Benefits of Earning a College Degree

by Becton Loveless

Earning a college degree is such an important step in life that it has become a central part of the "American Dream". Go to college, get a job, buy a house, raise a family. It may not always be that simple, but it all starts with your college education.

Earning a college degree is all about opening up opportunities in life. It prepares you, both intellectually and socially, for your career and your adult life. The benefits of a college education include career opportunities like better paying and higher skilled jobs, but studies have shown that it also leads to overall happiness and stability.

Many people know that they want to attend college, but don't know exactly why, or how it will enrich their lives. Below are some of the many benefits of earning a college degree.

1. Make More Money

For most people, the ability to earn more money is the driving force behind going to college. A post-secondary degree, whether it is a bachelor's, master's or PhD, is the most common route to careers that demand higher skills and offer higher pay.

Studies show that college graduates earn significantly more money throughout their lifetime than those with only high school education.

According to a national report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (sheeo.org), high school graduates earn an average of almost $30,000 per year. Bachelor's graduates earn an average of just over $50,000 a year. And those with a higher level degree (master's, doctorate or professional) average nearly $70,000 per year. This translates to a significant earnings gap over the course of one's life.

Earnings potential varies depending on what field you work in. For example, a master's degree in education or nursing won't lead to nearly as much wealth as a master's degree in engineering or business. But education and nursing are far and away the most in-demand professions out there. If you enter one of these fields, you're likely to find a good job somewhere – even if it doesn't pay as well a job in engineering or business.

There is still an income disparity in gender and race. White males tend to make more money than their non-white-male counterparts. But relative to all gender and racial demographics, earnings potential still increases dramatically with a college degree.

2. Benefits for You and Your Family

Obviously, higher income is a primary benefit of earning your college degree. But most jobs that require a bachelor's, master's, doctoral or professional degree tend to also provide more benefits. This can include health care, retirement investment, travel and other perks. These types of benefits are rarely offered for high-school-level jobs.

Part of the reason employment benefits are so important is because they offer stability for your family, especially in the case of health care. They are called benefits, but in reality, they are a vital part of anyone's salary. In some cases, the value of benefits even exceeds an employee's take-home pay.

The benefits of a college education also extend beyond generations. Families of college graduates are generally better off economically and socially. But it is also more likely that the next generation of children will attend college. So you can look at it as an investment in the future of your family.

3. Better Career Opportunities

Earning a college degree is the most common pathway to a better career. Entering college, not everyone knows what they want to do when they grow up. But most know they want to have a better job-not only one that will pay more, but one in which they are more satisfied and secure. That combination of benefits is why so many people make the investment of time and money to go to college.

Often times it's not necessarily what you study, but the fact that you studied something at all. Aside from training you in an expert field, college trains you to think analytically, understand complex subjects and communicate your own critical ideas about them. It also instills crucial skills like organization, self-discipline and the ability to complete tasks from start to finish. In other words, college helps mold you into a more professional individual.

Because college gives you a broad range of skills, many college graduates end up in fields that are not what they studied in school. College can open up unexpected opportunities that aren't always there for those who haven't engaged in a higher level of education.

In today's economy, employment options are shrinking for people who only have a high school diploma. A large majority of high school graduates work in the service industry, in low paying jobs that don't offer many opportunities for advancement. College graduates, on the other hand, tend to have skills that qualify them for a broad range of employment in fields that offer more upward mobility.

4. Job Security and Satisfaction

Having a post-secondary degree typically leads to better job security. Let's face it: if you don't have a degree, you're probably not as valuable to your employer. When push comes to shove it will be much easier to replace you with someone else who only completed high school.

In fact, an educated staff is so important to some companies that they will even pay for employees' tuition. This is how valuable a college degree can be. It is seen as an investment that will bring substantial rewards, not only to the employee, but to the company as well.

Data shows that in an economic recession, college graduates are less vulnerable to layoffs. The people who suffer the most from job cuts are lower level employees who only have high school diplomas. There are no guarantees, but if you have a college degree you will be less likely to suffer long-term unemployment.

As a college graduate, it is also more likely that you will enjoy your job. All the factors listed above-higher income, employment benefits and advancement opportunities-lead to better job satisfaction. But a college degree also gives you more freedom to pursue a career that interests you, maybe even inspires you.

5. An Investment in Your Future

Attending college is a major commitment of time and money, but it is also a down payment on success. Earning your college degree will help you realize your goals in your career as well as life in general. It requires a lot of hard work, but that work prepares you for a challenging and rewarding career and a more fruitful life.

6. Networking

It’s quite easy to think of the benefits of a college degree in terms of future earnings and promotion opportunities. However, what’s spoken of less frequently is the role that networking can play in these opportunities. People often get jobs based on recommendations made my friends, while in other cases, having a professional network can help people learn about upcoming job opportunities before others do. The truth is that creating a professional network can mean the difference between finding a job or getting a promotion, and those networks start forming in college.

On your way to a degree, you can either passively sit through courses before leaving for the day or become active with your fellow students. Colleges are filled with volunteer organizations and professional societies where you can meet others who are in your field. Through these contacts, you may learn about opportunities while you’re still in school. This might include internship opportunities and other chances to get real world experience that will look good on your resume.

These same contacts may be able to link you to resources that will help you better understand your field. By connecting with these people, you can more quickly learn about your field while you’re in school. They may provide access to resources that include books or even professionals that you can talk to who can help you learn more about the industry you hope to enter.

