Why did you go to college?

I was talking to a friend of my boss’s who just got a graduate degree in Asian studies with a minor in Art history, or something of that sort.

Tons of schools bills to deal with. Working at the local Quizno’s, because the Asian studies/art history job market is kind of slow.

It makes me wonder, what is the point of racking up such huge bills for the sake of a piece of paper? If one is interested in Asian studies, why couldn’t one read books on the subject, or audit some classes? Talk to people with similar interests. Why is a degree that important? I’m not talking here about medical school or others of its type that train up students in an actual craft. Or maybe Asian studies students consider their field of expertise a craft. If so, I’d like to know why.

I consider myself an avid learner, and pretty well-rounded. I have a good software development job that I enjoy doing. I never went to college, and am hard-pressed to find a reason why I should pay money for someone to teach me something that I could pretty much find out for myself.

Saying that, I am fully aware of the fact that I could be wallowing in a huge pit of ignorance. The fact that so many people go to college, or aspire to send their children to college – even to major in Asian studies – tells me that I’m missing some crucial point here.

I can give you one damn good reason…

Round here Bachelor’s Degrees are known as ‘working cards’. Without one you just won’t get those upwardly mobile office jobs.

Joe Dumbass will flourish while Jane Problem-Solver will wait tables if Joe has a BS in Art Appreciation and Jane has a high school diploma.

That’s not an un-powerful argument. It may not be fair but it’s true enough round here.

The first time I went, it was kind of the expected thing to do. I had some vague notions of maybe travelling or whatnot, but I went anyway.

After dropping out and working for a few years, I went back to get my degree because it’s damn hard to find a job without one here in the States. You may have the experience, but they’ll focus on not having that degree. I’m just in it for the piece of paper.

I did it for two reasons:

  1. I’m physically disabled & therefore can’t take most (if any) jobs that require physical labor; this “restricts” me to jobs where I have to use my mind rather than my body. These jobs require - more often than not - college degrees.

  2. I’d always been interested in literature & from that sprang an interest in teaching English. One needs a Bachelor’s & a Master’s degree in order to teach English to kids in grades 7 - 12 in New York State.

I went to college straight out of high school because it was expected of me. That simple. I didn’t have any other plans anyway, so I went.

I came back to graduate school seven years after finishing my undergrad because I wanted to. And that has made all the difference in my GPA, in how involved I am in my classes and in my general attitude toward school.

I won’t say that my undergrad experience was a waste of money. It got me into a job that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I learned how to write well (when I want to) and how to think about things in a variety of ways. I will say that, had I waited for a couple of years and worked (anywhere), I would have known better what I wanted to do. And I probably would not have chosen to go out of state, but stayed in state and paid far less than I did.

My answer is the same as Jonathan Chance’s. People with college degrees average higher incomes than those without, pure and simple and the difference has been getting bigger over the last couple of decades at least. College maybe isn’t for everyone but for a lot of people it is a no-brainer investment.

Of course it is perfectly possible to be succesful even without a college degree, Bill Gates being an example, but that is kind of the exception.

I’m there with Chance. In the business world – and the job market in general – you simply do not move up beyond a certain point unless you have a bachelor’s in SOME damn thing.

Either that, or you’re a tradesman or craftsman or serviceman of some type, that probably required a few years of trade school, or an apprenticeship of some sort.

In my case, I wasn’t interested in repair work, and I wasn’t quite ready to get a life yet, so I went to college.

My chosen career must insulate me from this fact: I work with a lot of different types of programmers…only about 25% of those have degrees. The 25% that have degrees are either entry-level people, or very top management. In fact, most of the programmers I work with dropped out of college to take advantage of the whole internet boom.

I’ll probably have to become a manager some day, much against my wishes. I can see where I’ll never become a CIO without a graduate degree. But then again, I don’t want to be a CIO. Maybe that’s why I never went to college.

Part of this whole question stems from the fact that I’ve got $12K due me by the government as part of my AF legacy. I feel like I ought to do something with it, but have no idea what.

I went to college because I love being part of a community of thinkers, and I learn better in a social situation. Reading books on Asia is not the same as attending classes on Asia taught by people who are from there and/or livedthere for many years, who have made a lifetime commitment to studying Asia. Reading books on Aisa is not the same as attending classes wiht other people who share the same passion for Asia. Boks are just the ingredients for an educated mind: for me, what cooked it all together were the innumerable class discussions, study sessions, and wine-and-cheese receptions with guest speakers.

