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The Reality of College

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The Reality of College

Victoria Gruen, Journalist

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College. Everyone thinks about going. Most of us have been working towards that for a long time. Some of us are almost there.

Of course! What else would we do? Our entire lives, we’ve been told to work towards that goal. Improvement is a part of the foundation of the ideals of America, and we’re all expected to do better than our parents. That’s the American Dream. Naturally, if we go to college, we can get closer to that dream, we can get an education, and become someone.

That was true for the last century or so. But what about now?

If you are going to college to become a physician, engineer, or a job like that, the answer is obviously yes – you should go to college, and it’s totally worth it. But what about the average student, going to college for a Bachelor’s degree? Is it worth the cost?

Meet Aaron, who graduated from Penn State in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in letters, arts, and sciences, which is supposed to provide a broad education that introduces methods of analysis used in the liberal arts disciplines. He worked 20 hours a week and paid for every single cent of college. As soon as he graduated, he worked on paying off his debt as soon as possible. He did, and within 10 years was debt free. He said, “I did have a huge sense of accomplishment when I graduated… but in my situation, college didn’t really do anything for me. I don’t remember much of what I was taught and like most college graduates, I’m not doing anything even remotely close to the field I graduated it.”

Aaron’s story isn’t unique. Thousands of students everywhere are struggling with debt and finding a job.

Money, as always, plays a huge factor. CNBC states that “Students at public four-year institutions paid an average of $3,190 in tuition for the 1987-1988 school year, with prices adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars. Thirty years later, that average has risen to $9,970 for the 2017-2018 school year. That’s a 213 percent increase.”

However, money isn’t the only concern.

Once you’re out of college, over “40 percent of college graduates take positions out of school that don’t require a degree… and more than 1 in 5 college grads still aren’t working a degree-demanding job a decade after leaving school,” says CNBC.

As a result of those factors, student loan debt is increasing, and will continue to increase. Students who have such immense debt are less likely to buy a car, buy a house, get married, and have kids.

And what do these college educations accomplish? Not much, it seems. A study done in 2003 by the Department of Education states, “When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation’s college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills.”

At Harvard, “students who receive honor grades in college-level physics courses are frequently unable to solve basic problems and questions encountered in a form slightly different from that on which they have been formally instructed and tested.”

The average GPAs of the students are not reflecting this failure. Instead, they’re getting higher. In 1983, the average grade overall was about 2.8. Now, it is 3.1, and even higher at private schools.

These colleges are barely teaching, yet they increase their fees. However, there are some alternatives.

When you apply for a job and you present your resume to the employer, yet you don’t have a degree, you have to show them that you are still capable of the job. Polls are increasingly showing that employers care less about your education and more about your experience. The Atlantic states that a recent study showed that “college reputation, GPA, and courses finished at the bottom of the list. At the top, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, were experiences outside of academics: internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurriculars.”

If you go to college and enroll now, in three years you are going to still be in the classroom. However, if you go do a specific job that is not taught in college – for instance, an electrician – in those three years, you will have that amount of time and experience under your belt.

Aaron had some thoughts when asked what he would do if he was able to relive his college years. “If I could go back and redo things, I would have chosen to attend a two-year technical school or wait until I was sure of my career choice before starting college rather than spending thousands on useless classes and ultimately a useless degree just because that’s what I was told I should do.”

While going to college is the goal of many people, it might not be as worth it, because it is very expensive, it doesn’t provide a good education, and it does not guarantee you a good job.



Jones, Aaron. “Is College Worth The Expense? My Husband’s Story…” And Then We Saved, 2013,

Martin, Emmie. “Here’s How Much More Expensive It Is for You to Go to College than It Was for Your Parents.” CNBC, 29 Nov. 2017,

Nova, Annie. “Why Your First Job out of College Really, Really Matters.” CNBC, 26 June 2018,

Dillon, Sam. “Literacy Falls for Graduates From College, Testing Finds.” New York Times, 16 Dec. 2005,

Caplan, Bryan. “The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone.” The Atlantic, 1 Jan. 2018

Rojstaczer, Stuart. “Grade Inflation at American Colleges and Universities.” Grade Inflation, 28 Jan. 2003,

Thompson, Derek. “The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates.” The Atlantic, 19 Aug. 2014,

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2 Responses to “The Reality of College”

  1. Anonymous on March 18th, 2019 5:31 pm

    You mentioned engineer and physician as two that need degrees but to elaborate:

    The entirety of the STEM field which can take hours to list.
    Financial Planner
    Hair dresser (It’s illegal to cut hair for money without a license, which you get at college)
    Animation 50/50 but for big places like Disney you need a degree
    Journalists can get by without a degree in small gigs but bigger news sites will demand one
    Military, if you want to be an officer

    The list goes on. Now for degrees in the English and artistic field you need a degree to teach it and if your doing historical analysis, etc, but you can get by without a degree if you want to be an author. But let’s remember the Pareto distribution which states that the Square root of the total amount of workers does 50% of the total amount of work. This means that only 100/10,000 authors will be successful. That doesn’t mean that you won’t or can’t be successful but the odds are certainly not in your favor. And for Business you don’t need a degree to start a business, but finding a college that will teach you the specifics in accounting and incorporating is very useful. So I’d personally suggest finding a place based 100% on the quality of education and you can do well in business to the point where you could pay off your student loans, and if your immediate business isn’t doing well you can get a job in accounting with a bachelors until you get your feet on the ground. The big issue is with the large schools that have outrageously high requirements to get in but don’t give you a good education. This is especially true with undergrad. And another problem is finding majors that are remotely useful. I don’t think it’s fair for Aaron to blame the school for his problems, because Letters, Arts, And Science is too broad and kinda useless.

    Those are just some of my thoughts.

  2. Rebecca A. on March 20th, 2019 1:01 pm

    This was a superb read, Victoria! It really motivates you to consider why and how you are going to attend college; dig deep into your reasoning and logic before making such a big decision.

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