College: What are you paying for?

By General Education Advice

Journalists do not work with teens and young adults.  As such, their articles about the value of college come from a theoretical perspective and almost always are off the mark.  On the subject of the amount of money that parents pay for college, there is no doubt that college costs have become out of control.  But the journalists who undercut the value of the traditional college experience, the prestige of the college, and the effect on careers are often so ill-conceived and from a place of bias that I feel the need to save my fellow Connecticut parents from their nonsense.

I am a practitioner in the field of helping young adults make their way in the world.  I’ve worked with several thousand students and parents over the years.  I also am very steeped in both history, psychology, and cross-cultural perspectives.  I can safely report that for many young adults the traditional US college experience is the best societal transition to adulthood in the history of the world.  This is not hyperbole.  Those who have studied history know that the bulk of most societies became adult through (1) entering the military (2) getting married at a very young age and/or (3) joining the work force full time.  Only in the last hundred years has the college experience existed and, as most observers know, the US experience has been relatively unique in its awesomeness. That’s one of the reasons why the wealthy from around the world come to the US for college more than any other country.

In relation to the aforementioned areas – the experience, the prestige, and the effect on careers – I can report from what I have observed the following:

(1) The experience of going away to an oasis-like environment like a college campus, surrounded by students of various backgrounds, learning to live on one’s own but in a safe haven, exposure to various non-classroom educational and enriching experiences, and, of course, the actual classes is better for most 18 -22 year olds than any other experience

(2) The prestige of the college – and/or just going to college – matters enormously to the self-esteem of most 18-22 year olds. I’m not suggesting that this is how it ought to be.  I’m simply reporting what I have seen.  In relation to prestige, I can say with certainty that I have become far less attached over the years and, simultaneously, far more honest.  Most all of those parents who say they don’t care about the name of the school are not being honest.

(3) Given our career counseling entity,  I have become immersed in helping young adults transition to careers.  For all the blather about the ability to learn the skills needed for a job outside of college, I can say with certainty that most (nearly all) of those who we provide career counseling to who are really struggling did not graduate college.  Moreover – and again not my preference, just the way it is, there is a distinct advantage to going to name brand colleges when in the job market.  Those who tell you otherwise are not career counseling practitioners.

A long way of saying… while I know college is overpriced, there are many reasons why it is still the best option for most young adults.