Furthermore, reading never teaches you as much as producing–synthesizing all the information you have gathered into some new form, building something new. Many of us don’t produce as well in isolation as we do under the imputus of someone who is more knowledgable than us pushing us along, demanding we do better. The traditional class structure of college provides this.

At the time, I went to college because I figured that if I had good enough grades to get decent scholarships that it would be the expected thing to do. I wasn’t very aware of what other options existed.

In retrospect, it was a very stupid thing to do. It’s a good idea once one has spent a few years in business and is close to hitting the limits of what one can do without a degree, but racking up bills is something I wouldn’t do again.

Because it was a pre-requisite for graduate school

Because my parents would have killed me had I not done so

Because the prospect of getting a job was not as appetizing as the prospect of a 4 year sleepover.

I had the grades to get in. My brother managed to finish the four years even though he’s not as smart as I am. Got a small scholarship that would help my tuition. My mother works in the same university I’m in so it’s convenient. Mostly, because my parents said so (always with the “You’ll never get a good job without a degree”).

I discovered early on that I would much rather support myself working behind a desk and make more money than working at anything physically demanding. This was the only reason I chose a career in accounting and not only went to college, but became a CPA.

I hated those four years, partly because of the daily commute, but also because I went fresh out of highschool and was burning out from test taking, but I knew that the faster I got it over with, the sooner I could enjoy life away from school. My GPA was pretty poor, so as an intense finale I pushed myself as hard as I could to pass the CPA exam on my first taking, and that basically erased my college performance and helped put my foot in the door of my choice career. Despite a total of five years of sheer hell, plus three years of valuable yet torturous experience in finance, I don’t regret any of it, since I have the closest thing to a job I could love and have the rest of my life to play with my brain cells as I see fit.

As many have already said, it doesn’t matter what your major in college is as long as you get that diploma in the end. In fact, one of the best strategies, and certainly one I would’ve used had I not been set on accounting as a career, is to major in something extremely easy, such as communications, get a 4.0, put it on your resume and use that as a bargaining tool in a career you may feel you can excel in. If this didn’t work, then I wouldnt have had bosses who held BA’s in history or computer science.

I think, unless you are cut out for a well-paid craft job (i.e., master carpenter, plumber, etc.), and you have the opportunity to go to college, you should go. If you’re headed toward the type of career where a specific degree is needed, then the justification is obvious. But even if you’re vague about your plans, as many people are when they’re just out of high school, it’s still worthwhile to go. As many have already said, there is still some value in having a degree, even if it’s “just any degree”. Secondly, if you have the chance to go to “name” school, that’s an added bonus.

My own case is demonstrative. Completely unsure of my career plans, other than that I was too weak in math to consider scientific or technical careers, I got a bachelor’s degree because it was the thing to do. With a more definite goal, I went to grad school and got an MLS. I really did intend becoming a librarian, and my first job out of school was as a subject indexer. Eighteen months into that job, I had demonstrated a flair for programming and transferred to the IT department. I’ve been programming ever since. Though my degrees have almost nothing to do with programming, I wouldn’t have gotten to the programming job if I hadn’t gotten the indexing job first. So in that sense, my degrees were essential to my career.

I went to college when I was 18 because I was a Smart Kid™ and that’s what was expected of me. I wanted to go, sure, but had totally unrealistic plans for myself. Two years later I was dangerously close to flunking out.

I went back to college when I was 25 because I had a clear goal in mind and I was tired of working crummy jobs for low pay. I have a kid to think about now and I want her to have a better life than I did (private school, etc.).

I’m looking forward to graduating but I will also be sad. I love school. If money were no object I would always be at least a part-time college student; I’d get degrees in EVERYTHING. The thought that there are people out there who never read a book after they graduate from high school or college bumfuzzles me.

I can’t live without learning.

It looks like I’m the first one of geezer crowd checking in.

