Should You Go to College? 5 Reasons You Should (or Shouldn’t)

Updated November 4, 2022

Choosing to attend college—or more specifically, complete a four-year degree program at a college—is one of life's major decisions. It is a big investment of both time and money, while also being a place where you can gain invaluable knowledge to carry throughout your life. For many career paths, it is also a basic requirement for getting started. For others, it is the optimal source for building the skills you’ll need for success.

But college is not the only gateway to success, nor does a degree guarantee it. Many career paths have no required educational prerequisite at all or at least require far less than a traditional four-year degree. In this article, we set out to help you answer the question “Should I go to college?” by exploring what might motivate you to continue school, some potential indicators that college may not be for you. We also offer some alternative paths.

Read more: 14 Career Advice Tips for College Students

5 reasons you should go to college

While the decision to commit to a bachelor’s program is a big one that isn’t for everyone, there are plenty of valid reasons to go to college, including:

1. 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.

2. 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, college provides you with the core classes and electives you can take while you figure out your direction. Take classes tailored to your interests and develop clear career goals, then let the college experience help guide you.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Being involved with these aspects of college life makes a compelling argument for attending a four-year university out of high school. Some of the friends and colleagues you make may remain connections throughout your life. 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.

Read more: 9 Benefits of Going to College

5. 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.

Related: 10 Tips To Help You Network Like a Pro

5 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 a college 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.

Related: 25 Jobs That Pay $50k a Year Without a Degree

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 when you get to campus and are 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. A 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 an education, debt is a prominent issue for many college 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. Additionally, state universities and many trade schools may cost less than other private school campuses. It might be a good idea to discuss this over with a school counselor or someone who has undergone the financial aid process to help you navigate the financial aspect of a college education.

Related: 16 Jobs That Forgive Student Loans

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.

Related: 12 Benefits of 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.

Read more: 10 Six-Month Certificate Programs That Lead To High-Paying Jobs

3. Start a business

If entrepreneurship appeals to you, going to college 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.

Related: Gap Year Jobs To Develop Your Career

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