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The next step: a college degree?


By Jennifer Smeltser

Even before I received my diploma from high school, I knew what was going to be my next step; I was going to college. It was not a decision that was forced upon me, but instead just something the members in my family do. We finish high school and then move on to college.

College was (is?) all important. I never questioned that step in my academic career. I just knew the next step was college and all I had to do was decide where I wanted to attend.

I only applied to two schools. One was on the West Coast (my father’s alma mater) and the other was in the South (my mother’s alma mater). Of course there were more options, but I wanted a guaranteed return on my application fees. Those fees seemed high at the time, but compared to now, I guess not so much. Yes, applying to only two schools reduced my odds if they both said no, but fortunately, responses from the schools were positive. Just in case you are wondering, I went to the South only because my roots were on the West Coast and I wanted to experience something new.

A few months after I graduated from college, I would have a reoccurring nightmare that I lacked the sufficient amount of credits to receive my degree. Needless to say, I always woke up in a cold sweat. Moments later, I was comforted by the realization that I did walk (or rather ran and jumped) across the stage and was awarded my degree for the five years of hard work I completed. One of my five years was spent hanging out (literally and not attending my classes) in the drama department. Despite that, I did get serious again my last year and hunkered down to complete the last courses on my schedule and be awarded my diploma.

Hmm, my diploma. I had earned it, but it was not until more than one decade later that I started working in positions that reflected my education.

Lately, I have been wondering if college is really worth it. You have the degree, but then you have the student loans unless your “ride” was free. You have the social experiences of being with your peers and the knowledge of your professors, but who is to say that the same or more cannot be acquired while riding the subway or serving on a foreign mission field. You have an Ivy League name (or Berkeley or Stanford) permanently inscribed on your diploma and the connections, but Bill Gates did not graduate from college before forming his empire, although he was eventually awarded an honorary degree from Harvard in 2007. As far as connections, I am sure he has plenty of excellent ones.

A few years ago, I would have told you that my children would definitely be attending college once they finished high school. I just cannot imagine the amount of tuition by the time they reach that level.

Lately, I have been reconsidering my view on college and the need for my children to attend. Although I learned a lot in college, my skill was mostly honed in high school. College just enhanced it, but that could have also happened in whatever other direction my life may have taken. If my children attend college, then it will be their decision. As their teacher, I will continue to prepare them so they will be college-ready. I want them to have a choice.

How important is college to you for your child in his education? If you have a high school student, then is he considering college in his future? Do you think he would be better off learning a skill to immediately join the work-force or move into self-employment?

The fact remains that, although there are many scholarships available, college tuition is high and continues to grow each year. Degrees and professions that used to be “hot” are no longer.  I am proud that I earned a college degree, but times ‘are a-changin’.

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  1. honestly, i think it is equally if not more important to learn a trade, rather than hold a degree. i have so many peers that have degrees, but hold trade type jobs. most of them wish that they had spent their college years honing their skills for the trade they ended up in, instead of studying for a useless degree. here in alabama right now, there is a huge push (tv ads, billboards, etc.) for learning a trade. my husband is in the heavy equipment industry and they cannot find qualified mechanics. for the price of a trade school tuition, which is a fraction of college tuition, a person can be hired in that trade straight out of school (or possibly even before completing trade school as an apprentice). how many art or philosophy majors can say that? just my two cents worth

  2. I read a statistic (back when I was still in college) that said something to the effect that less than 15% of college graduates actually do any type of work in their chosen field of study. I found it interesting. Then I found out from my peers that it didn’t matter what you studied, just that you had that piece of paper called a bachelor’s degree. How disheartening is that? You spent how much money on an education, only to find out that it didn’t really matter… I have met plenty of successful people who do not have a college education. Your education depends upon what you make of it. I am still continuing my education. Only this time, I am educating myself in the ways of motherhood and then some. 🙂
    My boys can choose what they wish. It doesn’t matter what I think, just as long as they are happy. I will continue to educate them to the best of my abilities, regardless of their decision.

  3. College is definitely an excellent debate. My husband always had a dream to get a doctorate. Well, we have a big family and it took him forever to finish his Bachelor’s. In fact it was probably 15 years. But now he only has a year and a half left on his doctorate! Funny how motivations change when it is something you WANT to do. My parents did not go to college and I always knew I would get a degree. I haven’t yet but I done some online work while homeschooling a six of my eight children! It will be interesting to see how my children decide.

  4. I think that a carefully and wisely chosen college degree is important. It gives you options. I am all for someone learning a trade but sometimes a trade doesn’t pan out, just like the job opps after college don’t always pan out. I have a degree and have found that in my chosen field of study a specific bachelors degree is critical and a master’s is even better.
    College isn’t for everyone and I think it is important for kids (and parents) to be realistic. I would have loved for my boys to go to a 4 year college and get a great education. They chose the military instead. They are doing an important job and are successful.
    I am trying to help my daughter with this exact decision. Her trade of choice (horse related) is a narrow field and jobs can be limited. I want her to have options and be able to support herself in whatever she chooses.

