The Pros and Cons of College

How many times have you heard that if you go to college, you will be rich? Too many! This web page explores how college can make you rich and how college can be a waste of time. It answers the following basic questions:

Why go to college?

It is smart to ask this question. Too many people go to college and wonder why nothing good comes of it. They complain "Sure, I am just a fork lift operator, but I am a fork lift operator with a college education. I deserve more money." They do not realize that the purpose of college is to learn. Do not learn about any old thing. Learn about something an employer cares about. Hopefully, you will learn an entire curriculum of information of value. A simple rule is that your Bachelor's Degree should be in something that is regarded as a profession. Who gets hired in General Studies?

Some may feel that the purpose of college is to enjoy. Why not? Your parents are paying the tuition. Have fun. Unfortunately, four years of parental welfare may lead to forty years of poverty. Enjoy when you have the chance, but have a plan. It would be terrible to let four years pass by and have nothing to show for it. Those of you with rich parents may disregard my advice, but being owned by your parents is not fun.

If you feel you cannot stand the idea of studying for four more years, then do not go to college ... yet. In college, your lack of effort would only cause you to flunk out. Instead, go to work and find out what you want to do. Soon, you will have the right attitude for college. Many people have flunked out of college, gone to the real world, then hurried back to college and aced all of their courses.

Which college subjects lead to the most lucrative professions?

Whatever I recommend, you will want proof. Table 1 presents salary excerpts from a book on college [reference].

                      Starting        High Salary       Education
                      Salary over     over              /Degree
Occupation            Elementary      Elementary        Needed to
                      School Teacher  School Teacher    Start
                      Starting Salary Starting Salary   Work

Dentist                   1.9             4.7           D.D.S.
Architect                 1.7             5.6           5 years
Engineer                  1.7             4.9           4 years        
Lawyer                    1.7             6.7       Law Doctorate
Physicist                 1.7             5.6           4 years        
School counselor          1.7             3.7           4 years        
Speech pathologist        1.7             2.7           4 years        
Accountant                1.6             5.6           4 years        
Chemist                   1.6             5.6           4 years        
Mathematician             1.6             4.4           4 years        
Meteorologist             1.6             2.9           4 years        
Social worker             1.6             3.7           M.A.           
Dental Hygienist          1.5             1.9           2-4 years      
Economist                 1.5             5.1           4 years        
Veterinarian              1.5             4.4           D.V.M.         
College teacher           1.4             3.7           M.A.           
Optometrist               1.4             3.4           O.D.           
Dietician                 1.3             3.1           4 years        
Engineering technician    1.3             2.1         high school    
Registered nurse          1.3             1.9           2 years        
Surveyor                  1.3             2.0         high school    
Biological scientist      1.2             4.7           4 years        
Home economist            1.2             3.4           4 years        
Personnel worker          1.2             6.0           4 years        
Soil Scientist            1.2             3.4           4 years        
Draftsman                 1.1             2.3         high school    
Historian                 1.1             3.7           M.S.           
Political scientist       1.1             3.7           M.S.           
Psychologist              1.1             4.4           M.A.           
Recreation worker         1.1             4.0           4 years        
Secondary school teacher  1.1             3.3           4 years        
Sociologist               1.1             3.7           M.S.           
Technical writer          1.1             3.6           4 years        
Elementary school teacher 1.0             1.5           4 years        
Newspaper reporter        1.0             3.5         high school    
Commercial artist         0.8             3.3           4 years        

Table 1.  Salary Ratios for Various Occupations in Order from
          Highest to Lowest

The above table is listed from highest starting salary to lowest. At the high end are the typical highly respected professions, such as dentistry. They pay well, but they require either graduate school, lots of studying, or usually both.

At the low end of Table 1 are the low paying professions, such as elementary school teacher. They typically require either very little education or very low intellectual requirements. After all, how intelligent must an elementary school teacher be to outsmart people who are one fifth of the teacher's age? (To be fair, an elementary school teacher is someone who enjoys children and does not mind the lack of intellectual stimulation.)

Naturally, you want the most money for the least amount of educational effort. Table 1 shows that you will not get your wish. Those who choose the easiest subjects fare about as poorly as those who never went to college. Does extra effort pay off? Not if you apply it in the wrong field. You can get a Master's Degree in sociology and still be lowly paid. The moral of the story is that a graduate degree in an easy subject does not qualify you for anything of great value. In contrast, graduate school in a difficult subject, such as law, certainly pays off.

Of course, you should choose a subject that you enjoy. You will be able to tolerate the endless studying that is necessary to learn useful skills. This does not mean that you should major in surfing. It must be useful, too. If you have a flair for science and art, you should probably look for a curriculum in science.

Why go to graduate school?

You make money at work, not school, so you want to minimize your time in college. Hopefully, you can find an enjoyable, lucrative profession requiring only four years of study. If this is impossible, then you are forced to consider professions in which the job entry level is higher. Remember that you must pay tuition for all these years. Some people can afford four years of school and no longer.

Beware of going too far down the list in Table 1. For example, the entry level for working as a sociologist may be at the Master's Degree level, not because of its complexity, but because a mere Bachelor's Degree does not represent significant skills. If you find it difficult to choose something you like that pays more than what a high school diploma can get you, you may not yet be ready for college.

If you already have a Bachelor's Degree, you may not need to pay for graduate school. With a well chosen four year degree, you should be able to go to work and talk your employer into paying for your graduate level education. If you are considering a profession in which employers are never so cooperative, then the profession must have little demand. It may be a bad choice.

If you already have a Bachelor's Degree but no job, graduate school in the same subject may not be the answer. A second Bachelor's Degree, this time in a subject near the top of Table 1, will make you more marketable.

So far, I have painted student supported graduate school as a waste of money and an indication of a poor career choice. An exception to this is a profession in which education STARTS in graduate school. Law and medicine come to mind. If you are considering a profession like this, do not simply get an easy four year degree. Choose a curriculum that is more challenging and related to your ultimate career goal. For example, a future doctor may be wise to major in biology or chemistry. Then, if he flunks out of medical school, he can still get a good job.

Now that you are convinced to go to college, see How to Afford College.


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