For many of us, it was drilled into our brains from birth that college was a necessary step to success. And for many people, it is. But not for everybody. There are several downsides to getting a college education that we all seem to gloss over because we’ve been convinced that it’s a necessity.
College is a great time and leads to great things for lots of people, but it can result in a net loss for others. Whether it’s worth it for you is a very tough decision for someone to make, especially if they are just 18. Too many jump into it without thinking. And that’s fine if you can go for free. But that’s usually not the case. For most, it is a major investment; the biggest in their life so far.
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t go to college. We’re just saying take the time to think about it. It’s important to look at it not just as the assumed next step, but as an investment. Like any investment, you should weigh the potential reward against the costs and risks. And whatever you do, try to keep your debt down!
Note: The statistics in this article refer to American colleges. If you live somewhere else, you’ll have to do your own research. Sorry!
10. Only 53 Percent of Students Graduate in 6 Years or Less
College is often described by cynical older people as the best 4 years of your life. While the idea of it being the best time of your life is often debated, people kind of just accept the 4 years part. That’s the story that’s told to us by society, by media, by the colleges themselves. In fact, bachelor’s degrees are often alternatively referred to as “4 year degrees.” However, if you look at how long it actually takes students to graduate, the term doesn’t really make much sense.
Unfortunately, barely half of all students graduate in 6 years. You read that right: not 4 years, but 6. The mythological 4 year college is a rare feat achieved only by a select few. And almost half of students either drop out or haven’t graduated after 6 years. By 2015, only 53% of all students who had enrolled in 2009 had graduated.
The numbers aren’t so bad if you’re a traditional student attending an accredited college. The data also includes nontraditional students and those attending private, for-profit schools. There’s a lot of bad things to be said about for-profit schools, but one of the big ones is that you are more likely to not finish on time. Only around a third of students at for-profit colleges graduate in 6 years. According to another report, women who enter school after the age of 20 take the longest to finish, with an average of 9 years. That’s longer than it takes the average PhD student to finish their degree. While going back to school is often regarded as an admirable move, it is a risky one.
9. Education Costs are Rising Faster Than Inflation
The cost of education continues to rise and rise. Well, you might say, prices for everything are rising. It sucks, but it’s just inflation. That would make sense, but the cost of education continues to rise even though general inflation has halted. And even worse, financial aid isn’t rising with it, so net prices are going up for all students, even those from low income families.
Over the past 20 years, college cost have dramatically outpaced inflation. According to the U.S . Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation increase from 1995 through 2015 was around 55 percent. So, how much higher do you think the increase for higher education was? 70 percent, 100? It can’t be much more than that, right? Wrong. The price of education at public, in-state universities (usually the cheapest options) rose by a colossal 296 percent! That’s over 5 times greater than the inflation increase.
Colleges have increased their prices by a more moderate rate in the last few years, but it doesn’t really matter. The net price has continued to increase because incomes and financial aid are increasing at a lower rate. Fortunately, students have been borrowing less recently, possibly because of an increase in grants. In the 2015-16 school year, students only borrowed $104 billion (haha, only), down from the peak of $124 billion in 2010-11. That’s a small 20 billion dollar step in the right direction, we guess.
8. Student Debt Has Reached a New High
American colleges set a record this year. It’s a record we’ve broken several times. Unfortunately, it’s not the record for best prepared students or most kick-ass parties (although we might win that as well). Once again, student debt in the US is higher than it has ever been before.
All told, the student debt is a frightening $1.31 trillion. Debt has increased consistently over the last 18 years, and outstanding loans have doubled since 2009. This is more of an increase than in any other form of household debt. Total, it’s now the second biggest form of household debt, ranking behind only mortgages. Decreases in borrowing in the last couple years has not been enough to slow down debt growth.
This debt is spread among 44 million borrowers, but that’s still a pretty hefty amount per person. The average graduate in 2016 had over $37,000 in debt. It’s sounds absurd that so many people start off their careers with negative money. But it’s a sad truth that most people who attend college will graduate with less money than when they started.
7. 40 Percent of Those with Student Loans Aren’t Paying
Needing to pay off all that debt really sucks. Having to scrape together the money each month to pay on time must be really stressful. There are plenty of lenders and financial institutions that will consolidate student loans to make them more manageable. With that being said, almost half of graduates aren’t actually paying, because they can’t. 40% of students can’t pay, representing over $200 billion in federal student loans. That’s not even taking into account students with private loans.
And if you don’t pay, it just gets way worse. If you default on a loan, the government can take money out of your wages, hold your tax refund, or even sue you.
We gotta assume the odds are against you when you go against an establishment that big. Imagine playing chess against the US Chess Federation. The government, whoever that means in this case, probably knows the court system way better than you.
So, let’s recap. The average loan amount is almost $40,000, debt is higher than ever, barely half of all students graduate in 6 years, and it just keeps getting more expensive each year. And guess what? There’s more.
6. The Cost of Textbooks is Also Rising Faster Than Tuition
Tuition isn’t the only cost associated with college. Housing, travel, and fees also get added on top. Way too many students are spending money they don’t have to study abroad while not taking classes. That’s optional, so while still upsetting, can be avoided. However, textbooks are an expense that cannot be avoided. At least, that’s what the schools and the textbook publishers want you to believe.
