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Should I Go to College? 20 Signs a 4-Year School is not for You

Should I Go to College: College isn’t for everyone. How do you know if you should even go? We’re here to help. Here are questions you should ask yourself, and alternatives.




Should I Go to College? 20 Signs a 4-Year School is not for You

Should I Go to College? 20 Signs a 4-Year School is not for You

The decision to attend college is a big one. Getting a college degree takes time: at least four years for most people.

Getting a college degree also costs money: tens of thousands of dollars for most people. You might be asking yourself, “Is it worth it?

In this article, I’ll explain the benefits of going to college and detail some of the potential drawbacks.

Furthermore, I’ll give you all the information you need to decide whether or not you should pursue a college degree.

Why Should I Go To College

Numerous studies have shown that college graduates have far better financial and job prospects than those who don’t attend college.

1. There Are Many Financial and Career Benefits

Let’s start by considering the financial advantages of a college education.

In 2019, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earned $30,000 more per year than those with a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Here’s one of the most cited statistics that shows the benefits of a college education: a person with a bachelor’s degree will, on average, earn almost $1 million more over the course of her lifetime than somebody with just a high school diploma.

While money shouldn’t necessarily be the biggest priority in anyone’s life, there’s no doubt that a higher salary will give you more opportunities, alleviate stress, and allow you to more easily support a family.

2. You Get to Explore Your Interests

In high school, you generally only have a choice of a handful of elective classes, but in college, you can literally choose from among hundreds of classes and majors.

While there are core requirements at most colleges, for the most part, you can decide what you want to study and take classes in subjects you want to learn more about.

Many students are able to spark academic passions in college. Many college grads have several friends and former students who were inspired by college classes that positively changed the course of their academic and professional lives.

3. You’ll Have Fun and Make Friends

Many students enjoy their college experience. Too often people discount the importance of fun when it comes to education, and for some people, their best memories and most fun times are from their college years.

On a college campus, you can attend parties, plays, sporting events, and concerts; you can also create your own random fun with your peers.

Most schools bring exciting events and speakers to their campuses, too. Colleges will often host famous musicians and comedians.

For example, The Weeknd has performed shows at Syracuse, Northeastern, Lafayette College, and the University of Minnesota, while Drake has performed at numerous colleges, including Howard, SUNY Purchase, and the University of Kentucky.

4. It Gives You Space for Self-Improvement

For many students, college is the first time in their lives they’re not living at home. During college, they learn to be self-sufficient.

They learn domestic skills and budgeting—even how to motivate themselves without parental encouragement.

Though they often have more freedom than they did during high school, their routines and mindsets don’t change nearly as drastically as those who went to college.

Anecdotally at least, even students who live at home and commute to college experience more growth than those who bypass college.

5. Your Dream Job Requires a Degree

If you want to pursue a career that requires a degree or a specific skill set that you can only learn in college, then you shouldn’t let doubts stand in the way of pursuing that path.

For some careers, such as social work or education, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to meet the bare requirements to apply.

Some companies expect a bachelor’s degree, regardless of the field, because they understand the importance of the skills and experience gained in college and are looking for a candidate who can readily adapt to their workplace.

6. You Enjoy Learning and the Idea of Academic Life

If you’re someone who enjoys learning for the sake of learning or being in a community that shares the activity of pursuing knowledge, you might just find college to be a deeply rewarding experience in and of itself.

You can make connections with like-minded individuals, who can help you find the direction you need after college and acquire skills and memories that you can keep with you for the rest of your life.

Colleges provide a chance for access to education across many disciplines. While the goal for many students is to graduate on time, the college provides you with the core classes and electives you can take while you figure out your direction.

7. You Are Torn Between Interests

Not everyone comes out of high school ready to take on a career. The first two years of college are typically devoted to core requirements that can apply to different majors.

If there are multiple fields of study that truly intrigue you, your lower-division studies allow some room for exploring different disciplines.

In fact, it could be argued that this is the point of your lower-division studies. Thus, many people will not declare a major until their junior year.

8. You Are Drawn To College Traditions

College football games, Greek life, or living in a dormitory or with other students are examples of traditions at universities that are attractive to many students.

Being able to rush a fraternity or sorority or take part in homecoming festivities is something that many students look forward to with great anticipation.

If you are passionate about a team sport, a four-year university may have better offerings. While competitive, you may be able to win a scholarship as well.

That being said, this doesn’t always justify expensive tuition costs in and of itself, though it can certainly be a factor in the overall decision process of going to college.

9. You Want Networking Opportunities for Your Field

Some jobs are only attainable when you know someone who can get you in the door by introducing you to the right people at the company.

Networking is important and is widely available across college campuses. From professional organizations to internships, colleges offer a chance to get your name out there.

