Is College Worth It In 2023? An Honest Option
Higher education is being put through the wringer in the toughest evaluation it has had in decades. Students, parents, teachers as well as journalists, economists, scientists, politicians – everyone is questioning the value of college and it all boils down to one question:
Should I Go To College?
Obviously, for us at Admissionado the answer is a no-brainer. Yes. Yes all the way. And we could tell you how most high-paid jobs still require a college degree, or how the value of a college degree will only continue to increase as the professional economy evolves, or how there are consistent studies that show college graduates are paid higher and have more employment opportunities.
But you knew we would say that. So instead of telling you what we would say, I’m going to talk about… me.
My name is Tiffany, and I am a college graduate.
Quick rundown: I’m a first-generation Asian-American, which means I was good at math and played the piano. A joke… but true. I had perfect grades, high test scores, and a long list of unique extracurriculars, all of which earned me admission Early Decision to Brown University.
My parents had encouraged me to apply to University of Illinois – “a good school and it’s practically free!” – but I knew it wasn’t for me. I never felt like I fit in at my big public high school. On the outside, I was everything I needed to be. I was top of my class, captain of the cheerleading team, and board member of clubs from A to Z. Inside, I was uninterested and indifferent. For me, high school was easy. And that was the problem. It was too easy. I wasn’t being challenged. I participated, I discussed, I learned… but did I grow? Probably not as much as I could have.
When I got to Brown, I knew I made the right decision. As expected, the professors and classes were stimulating and thought-provoking. I was forced to solve problems that had no real solution, have opinions, and defend those opinions no matter how unpopular, and asked to question my own ethical value system.
But for me, college was about the people. I remember sitting in my first seminar, thinking that everyone was so much smarter than I was. I was impressed, intimidated, and curious. I wanted to see how I would stack up with everyone else, who I would be. And it was exciting. Challenging. Most of all, inspiring. We questioned each other, pushed each other. Being at Brown was the first time in my life that I felt really excited about… my own potential. People had been telling me my whole life about my “potential,” but college was the first time I really tested it.
I graduated from Brown with two degrees – a bachelor’s in international relations and another in economics. After graduating, I pursued work in education for development, that is using education initiatives to drive social and economic development in “third world” countries. I’ve worked for several different education NGOs in four different countries, partnered with a few government ministries of education, and I even went so far as to get my master’s from the London School of Economics to enhance my expertise. So if anyone can rattle off statistics about the benefits of education on measures of employment, health, and happiness… it’s me.
But even now, knowing what I know about the hard stats, when I think about the value of my own college experience, it always comes back to the people. And that’s a metric I never found in any UNESCO or Public Agenda report. The people you meet in college – they become one of the most professionally and personally influential networks you’ll ever build.
Looking down the list of Fortune 500 companies, I can name someone working at practically everyone. My classmates have been featured in major publications as entrepreneurs with millions of dollars of venture capital, notable up-and-coming screenwriters, future Emmy-winning producers and financial whiz kids. These are the people with whom I learned how to think, how to write, and how to communicate. I proved myself with the best of the best (and to a lot of employers – that’s worth something). These people continue to be my inspiration, and I can’t imagine who I would be without them.
Why Do People Go To College?
Lots of these people work with me at Admissionado. And like me, they wouldn’t give up their college experience for anything. Here’s why they thought it was worth it and why they wanted to attend.
“When people ask me what it is that made me love Brown so much (and I LOVED Brown), I always say it’s the people I met. I came to Brown thinking I was so smart. I had graduated at the top of my class and gotten a very good score in the International Baccalaureate. I got a 7 (highest score) in higher-level math without even studying. Brown was a reality check. It was a bit of a shock after all these years of schooling and no effort to be struggling in math. But I think being put through a challenge like that is what really makes you grow. It was so good to be placed in this environment where I was surrounded by all these intelligent people. It pushes you in a way that you haven’t been pushed before.”
