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Get a Degree or Get A Life? What Should Follow High School?

By Kira Goldring
 Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash
*Updated 2024
Extolling the virtues of a college education has been a timeless trope across generations. However, it can be tempting to start working towards your future straight out of high school, instead. Why not forego student loans, whose collective debt in the US is currently estimated at more than $1.75 trillion, for the chance to create your own education outside the classroom, taking trips abroad to experience the world, or just gaining financial security?
Here are three reasons why you should invest time in a college education, and three reasons to invest in other experiences instead.




Force yourself to learn – it’s worth it

As much as we like to think otherwise, there is rarely an extended period in your life where you can immerse yourself completely in learning subjects mostly of your own choosing. As colleges have rules in place that essentially force you to learn the majority of your time, studying for a degree or learning a trade is probably the one time you’ll be put in a framework in which you can completely master a field or skill. A study done on achieving mastery shows that those who commit to learning something long-term are 400% more successful at mastering a skill than those who are only committed to learning short-term.



While many argue that a college degree may no longer be enough or even the only way to get you in the door of an office, the opportunities you take advantage of on a college campus could make or break a company’s decision to hire you. From writing for the school paper to interning in a biotech laboratory or volunteering to do admin work of a cherished organization, the world of potential job experience is open on college campuses in a way it may not be once you graduate. Not only that, but you can also meet professionals and mentors who are important in and to your field of choice. Networking with influential professors or industry leaders as an enthusiastic student can lead to advantages later on when it comes time to secure a job. The industry-related activities and connections available to you in college are rare and can strengthen your skill set and open opportunities in a way that will make you stand out in the eyes of a future employer.


Capitalize on privilege

In America, college graduates earn around $22,000 more annually compared to those with only a high school degree. If you have the chance to get a degree, take it; it can help you advance in life.  Perhaps education should be a basic right, but unfortunately, the dire lack of schooling for people around the globe paints a very different picture.  For millions, primary education isn’t even an option, let alone higher education. In fact, around 60 million children across the world are prevented from going to elementary school each day, which cancels their possibility of attending college. There are many people worldwide who die never having turned the page of a book. So, if you are one of the fortunate people that can afford a college education, there are millions of people who would tell you not to take the opportunity for granted.



Start working

One need only look at the world’s current industry idols to see why jumping into the workforce right out of high school may be a good idea. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg – now household names – dropped out of college to gain work experience, which ultimately started their (extremely successful) careers. Work experience gives you a leg up on future employability and helps you to shape your own career goals. While you may not know exactly which field you’d like to pursue, the soft skills you’ll gain in any job will be crucial to moving you forward in life. Additionally, gaining financial security will help broaden your options in the future, whether you decide to invest, buy a house, start a business or go to school.


Volunteer abroad

The period after high school presents the rare opportunity to go abroad for an extended period of time, because you are free from most commitments and obligations. While traveling alone may be too expensive to do for long, volunteering abroad can be a great way to learn new skills, meet people from other cultures, and simultaneously save on expenses. Help combat substance abuse in Ecuador or learn how to lead health campaigns in Nigeria’s underprivileged communities through the Peace Corps. Teach English in Japan, or volunteer to fight human trafficking in Cambodia. Volunteering abroad can help you discover your purpose and passions, which may unexpectedly shape your future career path.


Study on your own

Where college has required courses that can be the bane of a person’s existence, studying on your own can provide a custom-made education that’s tailored to your interests. Experiential education encourages people to interact with the outside world, and bridges intellectual curiosity with finding creative solutions to real-life problems. There are also a myriad of online courses, from learning a new language through Duolingo to taking a Masterclass in Screenplay Writing or almost any other subject that professionals and industry leaders can easily teach via Zoom. And ever since the pandemic, many of the world’s museums offer virtual online tours. Learning things that interest you is enriching and may help you decide the next step in your life path.


The Bottom Line: A college education provides a structured mode of immersive learning, but experiences like working, volunteering and independent study have their own valuable lessons to teach. What does your mind tell you? What does your heart say? Have you spent more time on education or experiences?

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