Reflections on the Worth of College and Student Debt

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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The unemployment levels for high school and college graduates alike have reached record heights. This surfaces the hugely controversial argument: Is college worth it? With student debt crossing detrimental lines and acceptance rates at all-time lows, many people are starting to lean towards the negative side of this ongoing argument. Although college does teach more than just the basics for scholastic intelligence, my beliefs have started to stray towards the negative side as well. Unless you need a college education for the development of specific skills that cannot be taught in other ways, college is helpful, but not necessary.

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This is based on student loan debts, specialized career paths, and upfront costs.

Let’s face the facts. Unless you are the child of Will Smith or Bill Gates, you are going to graduate from college with monumental amounts of student debt. Tuition costs have reached laughable heights in the past ten to twenty years. These costs will not only cause momentary standstills in students’ early adult life, but will instead lay enormous pressures on life well through adult years. “A record share of students are leaving college with a substantial debt burden, and among those who do, 48% say that paying off that debt made it harder to pay other bills, 25% say it has made it harder to buy a home, and 24% say it has impacted their career choices” (Pew, Source F). Do we not drill into students’ minds the idea that college will help them towards the careers and futures of their choice? And yet, a quarter of college graduates are having to take the night shift at their local bars to help them pay off debts they owe for learning how to be a nanoscientist. While an education is completely needed to develop skills in a field such as this, was $69,000 a year at New York University really worth the pain? Of course, this does not go for every student, and a great number will snatch jobs right out of college in the field of their choice, but they will still be living under the weight of gigantic debt and must sacrifice basic living expenses well into their adult lives to pay these debts back. If a student has dreams and aspirations to be a neurosurgeon, of course, college is the necessary track.

Fields requiring training beyond the capabilities of unspecialized teachers should be studied at colleges and universities. However, if a student aspires to be an actor or singer, attending Juilliard at $39,000 per year—even though it may foster strong connections for the future—might not outweigh the challenges faced post-graduation. If an individual has a dream and talent that are no better nurtured in a classroom than in the real world, they should be allowed to choose their own path. Yet, college should never be portrayed as the “only option”. “… the social pressure for students to pursue ‘lower-risk-trajectories’ in their career choices will lead to less innovation in the future” (Weider, Source E). Here, Ben Weider echoes the sentiments of Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal. Thiel ardently believes that forcing young adults to attend college and aim for “practical options” will cause them to lose their innovative flair and ambitions. Compelling a child with a passion for painting to become a nurse will stifle their creative ideas and promote logical thinking—not only in academics but also in all life aspects. While logical reasoning is beneficial, if this trait results in a $300,000 debt, dreaming could lead to a more fulfilling life.

As if student loans weren’t daunting enough, the sheer cost of college attendance can leave even an affluent family feeling nauseous. While a college’s reputation might not significantly impact one’s prospects long-term, Ivy-League institutions are perceived as climbing pedestals, unattainable for ninety percent of students. Moreover, these universities are unreachable not only from an intellectual perspective but also financially. From Yale demanding $47,000 yearly to NYU’s staggering seventy, these schools can be impractical and perhaps not as exceptional as people portray them. Matthew Crawford of the New York Times posits, “More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody actually has to do things” (Crawford, Source A). Contemporary society has seen unprecedented skill development, spawning endless opportunities. Although attending college to harness these skills could be beneficial, experiencing the real world with a fresh perspective—unblemished by others’ teachings—holds paramount importance.

Indeed, college plays a crucial role in fostering a mature, responsible young adult. It offers students opportunities and teaches them skills applicable in the real world. Nevertheless, these skills can also be acquired by venturing into the world and learning independently. College education should be reserved for those pursuing a specialized profession, not someone needing only to be practical. Practicality can be learnt on-the-job, a prospect much less expensive than fifty grand per annum. Individuals taking the practical path aren’t even guaranteed employment immediately after graduation. With college graduate unemployment levels as they exist, life post-college becomes a figurative rollercoaster of student debts and unpaid dues. The world’s inherent challenges suffice, without the added pressure of working a despised job to repay looming debts accrued from studying an equally despised course. A world populated by more innovatively dreaming individuals, creating opportunities for themselves, would undoubtedly be a better place.

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Reflections on the Worth of College and Student Debt. (2022, Nov 22). Retrieved from