— Tanja Manners, Brown
“The most valuable lesson I learned from college was how to find a compromise. Most college students are driven, confident, and passionate, and consequently, they disagree often. Whether the argument’s about 17th century Guatemalan politics, where to eat at 1 AM, or a combination of the two, learning how to reach the middle ground is a skill that’s critical during and after college. After all, CEOs and clients tend to be driven, confident and passionate too.”
“Critical thinking, efficient writing, and a focused, curious mind are all valuable things to take away from college, but from those I’ve come away with this: a hesitation to take things at face-value. On an academic level this means questioning data interpretations, challenging philosophical arguments, and even debating with professors; on a practical, and simple, level it means asking, “why?” I’ve found that success in life, professional and personal, is influenced largely by interpersonal relationships, and so being able to question and understand why someone else is doing what they’re doing is invaluable.”
“The most valuable thing I gained from the college experience was a new understanding of how my ideas connect to the world around me. Before college, I could recite tons of facts, but with little conception of how those facts related to other people and to the real world. The college experience allowed me to see how ideas can translate into action, with professors, students, and organizations pushing me to apply textbook knowledge to both local and global problems. It is through this lens that I now try to approach everything I learn, always conscious of how this fact, this idea, this perspective relates to the issues I see.”
“The most valuable “thing” I learned in college was empathy – I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. At a liberal arts school like Amherst, as well as several American universities, there are no pre-professional majors. Schools like Amherst have some pretty funky classes that may seem not to further our chances in the job market. For example, I took a class on Sexuality in Buddhist history. Why do I need to know about that? Well, I don’t…BUT, during class discussions with incredibly talented peers, you learn that there is never just one side to the story; there are perspectives, biases, and contradictions within every argument. You have to think, “Why do I believe that, and what would make someone else believe the opposite.” In this way, college has changed the way I view the world and the way I interact with others, which will be invaluable for both jobs and general life pursuits.”
“Life sometimes feels like one big exercise in decision making. Four years of college force you to face a barrage of tough choices not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well. Because of my time at Brown I feel exponentially more confident in deciding how and when to take charge of different aspects of my life. But thanks to the spirit of inquiry that Brown instilled in me, I also approach situations knowing that not all problems are black and white, and thus not all solutions and decisions can be as well.”
“The most valuable “thing” I got out of college was the ability to understand and respect a perspective that is far removed from my own. Having attended a racially, socioeconomically, religiously, and culturally diverse university, I was exposed to a plethora of viewpoints that were all forced into a classroom to discuss literature, philosophy, music, art, science, and social issues. This environment has allowed me to develop into the critically thinking, liberal-minded young adult that I am today. I feel eager and confident in sharing my opinion in a respectful, yet direct, manner while still maintaining an open mind as others share their own. These skills will allow me to thrive in both my personal and professional relationships.”
“More than anything else, my undergraduate education was a gift to my brain and my soul. It allowed me to critically explore my existence from a variety of perspectives – intellectual, spiritual, philosophical – and granted me tools I use in every moment of my being. Any fiscally-centered response to the question of whether college is “worth it” is incomplete at best and misguided at worst. The skills developed by a college education are essential to fostering a more fulfilling, interesting, and complete life.”
So, is college worth it? For me, absolutely.
I credit my degree for giving me the skills and the network that has moved me ahead in my career, even as I changed course. I was better prepared to handle the uncertainty of a career transition and better equipped to pick up new skill sets. So yeah, I loved college. #YOLO
To say that college is an investment in your education is too narrow. You’re not just investing in education; you’re investing in your potential and your ambitions. You’re investing in skills that will last you a lifetime and an automatic perpetual membership to an amazing network of people. And it doesn’t have to by an ivy league school; whatever school is the best school for you will be more than worth the investment. It’s true that a college degree cannot guarantee success. But in today’s economically stunted, politically tumultuous, completely unpredictable world… nothing guarantees success. To give yourself the BEST chance you can to be successful, there is no better avenue than education. Period.
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