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College Success

8 Reasons Why Having a College Degree Is Important

11.07.2022 • 9 min read

Bob Patterson

Former Stanford Director of Admissions

Learn more about why a college degree is important by understanding the benefits and value of having one.

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In This Article

  1. What Does a College Education Provide?

  2. Why Is it Important To Have a College Degree?

  3. Frequently Asked Questions

In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 75% of Americans with bachelor’s degrees are happy with their lives. College graduates described their educational experience as having a truly positive impact on their personal and professional development, saying it:

  • Was essential for their intellectual development

  • Opened doors to exciting job opportunities

  • Provided them with indispensable skills and knowledge for their careers

In the world of work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that those with college degrees have lower unemployment rates and higher median earnings overall.

We’ll cover even more benefits of a college degree.

Graphic showing Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment in 2021

Source: https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm

What Does a College Education Provide?

College is about more than just gaining subject knowledge–it’s about finding direction. Consider how these US schools describe their mission:

  • Northeastern University “encourages its students to grow as innovative problem solvers and entrepreneurs.”

  • Sarah Lawrence College aims to graduate “world citizens who are diverse in every definition of the word, who take intellectual and creative risks, and who cross disciplinary boundaries, within a framework of humanistic values and concern for community.”

  • MIT seeks “to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.”

Through a combination of classes, internships, global opportunities, and connections, a college degree can provide you with real skills to navigate your career path and the world.

Why Is it Important To Have a College Degree?

1. You Can Discover Your Niche

Through classes, lectures, and connections with professors, you can find your academic passions. You’ll develop your knowledge of subjects that truly interest you. Your academic passions are highly valuable to society and can lead to growth in their respective sectors.

For example, computer science and artificial intelligence have real applications for national security. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, these fields can add 16% ($13 trillion) to global economic output by 2030.

2. You Can Increase Your Career Opportunities

Finding a job is one thing. Finding a job that allows you to support yourself financially, emotionally, and physically in the modern economy is another.

Of the 55 million job openings over the last decade, many of the fastest growing occupations require higher education, including:

  • Healthcare

  • STEM

  • Education

  • Community services

Many US companies still require degrees. An Employability Report released by Cengage Group shows 62% of employers believe a degree is necessary for prospective employees. This may change in the future, but for now, entry into the competitive job market often requires a degree.

A good job, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce, “meets the minimum earnings standard for economic self-sufficiency.” Finding a good job directly correlates with a college education: 80% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a good job compared with only 42% of those with only a high school diploma.

Graphic of the share of workers at each education level with a good job

Source: https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/pathway/#resources

3. You Can Develop Essential Skills

A 2020 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported the top requirements for employees:

A 2020 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported the top skills for employees

Source: https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/candidate-selection/key-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-students-resumes/

Whatever major you choose, going to college ensures you develop skills for life, careers, and our ever-changing world.

4. You Can Increase Your Earning Potential

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to find that education is the key to unlocking higher earnings. The trend is clear: doctoral and professional degree holders earn the most, and high school graduates earn the least.

Graphic showing 2021 earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment

Source: https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2022/data-on-display/education-pays.htm

If you’re looking for the highest paying degree options, read 20 Highest Paying Degrees: Get the Most out of College. For more detail about lifetime salary, check out The College Payoff.

5. You Can Experience a Positive Return on Your Investment

Speaking of finances, although degrees can be expensive, many college graduates find that the return on investment (ROI) of their bachelor’s degree is positive. In fact, 72% believe their degree has paid off—even those who have received federal aid, scholarships, or loans. There are many ways you can pay for your education and avoid debt later in life.

6. You Have Access to Networking Opportunities

It’s no secret that networking is an essential part of job success. Whether you’re looking for a better job or climbing the career ladder, building a supportive network around you is critical. A network not only helps you discover new jobs, but also connects you with people already working at organizations you’re interested in. It enables you to weed out the jobs that don’t provide the best benefits or opportunities and to tailor your resume or interview to the new job.

All colleges have incredible career resources and extensive alumni networks for you to take advantage of, like:

  • Career fairs

  • Internship listings

  • Resume workshops

  • Interview specialists

  • Alumni connections

There’s really nothing you can’t achieve if you use all the college resources available to you.

7. You Have Access to Diverse, Global Opportunities

Our world is becoming increasingly global. New technologies make it easier to communicate across continents, transfer information across borders, and discover new ideas. Colleges actively look to make their campuses more diverse, simply because the interaction between college students with different views and opinions shapes the world.

With exciting study abroad options, hundreds of diverse student communities, and ever-expanding curricula, a college degree gives you opportunities to engage in the global community. This sets you up for success after graduation.

8. You Feel a Sense of Accomplishment

If nothing else, dedicating four years of your life to one community, lifestyle, and location can bring you a huge sense of accomplishment. You will have faced challenges, failed a few times, succeeded a few more, made some amazing connections, stepped out of your comfort zone, and discovered who you are and what you want. Yet whether you’ve learned a new language, built a computer, or discovered a cure for a disease, your confidence in your abilities should be sky-high after college. The world is your oyster: go get it!

Frequently Asked Questions

How does college help me get a better job?

It all comes down to life skills. Regardless of subject or major, college exposes you to an incredibly diverse community with opinions that vary substantially from your own–all with the purpose of learning and advancing your knowledge. Teamwork, leadership, communication, planning, time management, independence… all the skills you need for life and a career, you learn at college. Think of college as a mini working environment, but there’s a safety net to help you when you fail and encounter challenges, which, ultimately, helps you grow.

Is a college degree really right for me?

Despite all the benefits of a college degree and how many times you hear that it’s necessary, a college degree isn’t for everyone. Depending on your skills, finances, and passions, college might not be the right place for you. We are usually ‘Team College,’ but we do understand that it doesn’t apply to every student.

Maybe you want to get a job right out of high school or you can’t see yourself doing the traditional four-year degree–that’s okay! You can enjoy the benefits of starting your work life early. Later on, you could take professional courses, go to community college, or work toward an associate degree. Going back to school at 40 is completely possible, and you can succeed here too! Whatever you decide, it doesn’t have to be forever. You can always change your mind.

How do I apply to college?

Glad you asked! There’s a lot to consider. First, you want to research your options. There are almost 4,000 universities and colleges in the US alone! Once you’ve identified colleges that interest you, you can start thinking about the application. Applications are full of information, documents, and essays, but it’s all totally manageable! Our ultimate guide can help you get started: Applying for College 101: How To Do It & What You’ll Need. College can be a great investment and an exciting start to your future. Not only can you have a wonderful life experience full of friends, learning, and opportunities, but you can also find the career of your dreams, increase your potential salary, and achieve a level of success and happiness you might not otherwise. College may not be the only path, but it’s a popular path for good reason.

About the Author

Bob Patterson is a former Director of Admissions at Stanford University, UNC Chapel Hill, and UC Berkeley; Daisy Hill is the co-author of Uni in the USA…and beyond published by the Good Schools Guide 2019. Together, they have established MyGuidED, a new educational tool for students looking to apply to university (launching 2022).

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