Of course, the most helpful aspect of making these connections is likely the recommendations they will make to their employers on their behalf. It’s not uncommon in businesses for managers to first look internally for potential hires. Your professional contacts may be able to suggest you as a recommendation when businesses start hiring, giving you an advantage when it comes to being hired by a company in your field.

7. Personal Development

A college degree is helpful for many practical reasons, ranging from your increased competitiveness to the increased likeliness that you’ll be promoted within your job. However, people underestimate the degree of personal growth that they’ll experience as they’re working through their degree. A college education requires students to overcomes all types of adversity and prepares them not only for the workplace, but for dealing with many of life’s challenges.

Time management and organization, for example, are just two examples of the skills that you’re likely to pick up during your time in college. Both are needed to successfully navigate the many courses you’ll be taken while also successfully tackling the tasks before you. Test, quiz, and homework dates can all become confusing when you’re dealing with multiple classes. Good organization can help you manage all of your responsibilities, and it’s a skill that will be useful once you have your degree. Not only is it useful in the workplace, but it can help you manage your personal responsibilities at home. Even simple tasks like bill payments are made easier when you can properly track what is due and when.

Of course, on a larger level, the sort of personal development you’ll experience will largely be related to overcoming adversity. College requires that you overcome one challenge after another, ranging from financial responsibilities to passing tests or completing projects. You’ll need to be not only intelligent but disciplined in order to complete your schooling. These traits are often developed slowly throughout college. As you learn how to better respond to stress and adversity, you’ll slowly find that you’re better able to deal with adversity in a number of situations.

8. Higher Likeliness of High Quality Benefits

As the economy improves, companies find it harder and harder to attract top talent. The reason why is that, as the economy improves, businesses need to hire more. That puts highly qualified employees in high demand. In turn, these employees are more easily to say no to one company in favor of another.

This is especially true with a college degree, which prepares employees with a number of skills that make them more highly qualified. The more highly qualified, the more likeliness that they’ll be in high demand. To lure these kinds of employees, businesses will often try to lure them incentives other than just good pay. These incentives include benefits packages that include more vacation time and better healthcare options.

One of the best parts of getting your college degree is the access it gives you to high quality benefits and perks. Employers will often offer to cover more healthcare costs or offer more vacation time to lure highly qualified employees. In other cases, they may offer better retirement investment options that will make life after retirement easier. These kinds of packages take some of the responsibility for saving for a rainy day off of the shoulders of these employees.

Individuals with a college degree are more often economically well off not only because they’re paid better but because they have to worry less about sinking the majority of their money into healthcare or retirement funds. For many people, this paves the way for more easily preparing for a family and saving for a child’s college. Even for people who don’t plan to have families, the savings from better benefits packages makes it easier for them to save money for personal enjoyment, like traveling or investing into a hobby.

Some College Majors Promise Better Future Than Others

A degree in art might not lead to a career with a six figure salary but where would society be if everyone became an engineer. We need artists too, don't we? Does it really matter what college major you pursue? Well, a lot of people didn't think so until recently. Due to falling post-graduate employment numbers and rising cost of tuition, many people are beginning to rethink the value of certain majors and degree programs. Many researchers are now investigating which majors provide a descent return on investment and which don't. Not surprisingly, you could probably guess what researchers have discovered.

Without fail, students who major in STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math - find jobs quicker, earn more money, and experience more job stability than students who earn degrees in liberal arts and humanities fields. In a tight job market, or during a recession, recent graduates with degrees in social sciences, humanities or liberal arts can find it challenging to find gainful employment.

While the answer to the dilemma seems very straight forward to most - earn a degree in a field with high earning potential - some argue that the answer isn't so simple. A few educators at Oregon State University, suggest that forcing people into a major, such as computer science, simply because it yields a relatively high financial return on investment may create shortages in occupation that are just as important to the economic future of our country. These same educators also assert that it's not fair to compare STEM majors head to head with more non-technical majors because students interested in degrees in the social sciences, humanities or liberal arts might be looking for personal rewards that are not financial in nature.

The reality is, not all degrees are equal. But you may be surprised to find how valuable different degrees actually are. A recent report published by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI), a leading public policy program at Georgetown University, found majors yielding some of the lowest unemployment rates are chemistry, finance and nursing. While recent graduates of engineering, mathematics, and computer science programs demanded the highest starting salaries ($56,000+), unemployment rates in these job sectors were about average. It came as no surprise that anthropology, photography and film majors experienced some of the highest rates of unemployment just out of college, however, the report also showed that students who majored in architecture and information systems also experienced relatively high unemployment rates as well. Students who majored in fine arts has some of the lowest starting salaries of any group.

A study produced by the Employment Department for the state of Oregon corroborated the findings published by GPPI - job opportunities for nursing, engineering and computer science majors were substantially greater than those who majored in architecture, arts, and related fields.

Notwithstanding all the evidence, a tough job market, and the increasing cost of attending college, hoards of students are still enrolling in social science, humanities and liberal arts majors. In some state the number of students enrolled in social science, fine arts or humanities majors outnumbers students majoring in STEM fields 10 to 1.

Proponents of non-STEM majors argue that a good liberal arts education develops well-rounded students that can succeed in any number of jobs. Proponents of STEM majors point out that many students opt for liberal arts majors because they are not as difficult and require less work to get good grades. However, all agree that acquiring leadership, communication, analytical and problems solving skills in college is what's most important to future success - regardless of how it occurs.

Which ever educational path students choose to pursue, one thing is clear, they must be better prepared to face an increasingly competitive job market and turn their college education into a winning proposition.

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