What Are the “Right Reasons” for Going to College Today?

What Are the "Right Reasons" for Going to College Today?

Whether you have just graduated from high school or you waited awhile to return to college, you need to carefully consider why you want to pursue a degree and that your decision is done for the right reasons. Going to college involves making an important decision that’s based upon more than what school to attend. The deciding factors should include your goals, career interests, and ability to make a personal commitment to the learning process. Starting is easy, it’s the day to day work and willingness to learn, change, adapt, and pursue self-development that takes work – and many students don’t make it past the first year.

Some students begin a degree program because it’s expected of them by their family or peers, or they believe it is necessary to gain employment. Perhaps a degree is required for entry into a particular career field or is a minimum requirement for a specific job. Whatever the reason, attending college requires a significant investment of time and resources that you must be willing to commit to if you are going to succeed. As you consider the arguments for and against starting a degree program, develop a list of the reasons why you want to attend to determine if this is right for you.

Arguments For and Against College

1. Opponents

In a New York Times blog, Why Go to College at All?, Dale J. Stephens (founder of UnCollege) discussed going to college and encouraged students to find their own path to success. UnCollege is self-described as “a social movement changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success.”  Stephens said that it is important for potential students to have clearly defined reasons and “understand why you’re going so you can make the most of your experience – and be honest about it.” While the premise of UnCollege may cause concern for educators, it could be a wake-up call for students who feel pressured to go to college and yet don’t have a clear direction of their future in mind.

Another vocal opponent of going to college is the co-founder of PayPal, Peter Theil, who created the Thiel Fellowship. Through this program a $100,000 grant is being offered; however, the purpose of the fellowship states: “Fellows are given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. They are mentored by our network of visionary thinkers, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who provide guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom. Rather than just studying, you’re doing.” Thiel noted that the first 24 fellows “founded companies, raised capital, won prestigious awards, and put products on the market” during the first few months of their work in 2011.They did this with financial backing from the fellowship rather than a college degree.

2. Supporters

Many supporters of obtaining a college education have referred to a 2010 study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings. This study concluded that “unemployment for students with new bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma—and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.” Of course the degree major selected has a bearing on the actual employment prospects, which is why students must make an informed decision before starting a degree program.

A Time magazine article, Why You Should Still Go to College, makes a case for going to college and acknowledged that even though “it isn’t the guarantee of a job that it once was — for students who are qualified and want to go, it’s still an investment worth making.” In a New York Times article, Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off, an argument for investing in a college degree was made as “education helps people do higher-skilled work, get jobs with better-paying companies or open their own businesses.” I understand these perspectives as I’ve observed students gain important skill sets regardless of their degree major, such as writing, reading, analysis, and critical thinking skills. As students recognize their talents and abilities they grow more confident while they explore new career opportunities.

The Right Reasons

The reasons for and against going to college come down to a matter of purpose. If you make a decision to obtain a degree and choose a school that has a program you’re interested in, then the right decision to start involves four important factors.

1. You Possess Strong Self-Motivation

Self-motivation is related to the process of learning because your journey as a student will require sustained effort on your part. You may question your decision at times, especially if find there are challenging assignments or activities. Development of self-motivation means you have the determination necessary to face barriers, obstacles, and challenges head-on and not back down – knowing that you have a capacity to learn. There will be days when the work seems manageable and other days when you will question your ability to keep up with the class or assignments; therefore, a strong internal drive will be necessary maintain your progress.

2. You Have Established Goals

You can also make an informed decision about your college options by developing a set of clearly defined goals that state when you’ll begin, how long the program should take, and what you will accomplish. An effective technique to use is called SMART goals, which means that each goal is:
Specific: A SMART goal identifies a specific action or event to be taken.
Measurable: The description and the outcome should be quantifiable.
Achievable: A SMART goal should be attainable given available resources.
Realistic: A SMART goal should require you to stretch some beyond your normal routine and regular abilities, but allow for likely success.
Timely: A SMART goal should state the time period in which it will be accomplished.

Here is an example: You will start your degree program in June, obtain a college degree within two years, take two classes per semester, and earn a 3.0 GPA overall.

3. You Developed Realistic Career Expectations

Before making a decision about college you should also explore potential career options that are possible after earning the degree. Students often start by attaining an associate’s degree, which is still relevant in today’s workplace, provided it is with a specialization that is currently in demand. An associate’s degree with a general focus may not produce the same career results as a specialized degree. This is a very good reminder that you should always weigh your options when choosing a degree program. If you believe that a degree will provide you with job opportunities and financial rewards, be certain that belief is based upon research you’ve conducted.

4. You are Willing to Make an Investment

Your decision to earn a degree is going to require a significant investment of time and finances. You’ll need to develop your self-management skills. This involves how you make choices about the use of your time and establish a sense of order for your life, including how you manage stress and avoid procrastination. You need to be disciplined and maintain control through conscious choices that support your goals. You must utilize your time wisely and avoid distractions, minimize interruptions, address any potential competing goals and priorities, and create a work space or environment that is conducive to working productively.

Your financial investment will consist primarily of the tuition paid. Be sure you consider what you can afford now and after you graduate if secure financial aid. A 2012 report by the National Center for Education Statistics estimated the following costs for an average school year:
•    “Students at public four-year colleges paid $16,900 before any grants and $10,200 afterward.
•    At four-year private nonprofit colleges, the average sticker (advertised) price was $32,700, and the net (amount paid) price was $16,700.
•    And at four-year private for-profit colleges, the average price was $27,900 before grants and $23,800 after.”

Remember that there will be other expenses such as office supplies, computer equipment and accessories, along with course materials. If you have incurred student loans those payments will begin after a short grace period, which makes a well-defined financial plan an absolutely necessity.

Is it Right For You?

After evaluating all of your options you may discover that this isn’t the right time to start a degree program – until you have developed a plan and considered the potential outcomes once it’s completed. If you have determined that you’re starting for the right reasons, which are relevant to your personal and/or professional needs, you are likely to make an informed decision and minimize uncertainty as you devote time and effort to your studies.

You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

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