experience anxiety, and 1 in 7 students have considered suicide.
Stress is one of the biggest culprits for mental health issues on campus. An overloaded work schedule, part-time jobs, and extracurriculars create a high-pressure environment. Sometimes, students can’t access the right tools to handle long-term stress.
Pro: Education Means a Longer, Happier Life (Really)
On the flip side, some surprising research shows that a degree can lead to a longer, happier life! A worldwide study found that people with higher levels of education had:
- Higher life expectancy
- Lower infant mortality rates
- Higher rates of childhood vaccinations
- Lower chances of a nicotine addiction
- Decreased rates of depression
- Better overall health and well-being
These differences may result from higher self-awareness and a greater focus on healthy choices. Better access to healthcare and supportive communities also impacted the data.
Going to University: The Best Degree to Get
Now that you’ve looked at the pros and cons, you might be thinking that university is the best choice for you. But with thousands of majors available across the country, what direction should you go in?
The best degree to study should be something you’re passionate about, of course! But knowing the future of your industry is important too. What’s the point of dedicating your precious time and money towards a career that won’t exist next year?
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, these majors will lead to some of the fastest-growing career sectors.
The healthcare field is constantly expanding, and growth rates remain steady. Are you empathetic, organized, and dedicated? Nursing might be your destiny!
The nursing field encompasses nurse practitioners, midwives, and anesthetists. They work in many settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private companies. A master’s degree and licenses are vital to enter the nursing specialization.
Nursing is one of the fastest-growing fields in America, with an expected 45% growth rate by 2030. Compared to the average growth rate of 8%, you’ll have no trouble finding a position with this degree. In fact, the next decade will see close to 30,000 new job openings per year!
Consider occupational therapy if you’re interested in healthcare but not a master’s degree. Occupational therapists work with patients in a variety of settings. They aim to develop or improve the skills needed for daily life.
Due to an aging population, occupational therapy will experience steady growth until 2030. The projected rate is 34%, much higher than the average. An average of 8,800 positions will open up in this field every year.
Financial managers have the responsibility of developing the financial goals of a company. They often work with reports, investments, and growth plans. This position usually requires extensive experience and education.
But because a large chunk of the workforce will retire in the next decade, positions will be opening up! The projected growth rate for this field is 17%, with over 64,000 positions jobs available each year. The pay is attractive as well, with the median salary being $134,000.
The tech sector will keep growing in the coming years, but information security will be especially in demand! Information security analysts are responsible for protecting the safeness of company systems.
This field will grow by 33% by 2030, with over 16,000 new openings each year. To get into this career, you’ll need a computer-related degree and a few years of experience. The average salary is around $103,000, so those student loans will quickly become a thing of the past!
Engineering is always a popular major because of the lucrative job offers it can lead to. The next decade will focus on agriculture, robotics, aerospace, and environmental engineering. With new worldwide issues to manage, these jobs will become indispensable in the coming years.
Growth rates, openings, and average salaries range depending on the type of engineering. But each one is expected to maintain growth at or above the average. Annual salaries hover around the $100,000 mark. A bachelor’s degree is essential, and work experience is highly appreciated.
Skipping School: Other Options
Did these pros and cons help you realize that university is the wrong choice for you? Whether you want to enter the workforce right away or study at your own pace, there are alternative options.
If you’re interested in the skilled trades, an apprenticeship is essential. These work-and-earn arrangements allow you to gain critical technical skills while earning money. Apprenticeships are a perfect solution for those who want to jump into the workforce and need a little base knowledge.
Apprenticeships combine classroom learning and on-the-job training to encourage success. You’ll also often be assigned a mentor to guide you through the process as well. 94% of accomplished apprentices find employment and earn an average of $70,000 per year.
If you want a formal education with a shorter time commitment, trade school is your calling. Courses generally run from six months to two years. In the end, you’ll receive a diploma or a trade certification.
Majors focus on jobs requiring specialized skills, like nurses, dental hygienists, and chefs. Students are usually focused very study-oriented, so events and parties are minimal. The bonus is that tuition costs are often lower compared to universities!
Studying online is perfect for those who work full-time or have other responsibilities. You can work at your own pace, usually paying per credit rather than per semester. And tuition costs tend to be a little bit lower!
There’s a wide range of majors and online colleges available. Many of them also offer on-site practicums or internships as part of the course. But beware, you need to be dedicated and self-disciplined to pursue an online degree!
Is Getting a Degree Worth It?
It’s important to know your options whether you think getting a degree is worth it or not. A university education can open many doors, but it’s not the only choice!
Take the time to consider the pros and cons and decide if higher education is for you. Explore resources like scholarships, loans, and grants if finances are your biggest worry. You might find that going to university is easier than you think!
Need more help deciding your future path? Head over to our Education section for additional informative articles!