  5. I am neither for nor against college. I have an undergraduate and a graduate degree, as does my husband. We value education, and higher education at that. But, I also know that college is not for everybody, nor is it required to support a family.

    (I actually have begun to see the “you NEED a college degree to do anything worthwhile” mentality as extremely elitist and unfair)

    My husband’s family is full of blue-collar, non-college-educated workers who love what they do and comfortably support themselves or their families doing it. There’s a police man, a fire man, a construction contractor, and a handyman/super for a large apartment complex. They all love their work, take pride in it, do it well, and make a good living doing it. College would have been an unnecessary expense for all of them.

    As my children’s educator, I see it as my job to make them college ready. When I am “done” with them, they will be ready to walk into a four year university and succeed, if that is their choice.

  6. I think this is a great conversation to have! My babes are very small for me to be spending a lot of time thinking about college just yet, but I have already thought about it. I want my kids to get the best education they can, but to also follow their own interests. I think one of the larger problems with college today is that most people do not know what they want to study when they go to college. Or they start with one major, to then change it several times to something completely different 3 semesters in.

    I have no idea what the future will hold for my children and their generation as far as higher education goes, but I think that as they get older, I want to encourage them to do some apprenticeships and really dig into what interests them so they have an idea before taking on all of those student loans. I think I will also encourage my children to take the basic classes every college graduate needs to take, at a community college so that they aren’t taking on huge amounts of debt for classes like public speaking and writing and rhetoric.

    Very interesting thoughts! I look forward to hearing what others have to say on this subject as well!

  7. I agree with not going to college. I did a trade school to become a scrub tech, it’s the person who assists the surgeon in surgery. But some jobs do require going to college. My husband is an ER Dr. But he has said they could shorten the length of your bachelors degree then move on to medical school. My husband and I aren’t pushing college, but my daughter wants to be a vet. But I do think doing online courses while in high school would be great. The state we are from let’s you do just that. I’ve learned with homeschooling if I don’t “make” her do something she does better on her own.

  8. I am 60 years old and did not arrend college until I was in my 40s. I was super-motivated and wanted to do counseling/therapy. I called different agencies to ask what degree was most desirable in a person they would hire. All of them said they preferred a masters in social work. I would also have yo work under supervision for 2years and take an exam to become independantly licensed. So in 6 years I earned that degree and worked full-time in a substance abuse treatment unit while also teaching at a state university and occasionally providing emergency back-up to assess troubled patients at our local emergency room. I loved it. I would still be going strong, but I bacame chronically ill and had to take early retirement. My point is, if there is something specific that you want to do and a certain degree is necessary, the college degree is well worth the work, time, and money. And for awhile, I thought that in these days, a bachelors degree is the same thing as what a high school diploma used to be. But I agree that times are changing. A high school graduate may be much better off going to trade school or getting on-the-job experience.

  9. I love it when people discuss college from this angle! It seems that so many think college is an absolute must these days. I’m all for college for those who want or need a degree. However, choosing a trade school or blue collar job does not make one a lesser citizen.

    Many blue collar jobs pay more than jobs that require a bachelors degree. We live in a small town and most of the people we know are employed in jobs that do not require a college degre so this way of thinking is very normal to us. However, when we talk to friends who live in large cities, they tend to think that college is a reqirement.

    My husband is a heavy equipment operator and provides very well for our family. My FIL is a retired electrician and he and my MIL are enjoying a very nice retirement.

    My son will be graduating this spring and he is planning on becoming a wildlife officer. We chose to give him a individualized education that reflects his goals for life. He stopped higher math after Geometry and switched to personal finance and consumer mathematics since these courses would provide more practical math skills for his chosen career path. He also took forensic science instead of chemistry. I was a little nervous about veering from the “college prep” route as every blog I followed, most books I read and every convention speaker I listened to seemed to think that every student should take Biology, Chemistry & Physics along with Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry and a more advanced math. As we near he end of his homeschooling years, I am glad I chose to tailor his courses to his way of learning and his interests. I only include this story to encourage others who might be choosing a different path for homeschooling during the highschool years. That’s one of the many beauties of homeschooling! We get to give each child a custom education.

    Thanks for the great post Jennifer!

  10. While my husband and I both have advanced degrees (M.S. and Ph. D) I come from a family where many didn’t make it through high school and college was not even on the radar. Many of them are “self made” and very successful in their career choices. So, while I think college can be beneficial, I don’t think it is the only way to get started in life. I will prepare my kids so they have a choice. Since they have a college professor father who’s job allows them to attend college at about half price we can afford to send all of them if they choose. However, I’ve also taught them that its more important to know what you want to do and then get whatever education/skills you need to do it than to just do whatever is “expected” by the crowd. I want to to be independent thinkers and go wherever God leads them and that may or may not be college.

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