You also have the opportunity to get to know your professors, especially when you are taking courses specific to your degree. These professors may be able to help you secure a job in the field through their contacts.

What Should I Go To College For

Getting some level of education after high school — whether at a traditional four-year school or a community college, or through a career-specific certificate program — typically brings higher pay.

And that payoff goes beyond salary, including advantages like social connections and employer-provided health insurance.

Consider these benefits if you’re debating reasons to go to college.

1. Increased Earning Potential

It pays to get a higher education, whether it’s a bachelor’s degree or something beyond that.

The median weekly earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree were $1,305 per week, compared with $781 per week for those with only a high school degree, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Someone with a master’s degree earns even more, with an average of $1,545 per week.

2. Improved Job Security

Education also improves your job security, as you’re less likely to be unemployed.

In April 2020, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree was 5.5%, while it was 9% for those with just a high school diploma, according to the statistics bureau.

The average unemployment rate when the data was collected was 7.1%.

3. Better Chance of Employer-Provided Health Insurance

Getting a college degree means you’re more likely to have employer-provided health insurance compared with those who don’t, according to the College Board’s Education Pays 2019 study.

Among holders of bachelor’s degrees, 64% had employer-provided health insurance, while 52% of those with just a high school diploma did.

In 2021, the average annual health care premium for single individuals was $7,739, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on health policy and health care.

4. Valuable Skill Set To Gain

Going to college doesn’t always mean getting a four-year, or bachelor’s, degree. You can also obtain a certification or associate degree, equipping yourself with the skill set to become, for example, a dental assistant or welder.

These certificates or degrees typically take two years or less to complete.

Those with an associate degree had median earnings of $938 per week, or around $150 more than someone with just a high school education, according to the statistics bureau.

5. Expanded Career Options

More and more jobs paying at least $35,000 require a college education, and getting a degree can mean expanding your job options.

According to a 2018 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 80% of well-paying jobs require training after high school, including certifications or a bachelor’s degree.

The study also found that beginning in 2008, more well-paying jobs were going to workers with college degrees than those who lacked a degree.

6. Support If You Launch a Business

In recent years, more universities have launched academic incubators or university-affiliated programs that provide support to student-run startups, including through mentorship or education, and in some cases, access to investors.

Academic incubators are offered by schools such as the University of Michigan, Emory University, the University at Buffalo, the University of Washington, and many others.

7. Opportunity to Expand Your Horizons

Even if you want to study subjects like philosophy and sociology — topics that are interesting but don’t lead clearly to one particular occupation — college can still be worth it.

A 2020 survey from the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that 92% of employers said it was either very important or;

Somewhat important that college students be exposed to a “wide variety of academic topics and disciplines.”

Disadvantages of Attending College

Even though attending college can offer you many benefits, there are potential drawbacks.

Note that you only get many of the benefits of going to college if you’re able to graduate.

A 2019 NPR article reported that only 58% of students who enrolled in college as first-time students in the fall of 2012 had earned a degree.

Now, let’s take a look at the three biggest cons of attending college.

1. There’s the Risk of High Costs and Potential Debt

College is really, really expensive, with costs continuing to rise, and many college graduates are burdened with astronomical student loan debt.

The College Board estimates that the average cost of attendance for an in-state public college for 2020-2021 is $10,560, while the cost of attendance for a private college averaged $37,650.

Remember, though, that most students receive financial aid that covers at least part of the cost of attendance if they demonstrate financial need.

 2. The Financial Benefits of College Might Be Overstated

The claim that college graduates earn $1 million more in their lifetimes might actually be skewed by graduates from top universities.

A 2019 study by PayScale found that there are only six schools (out of 1,878 four-year schools) at which earning a college degree can get you a $1 million return on investment.

Basically, the reported number that college graduates make $1 million more over the course of their professional lives is not that accurate.

Moreover, it’s important to note that while attending college, most people aren’t working or are only working part-time

4. College Might Not Actually Make You Smarter

The last con of attending college is that going to one might not actually increase your intelligence.

A 2011 study found that 45% of 2,322 traditional-aged college students studied from 2005 to 2009 made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills during the first two years of college. After four years, 36% showed no significant gains.

Given the cost of attending college, you’d hope that higher education would have a dramatically positive effect on these skills for all students—but this might not actually be the case.

Should I Go To College

Admittedly, we might be somewhat biased because we’ve spent years stressing the importance of attending college to high school students.

However, we do recognize that education might not be for everyone.

Other than the pros and cons of college we mentioned previously, here are some additional factors to consider when deciding whether or not to attend college.

1. You’ll Have More Options with a College Degree

You might be planning to enter a trade that doesn’t require a college degree and will provide you with a good salary and benefits.

However, if you end up deciding that you don’t like that field after a few years and you don’t have a college degree, your employment options will be limited.

