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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Is college worth it?

Published: November 14, 2014
Section: Opinions

It depends on who you are, where you come from and where you want to go. The value of college, as the values of other life experiences, is subjective. One can generalize the idea that people who go to college are generally going to have better paying jobs than people who do not. However, to say that for young people going to college is completely worthwhile is as valid as saying that it is worthwhile for young people to go to the beach. Both can be true,
but that statement does not answer the entire question.

To assess the value of college, first ask yourself, “What makes college worth it?” In basic terms the answer is: one, the experience of college; and two, the practicality of having a college degree for your work career. Now, the college degree is indispensable and can only be earned by going to a college or university, but what about the experience that one gets from college? To clarify, by the word “experience,” I mean all of what a person can learn by being a college student. That includes time spent in classes, extracurricular activities, jobs and hanging out with people associated with the college. Is attending college indispensable to this learning? Do we need to go to college to learn about other cultures or how to program a computer or how to analyze a book or the value of team effort?

It does not seem so to me. College does make it easier to obtain that experience: Books are easily found in the library, people willing to form a team are easy to approach. College faculty organize the knowledge taught in their classes so that it is most accessible and understandable. But are these resources found in college necessary to learn all the teachings that form the college experience? I am afraid not. In fact, nearly all (if not all) of what one can learn in college can be obtained independently.

Harvard President Drew Faust recently claimed in a conference in Dallas that “going to college is one of the best decisions you will ever make. In fact I believe college is more important than ever.” A university president however, will always try and sell the value of college, using trivial generalizations such as, “College is the best investment you can make,” or “It is definitely worth it.” Faust also claimed that going to college automatically makes you discover new dreams, that it will take you to places you’ve never been before and that it will make you acquire skills that will last a lifetime.

But the process is not automatic. College is simply a tool that can be used to do the fantastic things that Faust talks about, and only if the person works hard and uses the tool appropriately. Do not buy into the idea that just by being in college and doing fine in it, you are automatically experiencing all the fantastic results that college should provide.

The bulk of knowledge obtained in college can be gained without actually going to one. The fantastic consequences of college that Faust argues for do not come automatically—they happen only if the college student works hard and takes advantage of the tool that is college. Having this in mind, I ask again, is college worth it? Is it worth it for the average American who puts a massive amount of academic and extracurricular effort to get accepted into a decent college and then has to work all through college and perhaps still be in debt afterwards?

The answer is clear. For the average American, who does not intend to make the most out of a college’s resources, but instead sticks to a limited path inside his or her comfort zone has to put himself (and probably his parents) under strenuous effort to get in and out of college. And the bottom line truth is that for this student, college is not worth it.

Should the average American stop going to college then? No, because even though college is probably not worth it for him or her from the experience side, it is still worth going for the practicality of a college degree. Unfortunately, the job system in America is one that will generally put a college degree above everything else. In most jobs, no matter how more prepared and skilled you are compared to another candidate, if that candidate has a college degree, they will get the job over you. This somewhat nonsensical system is what enables colleges to raise tuition every couple of years without any repercussions, as no matter the price of college, people are still going to do the extra effort to get in. Therefore, unless you are a Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates or Mark Rothko and you are somehow able to beat the system with some original idea, or you are able to live off some particular ability, you are bound to follow the system.