A Millennial’s Perspective: Why go to College

I have three little sisters.

Right now, they’re ages 10, 16, and 19. At dinner a few months back, the 16 year old, Bri, mentioned that she didn’t want to go to college once she graduated high school. So we had a conversation about life after high school and some of the reasons she might want to reconsider going to college.

We started off talking about the most realistic reason for going to college: getting a good job.

Bri said she really wanted to join the Peace Corps. But did you know that most Peace Corps opportunities require a four-year degree? So for now, let’s add that idea to the bottom of the list.

Getting a degree opens you up to a lot of jobs.
Many professions require that you have a degree or a certificate that proves that you have been exposed to some level of study and achieved some level of proficiency in a particular subject. A degree is training for a career. Employer don’t want to pay for your training on the job, since you could take those skills and go get a better job! Colleges serve as the institution responsible for preparing people for the workforce.

The glory days of high pay, low skill jobs are going away. There’s always going to be a need for Sales Associates, but there aren’t great paying car manufacturing jobs readily available these days. The Great Late Johnny Cash said:
“So I simply don’t buy the concept of “Generation X” as the “lost generation.” I see too many good kids out there, kids who are ready and willing to do the right thing, just as Jack was. Their distractions are greater, though. There’s no more simple life with simple choices for the young.”

This is a knowledge-based economy. There aren’t many manufacturing jobs anymore. Sure there will always be a demand for cashiers, barbers, plumbers, mechanics, and trades people, but those jobs tend to be hourly. My family is from Claymont, Delaware. We grew up in a beautiful house, but our parents didn’t have the money to take us on fancy trips. The first time I went to Florida was when I could afford to take myself, which was sometime in my early 20’s. What I’m trying to say is I want my sisters to have an amazing life. I want them to have financial freedom. I want them to be able to travel, go on vacations, and the world. The fact of the matter is that kind of life style requires a well-paying job.

Further reading on this idea: http://diversifiedfinances.com/finding-a-job-that-suits-the-lifestyle-you-want/

I’m not saying that money buys happiness. I’m saying that not having financial freedom can be very frustrating.

Further, a college education provides a foundation of essential employment skills:

  • That degree instantly tells them that you can commit and follow through with important tasks – without someone looking over your shoulder telling you what to do.
  • It’s 2015. Almost all of human knowledge is readily available by Googling a few keyword around a subject. Course work in college isn’t like high school where students are required to memorize facts and data. College work requires student to learn how to think critically and analyze information. The Internet is a double edge sword. We live in a media saturated society with a lot of misinformation. Also, the facts are often repeated over and over again in different ways. A college education helps you to cut through the nonsense and actually see essential information. It teaches you to read something and afterwards be able to say what new knowledge, if any, you acquired from reading it.

Challenge yourself

My oldest sister Jill is in college right now. She has a brilliant mind. In high school, she was in the International Baccalaureate program at Mount Pleasant. She sometimes complains that college isn’t challenging her enough. She mentioned that in some classes, the professors give information and expect her to memorize it for a quiz. This goes back to the idea that we can Google almost anything. Knowledge is about the answers to questions that can’t be Googled.

I say to her, just because you’re not being challenged, doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself. Use college as practice for your career. Think of each paper you write as a statement of excellence. Imagine if all the papers you wrote would be read by a future employer. Once you start working full time at an organization, you’re probably going to want to get promoted. Some people expect upward career mobility after working somewhere for a few years. The thing is, no one tells you that the best way to get ahead at work is by being excellent. That means:

  • Sending emails that are professional
  • Presenting in front of your colleagues and making them think your ideas are brilliant
  • Building up a positive reputation. This means the people above you trust that when you work on a project, it will have a successful outcome.

In a nut shell, organizations want to promote the employees with the most talent. And you must work vigilantly to prove that you are promotable. So use your college course work as a chance to practice the skills which embody excellence.
I haven’t talked about my youngest sister yet, Brooke. I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. She said a dancer. She’s already an incredible dancer. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a kid? I wanted to be a video game tester. The point is, even as adults, many of us still don’t know what we want to do when we grow up.

