Higher education is a hot topic, because despite the U.S. economy and job market fairing well, many new graduates are finding it difficult to secure a job after graduation. As of just a couple of years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the percentage of unemployed millennials was more than double the national average. These dismal statistics leave many young people questioning the value of a college education. Still, it’s important to note that research indicates that those with higher education tend to make more, live longer, and have an overall higher quality of life.

Here’s what to consider before you take the higher ed leap.

Higher Income — and Higher Debt

While young people are finding it more difficult to find a job than previous generations, the fact is that college educated people still make more money than those without a degree. Americans with four-year college degrees make approximately 98 percent more an hour compared to Americans without a degree (Economic Policy Institute).

Now, making a higher salary is great — and this number is certainly impressive — but it’s important to note that it does not account for student loan debt. And that’s no small matter. The cost of a college education has increased exponentially in the last several decades, and as of 2017, college graduates can expect to leave school with approximately $39,400 in student loans (Pew Research Center). So yes, graduates who find work out of school are likely to earn more, but they’re also likely to start their post-college lives with significant debt.

Career Necessity or Not?

Doctors, teachers, lawyers — all of these jobs, and many others, require a college education and proper certification, which means that pursuing higher education is necessary. But that’s not always the case; for example, a degree often becomes less important in the corporate sector. Undoubtedly, many companies prefer applicants with a college degree, but it is certainly possible to establish a career in business, marketing, and many other sectors through a stellar portfolio and strong connections.

Working your way up — and nailing the networking opportunities along the way — might be more worthwhile than spending four years in classrooms for some career trajectories. So, when you’re considering whether to pursue higher education (especially a second or third degree), ask yourself what you want your degree to achieve.

Personal Growth and No Regrets

For many people, going to college is a deeply personal choice. Getting into school and having the college experience can be a goal worth accomplishing in and of itself. Some students may see it as the natural next step and a part of becoming an adult. Others may feel a deep desire to be the first person in their family to graduate from college. Regardless of your reason, if pursuing a college degree or graduate degree is a life goal and you can stomach the cost — go for it. But if you’re strictly in it for the degree, make sure the cost (both in terms of finances and time) is worth what you’re hoping to get out of it.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue higher education is an expensive and time consuming choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Obtaining a degree is simply the first step in establishing a career, not the last. Prospective students ought to weigh how their degree will impact their income and personal finances, if a degree is career necessity, and how higher education impacts them personally.

What are your thoughts on pursuing higher education? Is it still worth it to go to college? What about graduate school? Let us know about your college experience. —Alex

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