Also, if you take up a trade that requires physical labor and you suffer an injury, you might struggle to find work without a college degree.

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2. There Are Ways to Pay for College

You might be turned off by school because of how much you think it will cost you.

But remember that you might not know your out-of-pocket expenses until you get accepted to college and get a financial aid package.

In reality, there are many grants and scholarships that can alleviate the financial burden and make college more affordable for you.

3. You Might Not Need College If You’re Already Successful

If you’re one of those rare people who has already achieved tremendous professional success before attending college, then going to college might not benefit you much financially.

For instance, say you get drafted in the first round of the draft by Major League Baseball and are offered a multi-million dollar signing bonus.

If you’re a mini Mark Zuckerberg or starring in your own sitcom, going to college might not lead to a higher income or a better job after you graduate.

Bill Gates and Miley Cyrus were able to do OK professionally without degrees!

4. You Might Not Be Academically Inclined

Most people are capable of doing college-level work if they’re motivated and apply themselves. That being said, some people just detest school or don’t have the aptitude to do well in a school environment.

Keep in mind, though, that college gives you so much more freedom than high school to explore your academic interests and find the fields in which you can excel.

Similarly, if there’s a subject that confuses you and that you absolutely abhor, you can probably avoid taking classes in it in college.

Alternatives to a Four-Year College or University

The decision to pursue a college degree isn’t simple.

Luckily, there are actions you can take that can help you move toward a career—or even the degree itself—without the commitment of a degree plan.

1. Start At a Community College

Community colleges—sometimes called city colleges or junior colleges—provide a wide array of lower-division college work that could transfer to a four-year college;

Work toward a two-year associate’s degree, provide access to vocational programs, or give you skills that you can apply to a job or otherwise enrich your life.

Most community colleges don’t have a competitive admissions process, requiring only a high school diploma or equivalent. Tuition is also usually significantly more affordable at a community college.

2. Enter A Trade School or Certificate Program

Many fields don’t require a degree at all or at least are available to those who pursue the right educational channels—usually at a lower cost and with a shorter time commitment.

For example, if you want to work in the health care sector but are put off by the idea of a lengthy nursing program or medical school, some career options include medical billing specialists, dental assistants, and paramedics.

Careers in fields like cosmetology or massage therapy are also usually rooted in trade school. Many certificate programs can get you qualifiable skills in under a year.

3. Start a Business

If entrepreneurship appeals to you, going to school could take away from the time you may need to launch and grow your venture.

While you could benefit from studying business or marketing, if you are resourceful, innovative-minded, and have the necessary motivation that comes with start-up work, then skipping college may be a viable option.

4. Take a Gap Year

A university campus does not have to be the backdrop of your soul-searching experience, and many would argue that it shouldn’t be either.

If you have the means to take a year off from school to travel, why not do so before you become laden with commitments?

On the other hand, perhaps you have a job opportunity or want to bolster your college savings account.

Taking a gap year can also help students make more informed decisions about their futures by allowing them more time to consider their direction before plunging into an academic program.

Reasons Not To Go To College

Many valid reasons could make you question the choice of going to college, especially when considering that certain career paths offer just as much potential for success with or without a bachelor’s degree.

Some of these reasons include:

1. You Don’t Need a Degree for Your Desired Job

Many careers don’t require education. Training for many of these positions is available via vocational schools, apprenticeships, or simply on-the-job learning.

Research salaries, job listings, and overall requirements for careers that you’re interested in to see if a degree would help.

Even if a degree could give you the upper hand when applying for jobs, it’s worth understanding how much more you’ll make or how many more opportunities you’ll receive if you have a degree versus opting out of college.

2. You Don’t Like School

There is nothing wrong with thinking realistically about weighing your own desires and abilities versus the payoff of furthering your education.

Are you up to the challenge of at least four more years of school? There are plenty of valid career paths that require less schooling. Some programs also offer more flexibility or allow you to attend part-time.

3. You Don’t Have the Grades

While there is no reason to believe you can’t turn your academic performance around, you may not get accepted into the school of your choice if your grades and test scores aren’t up to their standards.

If you need more time to bolster your application, consider volunteering or working in the field to balance lower grades on your application.

4. You’re Only Going for Someone Else

If you are only going to college because of parental pressure or obligation, you may have a difficult time getting to campus and being on your own.

In a case like this, consider a gap year so you can take more time to decide if a four-year college experience is what you want.

Trade or vocational school near your home might be a better option so you can still earn certification credentials.

5. Student Loan Debt is of Concern

While there are scholarships, savings accounts, grants, and student loans out there to help fund education, debt is a prominent issue for many students that can follow them well into their post-graduate careers.

If you are worried about the expense of attending college, you may want to pursue a field that offers loan forgiveness or a company that reimburses tuition.

Another option is attending a community college during your first two years to reduce the financial impact.

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