Depending on who you believe, the average college graduate holds, on average, $35,000 of debt; and has spent over four years out of the workforce, where he or she would be otherwise gaining experience; all this for a piece of paper that by no means guarantees a job. The question that potential and current college students need to ask is; do the financial costs, opportunity costs, and other factors justify the cost of college? For some, the answer will be a definite yes, but for a surprising number of people, it will be no.
The potential student should be asking this question; does the financial cost justify going to college? The answer will depend on what they actually want to do as a career. For example; if you want to be a medical doctor, you have to go to college, but if you want to be a firefighter, then you wouldn't need, and or necessarily want, to attend college.
The following numbers are from my general reading on this subject. If you go into medicine as a profession, you will average about $170,000 of debt and earn, on average, about $150,000 - $200,000+. A law profession might give you a debt of $110,500, with income of $113,000; and engineering graduates have a debt of $52,500, and salaries of $92,000, on average. Obviously, all of these will require a college education, but it also makes financial sense because these incomes will pay off the debt in a relatively short period of time.
But what about individuals who want to go into art, business, music, humanities, languages, or other fields? The answer might be no. There are alternative options that can prove to be far more useful and financially wiser.
Business students who want to start their own businesses might be better off leaving the theory back in the classroom and diving in head-first into real-life experience. Most of what an entrepreneur needs to learn can be learned from reading books, taking advantage of free online educational resources, mentors, or joining college alternative programs. I personally believe that a strong mentoring relationship with someone in your chosen profession will be, by far, the greatest advantage you will ever get. For some reason Real Life seems to always be the best teacher.
The average cost of a specialized music school (one most likely to get students a job) can be $81,000, with the average salaries of their graduates being around $29,222. This should give potential students and parents pause when thinking of college choices. Oftentimes, there are cheaper or free alternatives to learning the same things you would learn if you went to college.
There are however, definitely benefits in going to college; the networking, the friends, and the "college experience," etc. Yet, is this really worth the large amount of debt one might have coming out of college? If college were free, I would certainly suggest that most students attend for a variety of reasons, but then again, I would also suggest that most people serve their country or community in some capacity, as well.
You should also consider that a high number of people find their place in the workforce not because of a college degree, but because they know someone who got them in the door. It goes back to the old expression, "It's not what you know, but who you know;" and like it or not, that does play a big role in the Business World.
I believe most employers are dying for employees with real-life experience. If you can prove that you can do the real-life work, they will often overlook the absent piece of paper. As you move past your first job, that degree will quickly become less and less important and your job experience will take over as the more important factor for any new employer. Also many, perhaps even most, people end up working in fields they don't major in anyway.
In conclusion: If you feel "the college experience" is worth the debt or you really need it for your dream job, then go for it. If, however, you want to skip the debt, get experience right away, and start your career life earlier, then rethink going to college. There are so many alternatives that are offered, thanks to the freedom of the Internet, our global economy, and career paths that are ever-changing.
In your father's or grandfather's time, a college degree was generally far more important to success than it is in today's world. Today's employers seem to value experience as much, or more, than college degrees alone.
I also believe that the most important factor of all for success in life will come from within. In other words, knowing the person in the mirror will determine your success more than anything else in life.