When I graduated from high school, there was this thing going on in Viet Nam. There was also something called “the draft” that collected young fellows and sent them to Viet Nam. Within the draft were things called “student deferments,” meaning that while you were a student, you couldn’t be drafted and sent to Viet Nam. There were plenty of us who went to college to avoid the army. It wasn’t fair that you got a deferment as a student, but it was in the system and we availed ourselves of it.

Two years into college, student deferments were done away with in place of a nationwide lottery. You could get yanked out of school and put into the service if your lottery number was low enough. I had a high number, and was reclassified from “2-S” (student deferment) to “1-H” (subject to call, but with a high number. Likely only in a national emergency to be drafted). By that time I found I rather enjoyed college. I enjoyed studying and learning, as well as the friendships I had made in the last two years. College was far better than high school, so I stayed.

im in college and my only reason is money. I dont want to be rich, but i want to be able to live above the poverty line. I realize a 1 or 2 year degree would give me the opportunity to live above the poverty line too, but an extra couple of years and an extra 20k in tuition will give me a job that pays twice what the 1 & 2 year degrees pay.

Love of learning is a distant second. i like my subject but i can always go to the library to learn something.

Are you interested in knowing why people did go to college, or why they feel the experience is valuable (even if you major in Asian studies)? Because those are two different questions, and I admit my answer to one of them is not particularly impressive. I went to college because it was expected of me and my parents were willing to pay for it; and I went to grad school because I didn’t have any better ideas and the grad school was willing to pay for it. End of story.

That said, I believe going to college is worthwhile because being part of a community of people engaged in thinking, writing, and learning is one of life’s great pleasures. If I were in charge of the universe, I’d see that everyone who was capable of appreciating the experience had the opportunity to spend four years of their life doing just that – no strings attached, no pressure to study a subject that leads to future employment. (Since I am not in charge of the universe, I will at least do my damnedest to make sure my children have that opportunity.) Education isn’t supposed to be a means to an end; it’s something worth treasuring and savoring for its own sake.

What’s been said about college and a future career and earnings potential is why I’m glad I went to college. And as well it’s true, as noted, that humanities grads don’t all go flip burgers - the ones I know generally have professional careers.

But that’s not what I was thinking about specifically when I decided to go to college. I didn’t go right after high school. Instead I worked for several years and had come to a point where the future looked uninteresting. I knew people in Austin whom I visited, and I always had a great time on my weekend visits. So, really, I went to college because it seemed like it might a.) be a lot of fun (and it was) and b.) offer the potential for a more interesting future to tumble out as a result.

Being somewhat less than focussed on any particular career, I went the humanities route; that eventually drew me into the natural sciences. It really wasn’t all that terribly difficult to work full-time and be a full-time student - perhaps having a few years of working experience helped with that. Between being able to work and maintain good grades and the fact I was attending a state school (University of Texas), I was able to graduate with no outstanding loans (although I recently discovered that I’d owed the Student Health Center $20 for 23 years - hah! I guess you could say it took me 23 years to pay off my college debts :wink: ).

Then I had an experience that many of my friends also had. Over the course of a few weeks or months, we surveyed the options and leapt into fields we’d never really considered before and for many that leap started careers that have gone decades. I was hired as a geophysical trainee and started making more than I had ever made before within a year. I’m not sure I’d ever encountered the word “geophysics” before I heard about the interview. And being titled “geophysicist” took a few more years of night classes. But the company paid for that.

So, I went to college to have fun, with the hope that a better gig might appear at the end. Scored on both counts.

I went to college

*because it was expected of me

*because I couldn’t think of anything better to do

*to maintain my class status (if I hadn’t I would always think of myself as “didn’t go to college”)

*with the vain hope that I would figure out what to do with my life

*to have fun and meet new people

It hasn’t been mentioned but another great reason to go to college is to find a suitable mate. I certainly didn’t have this consciously in mind, but it worked out exceedingly well for me. A college community provides a large collection of people, usually all living within a small location with the leisure and the inclination to get to know each other better.

College can also provide a nice transition from living at home to living on one’s own. Training wheels sort of.

All that said…I don’t really think we should require it as much as we do. Many people are well suited to work requiring a college degree that are not particularly suited to college. It’s kind of an accidental system that just happened, and a lot of people probably waste time that could be more productively spent actually working.

I wish I had taken better advantage of college and not majored in something even less marketable than Asian studies and especially taken a (or several)language.