The Hidden Outcomes of College Degrees

Bachelor of arts degree in communication studies

Going to college is a big decision. Once a luxury locked mostly to those with wealth and status, higher education has over the years become far more accessible in many parts of the world. Last year (2016) over 20 million people attended colleges in the U.S., and that number is only increasing both in the U.S. and around the world.

But even while so many people are going to college these days, the question remains, should they? After all, a large portion of the workforce include jobs that don’t require a bachelors degree or masters degree. Many careers, especially those involving a trade, don’t even require a high school diploma. And these jobs are incredibly valuable and always needed. Only about one third of the labor force in the U.S. (35%) feature jobs that require a bachelors degree, while another third (about 30%) hires workers with only some college attendance or an associate’s degree.

That being said, there are some significant differences between the types of jobs college graduates can attain. There is a broader range of positions available for those with bachelors degrees, many of which pay higher on average than jobs that don’t require higher education. A 2012 report by Pew Research states that the median annual income of a worker with a bachelors degree was $45,500, while that of a worker without one was between $28,000 and $30,000. Of course these numbers vary by individual circumstance, but the trend shows that investing in higher education can indeed pay off in the long run.

So a big part of the decision to attend college is a financial one. Tuition costs, room and board, books, and supplies can certainly be expensive each semester, even after scholarships and subsidies, but the potential lifetime earnings that result from a good education often outweigh this initial investment. Beyond money, the other thing to consider is the type of career one wishes to have, and the steps involved in reaching this goal. With so many college courses and degrees out there, how does one even begin to decide? And are some of these degrees actually useful and lucrative?

To perhaps shed some light on these questions, let’s take a human development degree as an example of one of the many degrees one can earn through college. The title of this degree sounds broad, and many might wonder what kind of knowledge is even required to attain a human development degree, or what one can do with it. One might be surprised to discover that the list of potential careers stemming from this degree include social work, medicine, education, counseling, and business.

A human development degree, like many other degrees, gives its recipients a large and useful toolset for various fields and careers. These tools include interpersonal skills and an understanding of how to lead and work within a group. In this way a degree can make someone more valuable in the job market, even if a particular job doesn’t follow precisely from the major itself. In other words, many college degrees, especially those involving human interaction and relevant skills, are more versatile than they might at first seem. One person with a human development degree might go into social work, which is more directly related to the major, while another might start a business and use the knowledge gained from this degree to become more successful. There is no barrier to what one will do after getting a specific degree.

It’s true that the decision to go to school for higher education shouldn’t be taken lightly. Things like time and money need to be taken into consideration before taking this leap. However, it’s also important to know that going to college can be a great investment. Those with college degrees earn more on average, largely because of their wide breadth of knowledge and skills that can be used in several environments and career paths. No matter the degree, the things learned by attending college can be invaluable and incredibly versatile in sometimes surprising ways. Beyond a career, this knowledge can be important for personal growth, relationships, and further education on one’s own. It’s no wonder so many people of all ages and backgrounds are deciding to get a higher education today.