The question of, “Should I go to college?” is something educators hear often, and the answer is different for every student. Is college essential for a career? For some professions, yes, it’s mandatory. However, many job opportunities don’t require a degree. 

Deciding whether or not to attend college is a monumental decision that will impact a person’s entire life. Your job is to guide students through this decision with insights and support.

The Sentiment on College: Is It Worth It?

How Americans feel about the value of college has been evolving. Decades ago, attending college wasn’t necessary. Then, it became the express path to career mobility. Now, there are differing opinions. 

Looking at it from a financial viewpoint, a report from the Institution for Higher Education Policy determined that a college degree still has value for the vast majority of students. The “value” is that it leaves them better off financially than their peers. 

The report underscores that the economic value of a degree is greater for those attending public universities. It also indicates that not all students will reap value from a degree, depending on the amount of debt they will hold upon graduation and the number of opportunities available within their chosen industry. 

Other perspectives are split, with 53% of people believing college has a positive impact and 45% saying it has the opposite.

College is a time for personal growth and development. Students do more than prepare for a career. They become independent and learn how to use critical thinking skills. The opportunity to have these experiences must also be part of the conversation.

Some students may contemplate taking a gap year, and there are pros and cons to doing so. It’s become more common for those moving from high school to higher education to take a gap year, so it’s another option for some students to consider.

The video on the right has some more angles on the debate, which can be helpful to share with students.

Ultimately, many factors influence how to answer a student when they ask, “Should I go to college?”

Offering a Supportive Environment

Anytime the “Should I go to college?” conversation occurs, it’s essential to foster a supportive environment. Advise students to be open and honest as they share their concerns and goals. Encourage students to reach out to mentors, counselors and trusted adults.

Part of creating this space for students includes talking about the “value” of education. In the book "The Price You Pay for College,” author Ron Lieber notes that students value college for many reasons: the quest for knowledge, the search for connections and pragmatic reasons regarding jobs and income. The book also creates a framework for evaluating the financial impact and how this would influence its value to them.

It could be a great resource to recommend students read. 

Discussing Career Opportunities and Earning Potential

Most professional jobs still require a bachelor’s degree. However, there has been a small shift. A report found that 45% of companies plan to eliminate this requirement for some positions in 2024, and many had already done so in 2023. These included companies in information services, software, finance and insurance, construction, health care and education.

The study also revealed that 80% of hiring managers favor experience over education in job applications. This change will open up more opportunities, and many jobs, such as in the trades, don’t require college. However, people pursuing these jobs do need to earn certifications and join apprenticeships. Receiving the type of education a person needs to align with their goal job is what really matters.

Going to college doesn’t equate to financial stability, but not attending doesn’t mean someone will automatically be a low earner.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the median weekly earnings for college graduates was $1,305 compared to $781 for those with a high school diploma. These are just averages and don’t tell the whole story. If you factor in any other education, such as that earned by those in trades, the weekly median pay is $1,291.

Career and Personal Goals Guide the College Discussion

College isn’t the best or right pathway for every student, and you can’t lump everyone into a category.

Instead, you need to guide them by helping them:

  • Define career and personal goals.
  • Understand their skills and attributes and how those align with jobs.
  • Determine what mandatory education is needed to achieve their goals.  

The modern approach to helping them figure this out is using the pepelwerk platform. It combines education and HR technologies into one solution, infusing artificial intelligence, assessments, analytics and more. You’ll be able to work more officially and provide tools to students that help them decide if they should go to college.

One key feature is the AI Career Guide. It includes unbiased job matching, course recommendations, automated goal planning, real-time career coaching, assessments and more. 

Learn more about offering an AI Career Guide for students

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