Many people choose a major which they aren’t really all that interested in. To me, that’s horrible considering the time and money you invest by attending college. But if you think about it, it’s a bit of a catch-22. How can you know what career you want if you’ve never actually experienced it? Get experience. You can’t just start following a doctor around a hospital, you’ll get kicked out by security.

I recommend doing your own research. Use the Internet and libraries to identify what you would feel passionate about. All the information you need is out there. If you want to learn about what it’s like to be a doctor or FBI agent, go to the library and borrow an autobiography of someone in that field.

Many people change their majors and some of their credits don’t transfer. So before spending thousands of dollars, predetermine your interest and dedication level.

Although some people get a degree and end up working in an entirely different career path from what they majored in. That’s okay. Frankly, only certain majors actually prepare you for a specific job. Most majors teach a variety of skill sets. What’s important is to graduate with the confidence that you can learn to perform any job, because you’ve enhanced your writing, presenting, and thinking skills.

Am I saying you need to go to college to be successful? No.

I’m just saying having a college degree will make yourself more employable. It’s a bit of a societal norm to graduate high school, then go to college for the next 4 -5 years to figure out what to do with one’s life.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson didn’t get degrees, and they’re doing pretty well. But they are an exception.

So far, I’ve been talking college in terms of the logical reasons to attend. But what about the experience itself?

  • In college, you meet new people. You have the opportunity to form friendships. You do get exposure to new ideas and people. You learn a lot from people with different opinions and cultures than your own.
  • In college, you’re given the opportunity to do an Internship or Co-op. What a great way of getting real world experience, as well as your foot in the door of an organization!

I think we live in a society where people stop learning once they graduate high school. Many people don’t read much anymore, besides billboards and their Facebook news feed. I think college reminds us of the importance of lifelong learning. College introduces students to a diverse group of people and ideas. Most importantly, college prepares you for a career and opens up invisible doorways. Is underemployment an issue? Of course. But that’s a population issue – there’s more people than good paying jobs.   Therefore, to rise to the top, someone must make their self as employable as possible.

Is the cost of education high? Certainly. The cost of gas is also high! Luckily,  financial aid is available for students that need help paying for college. College education is opportunity and is worth the investment.

We live in a society where more and more jobs are being automated. Depending on the hour I go grocery shopping, I may or may not even have the option to have an actual person help me check out.

In the coming years, more and more jobs will go away as everything becomes automated (http://www.futuristspeaker.com/2012/02/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030/). Especially low-level, low-skilled labor positions.

Bill Gates said in a recent Business Insider article titled “Bots Are Taking Away Job”:

“Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. …  Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. …  20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”

The Economist published an article on the Future of Jobs. You can see the jobs that are predicted to go away:

For better or worse, we’re going to see driverless cars. What does that do for FedEx and UPS delivery jobs? We saw what happened to the Print industry. Things are changing. Our society is transforming. This video, although long, really breaks down the scope of these upcoming changes: Humans Need Not Apply.

Some skills will remain valuable no matter what:

  • The abilities to learn and adapt
  • The ability to think critically and analyze information
  • The ability to communicate effectively in written and spoken word
  • The ability to manage one’s time

All skills that one can learn and practice while attending college.

I would do anything for my sisters. I’m their bigger brother, so of course I want them to live happy lives. So I say to Brooke, Bri, and Jill: think seriously about where you want to be in 10 or 15 years?

  • Where do you want to be living?
  • What job do you want?
  • What’s the best way to achieve your life goals?

I urge you to consider going to college as way to fulfill your potential. Find your passion and be a contributor to that subject, not just a passive consumer. Contribute to the collective knowledge of humanity. Go to college because it helps to create a more educated society. Transform the world by unlocking your own greatness. Go to college because it will lead you on the path to an excellent life.

Questions to consider:

  • With all the free accessible information on the Internet, is a college education necessary to learn?
  • Would you prefer to find a job that you love or a job that pays well? Are these mutually exclusive or are both attainable?
  • What do you think is more important: a college degree or the abilities to critically think and effectively communicate?