Does Higher Education Pay off in the Game of LIFE?

November 1, 2012 Op-Eds, Opinion

Heading to college after high school is an all-American tradition, a rite of passage. No other culture puts quite so much emphasis on following this four-year path. As teens, we long for the collegiate experience, post primary school, revering the life on campus. The tantalizing carrot that is a college education entices our desire for an adult life and all that comes with it: stability, comfort, acceptance, prosperity.

For those of us who have chased after this carrot and gobbled down the college experience, only to find our hunger unsatiated—I give you this list. A guide, an inventory, a reminder: call it what you will, but I assure you it will settle all of those grumblings of doubt, pangs of regret and twinges of disappointment about the true value of your higher education. Read on to suppress the faint realization that you, and so many others like you, spent four of your most verdant years of life in pursuit of the textbook American dream. I urge you, fellow students, to extinguish any unorthodox musings and alternative visions of travelling down anything other than the well-worn path to the diploma. Remember—college really is, and was, all it’s chalked up to be.

1. Don’t worry, you’ll get a job.

That college degree is your Wonka ticket, a real one-in-a-million. Well actually, it’s one in about three million other bachelor’s degrees awarded in the last five years.# But relax, that English degree of yours is unique and will take you far beyond the confines of the local coffee shop counter. And don’t start regretting that minor in Classical Studies. You’re bound to find a job using that knowledge on the daily basis—even if it’s communicating with your boss at the late-night falafel joint.

2. Don’t think about the cost.

So some “financial experts” are saying your education is overpriced and inflated.# Ignore them. Education is invaluable, and worth every penny you have in your pockets (and even the endless imaginary pennies in your bottomless imaginary pockets—this is a fun way I like to think about loans). The great thing about college is that you never have to deal with money physically changing hands, making paying for education a cinch. Yes, college is expensive, but it’s not real money if you can’t use it to buy a new pair of Toms.

3. Don’t look up to those successful entrepreneurial dropouts.

Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs: These guys gave college the metaphorical middle finger to academia and explored what avenues the brain could take outside of the scholastic sphere. Ignoring the institution, they plowed forth with their unconventional business plans and unorthodox ideas, addressing global needs, issues and demands. But you, you recent college grad with a liberal arts degree and a “superb analysis” of Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned,” you come out of college progressively open-minded and full of hope. You can practically think outside of the box at will.

4. Take solace in the fact you’re not graduating from a community college.

Remember your senior year of high school when everyone posted where they were going to college on the homeroom board? Didn’t everyone feel just a little bit sorry for the kids headed to the local community college? That’s not even real college, is it? They don’t have a sports team, a school mascot or even Greek life. The campus is usually in an old industrial park, and I’m pretty sure the chairs in their library aren’t even real leather. If college is about anything other than getting a solid education (it’s not), then it’s team sports, parties and immortalizing awesome Instagram party pics on your Facebook timeline. What do you Amaro or Lo-fi if not a sunny campus quad?

Also, let’s talk about how seemingly anyone can go to a community college. A four-year degree is special because its applicants are carefully selected to be part of this distinctive cerebral community. I mean, you can’t just get into school by throwing a ball around, am I right?

Two-year degree students might have some extra change in their pocket, time on their hands and experience under their belt because they scrimped on an education, but for what? —The nifty ability to rewire a home or take a high quality X-ray? They won’t be the ones able to keep the conversation going when the party chatter shifts to early twentieth century satire, that’s for sure.

5. Remember, you’re one of the smart ones.

Don’t forget about that killer entrance essay you wrote. You know, the one about how you struggled through high school to pursue your quirky interests while battling the unceasing pressure to be “like everyone else.” Congratulations on overcoming all of this personal struggle and angst and breaking away from the norm. Bottle this up for your instant best-selling novella and remember that your entrance essay beat out other essays, ones with lesser primary-school struggles than you. You’re tough stuff. Not everyone has been blessed with such strife.

6. Remember, there’s no place like college.

Dorothy may have clicked her heels twice and longed for “home”—the only place with that special sense of comfort. But when it comes to longing for learning and knowledge, college is the only place to find it. Colleges and Universities have all the resources: multi-tiered libraries, tutors the same age as you, that microfiche machine no one knows how to use and most importantly—professors. No one knows how to ask an introspective question gleaned from “Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” better than a good ol’ elbow-patched professor. You really couldn’t have done it without the help of these scholarly resources. I mean, it’s not like there’s some outlet of information where you can access infinite amounts of wisdom, ideas, perspectives and stories from all over the world on your own. Imagine! I wonder who’ll invent that? A college grad, I bet.

7. You made the right choice.

Instead of taking a year off to backpack across the countryside and work on organic farms for your bed and bread, you went to college. What did anyone ever learn from schlepping around outdoors and living off their labors anyway? You really dodged a mud pie there.

Not a lot of young Americans travel when they’re young, and with good reason. Imagine returning back to society and being behind, having to catch up on all that content your peers absorbed right on schedule. Whimsical travelling leads to what, really? Learning how to live, communicate and identify with others in some strange, foreign place? Some education, that is.

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