From the time we are small children, the idea of college is drilled into our heads. We are told that if we don’t go to college, we won’t be able to succeed in life or get high paying jobs. We’re told that having a degree is the end-all-be-all for securing a strong future. However, with student debt at an all-time high and the economy in poor shape, it seems like higher education is becoming a dangerous, double-edged sword.
For example, getting a four-year college degree used to be an automatic ticket to a decent paying job. Now (especially during this recession), it’s almost the same thing as a high school diploma. However, as any college student knows, there is one major difference between high school and college: You have to pay to go to college. According to FinAid.org, during the 2007-2008 school year, two-thirds of students from four-year undergraduate schools seeking their bachelor’s degree had incurred student debt. With 65% of students taking on student loans, it’s becoming clear that students are doing anything to get that degree—even if that means putting themselves in financial debt for years to come.
While it is obvious that landing a well-paying job is crucial (mainly in order to combat student loan defaults), not many of those jobs exist right now. Of course there are success stories of post-grad survival (you know, your cousin’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend got a decent paying job out of college with his engineering degree), but unfortunately, the majority of students are simply trying to stay afloat. After four years of studying, hard work, and big dreams, nothing is more discouraging than asking yourself, “Should I have even gone to college?”
While I believe education is critical in shaping who you are, expanding your mind, and determining who you will ultimately become, I can’t believe how scary it is and how high the bar for higher education success keeps being set— making it nearly impossible for college graduates to get ahead. It’s crazy. We all want to get ahead, but taking an increasingly difficult route to getting there is just putting a lot of us behind.
Since undergrad degrees are the mediocre norm right now, more and more grads are applying to business school, law school, medical school, and other graduate programs in hopes of getting their masters and Ph.D.s. While this seems like the next step in ensuring yourself a bright future, it is often backfiring. Nothing like a cold, hard slap in your face by the future of academia!
Unfortunately, when those students get out of graduate school, they often have more debt than they can handle (they could even have debt from undergrad to top it all off) or they can’t find jobs, even with the extra degrees. Recently, The New York Times wrote about the plight of law students not being able to put their law degrees to use. Instead, they were working double shifts at Applebee’s—never mind their J.D. from a top law school. With more students looking for a way to dig themselves out of dark post-undergrad holes, options like graduate school may be appealing, but few are considering what might happen if that high-paying law firm doesn’t offer you a job.
Ultimately, with these kinds of situations as the new post-grad norm, it’s hard to be positive, especially when it often seems like your $45,000 per year degree is getting the last laugh… and continuously slapping you in the face. But here’s to hoping that something will give, even if we’re not sure what.
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