Textbooks make up a surprisingly large chunk of students expenses. Costs can vary wildly based on classes, but The College Board recommends students budget around $1,200 per year for books and supplies. And this is way more than they used to cost. Since 2006, the average textbook cost has risen by 73 percent. That’s 4 times faster than inflation.
It’s important to save money however you can, especially when the total cost is so large. And sometimes textbooks aren’t really necessary to do well in a class. We’re not saying don’t buy your books. But do some research; see if other students can tell you if you need the book. Or, just wait until the first day and ask the professor.
5. Higher Application Rates Makes Things Harder for Students and Colleges
Since applying to college has become easier, students have been applying to more and more colleges each year. Because of this, colleges end up having fewer students that are accepted attend. This makes it difficult for the colleges to plan their budgets, because they aren’t sure what enrollment will look like. It also makes getting accepted more competitive, and gives an advantage to wealthy students who can afford to apply to many more schools.
This is essentially a problem of economics. The demand for college is so high, but the supply of it (at any particular college) is limited. Every student wants to go to the best school they can. Because of this imbalance, colleges can charge exorbitantly high prices, and will still be able to meet their admissions quotas. This often leads to a difficult dilemma for decent but not excellent students. They often have to choose between paying to go somewhere “prestigious” or taking a scholarship to go to a less well respected school. One might argue that this pollutes our so-called meritocracy. As long as money is a factor in who gets to go to which school, a true meritocracy is impossible.
4. Students are Stressed, Socialize Less, and Rate Their Well Being at Record Low Levels
One of the criticisms often hurled at the youth is that they are lazy. That they don’t know what it was like back in the day, when the previous generation worked harder and had less fun than they could possibly imagine. In many cases this is true. Especially if applied to physical labor, which the younger generation definitely does less off. But when it comes to school work, the lazy moniker doesn’t really ring true. In fact, school has probably become harder over time, not easier.
As college has become more rigorous and the focus on admissions has increased, students have been increasingly focusing on studying and spending less time socializing and making friends. According to a survey, college freshman spent half as much time hanging out with friends than students from 1987, when the survey was first given.
Because of increasing pressure to succeed, students today feel more stressed than any time before. According to a survey, students emotional well-being is also at record low levels. College is shown in media as being a place of constant partying and sex and relaxing, but this is far from an accurate picture. Too many students aren’t having enough fun.
3. You Probably Can’t Go to Your First Choice, Even if You Get In
Here’s some seemingly bright news: most students get into their first choice school! In fact, over 75% of students get admitted to their top choice. Unfortunately, less than 60% of students can afford to actually attend. Let’s say you’re a high school student in Iowa and you get into your dream school, UC Berkeley. You’ll be excited, until you realize you can’t afford to go without taking out crazy amounts of debt. So you’re faced with a choice: take out a fortune to go where you want, or go to Iowa like all your other friends whose parents can’t pay for them to leave.
Not to dig on Iowa (we’re sure it’s a great place in many ways), but not everyone wants to stay there. But many students are forced to because of money. This is especially prevalent if the school you want to go to is out of state. While the average tuition and fees of an in-state college is under $10,000, out-of-state is around $25,000 – two and a half times greater because of where you live. Does that sound fair to you? One might counter that it has to do with state taxes, but that has nothing to do with a high school student. Their parents pay taxes; they don’t. Why should they be so limited because of where their parents choose to live?
2. You Won’t Necessarily Learn Much
Apart from the economic benefits, college is supposed to teach you critical thinking skills. As many annoying liberal arts college recruiters say, they help teach you “how to think.” However, for many students, they don’t accomplish even that one Orwellian sounding goal.
School is supposed to be a place of higher learning. And sure, all students will learn some new facts that they didn’t know before. But in a study, a full 45 percent of students showed no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning, and writing skills during the first two years of school. After 4 years, 36 percent still showed no improvement. That’s a terrible outcome. Imagine if you signed up for a martial arts school and 4 years later you weren’t any better at fighting. You’d be pretty mad, wouldn’t you? Because the school told you they were going to give you a specific result, which you paid a lot of money for. To some, that might be cause to call the whole thing a scam. Not to us, but to some.
1. There Are Several Alternatives
First off, college is the right choice for a lot of people. But if you’re going to go, do a ton of research on cost, reputation, teaching, and career outcomes. Unless you get a scholarship, your in-state university will probably be the best value. For some, going to school overseas might actually be cheaper. You have to figure out what’s gonna work best for you, and that might not be going at all.
But, if you’re not going to go to college, what are you supposed to do? Just stay at home and play Mario Kart? As fun as that sounds, you probably don’t want to do that for the rest of your life. And even if you do, your parents probably won’t be thrilled about it. Luckily, there are several legitimate alternatives out there.
You can start off at community college, which is generally much cheaper and will get you through your first two years of prereqs. If you prefer working with your hands, you can try to get an apprenticeship of some kind. You can learn a trade like plumbing or welding. You could enlist in the military. Or, if you feel you’re up to it, you could even start your own business.
And if none of those fancy options appeal to you, you could just, you know, get a job. Like people used to.