Sure, it’s true that college graduates make, on average, significantly more money across their lifetimes compared to those who do not graduate college. But as someone who is dedicated to helping college students succeed and prepare themselves for their futures, I see this as just the tip of the iceberg. I recently finished up writing a book all about the point of the psychology major (titled, tentatively, The APA Guide to Student Success). This book will hopefully be in print before 2019. Working on this book got me thinking not only about the benefits of a good psychology major, but also about the benefits of a solid college education in general. There are many.
Below is a list of 14 outcomes associated with a college education that are life-altering, and that, in combination, might encourage a student who is on the fence about college to put in the time and effort to get that degree. For the reasons spelled out below, it’ll most likely be worth it.
1. More money! Yes, college graduates make, on average, thousands of dollars more a year than do non-college graduates. And this difference leads to differences in hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lifetime.*
2. Become expert on a topic. In college, you pick a major area of study and take a bunch of classes (usually between 10 to 15) all on that particular topic. When you step back and think about it, this is a really great way to make someone an expert in some area. Whatever your major is, and no matter your GPA, successfully completing a college major automatically ensures that you have something to bring to the table.
3. Obtain a general education. Colleges usually make sure that you take a good number of classes (usually about 10) that deal with a broad array of themes, including such things as the history of western civilization, the natural sciences, and the arts. As such, these days, we can rest assured that nearly any college graduate has a decent sense of scholarly ideas on a broad array of topics.
4. Learn specific sets of skills. In your major, you will not just learn content, but you will also learn skills related to knowledge-acquisition in that particular field of study. If you study psychology, you will not only learn about psychological ideas, but you will also learn how to conduct statistical analyses and how to design research in the behavioral sciences, for instance. In every field in college, you will learn a variety of transferable skills that can be used across your lifetime.
5. Group work. At some point in college, you’ll have a group project. This may be done in the context of a class or as part of serving in a club or in some other capacity. I have news for you: In the real world, there is a ton of group work. In fact, one of the secrets to the success of humans compared with other forms of hominids that have existed across evolutionary history is the fact that Homo sapiens developed the ability to work in collaboration with large groups of others (see Wilson, 2007). Love it or hate it, group work is in your future. College will prepare you for this fact.
6. Time management. Not everyone is an expert at time management at 18 years of age. College is an amazing place to learn time-management skills. You might have a paper due on Tuesday and two exams that each require 10 hours of preparation on Wednesday. And let’s throw in a quiz on Friday. Effectively preparing for all of these assignments and assessments is up to you. Without question, one of the major skills associated with a college education pertains to time management. And I promise you this: being better than average at time management will have enormous benefits for you throughout life.
7. Project completion. In college, you will have all kinds of projects that you will be working on. You might be writing a research paper in your sociology class while you’re working on a sculpture for your studio art class. And the club you are working with might be organizing a large end-of-year event including an invited speaker. And all the while, you might have a thesis that you need to constantly be working on. You’ve got stuff to do! In my experience, I’d say that the ability to effectively complete projects is priceless. And the ability to balance multiple projects at a time is icing on the cake. College is a great place to develop these skills.
8. Rules and consequences. In a typical undergraduate academic career, a student will take about 40 different classes across four years. For each class, there will be a syllabus full of rules, rules that are specific to that class, in fact. And there is usually a student handbook full of all kinds of other rules. In college, students learn to quickly learn the rules and to follow them, as there are always consequences for failing to follow the rules. For these reasons, we can think of all college graduates as people who have had a strong first-hand education in learning about how to play the game and follow the rules.
9. Make lifelong friends. There are all kinds of social benefits to college as well. At 47, I am still close friends with several of the guys I went to college with (Go UCONN!), and we are actually planning a reunion (with our families included) for some time in the coming weeks. College is an intense experience, and in a sense, everyone who is there is in the same boat. And making friends is usually part of the deal.
10. Diverse ideas. In a good college experience, you will be exposed to all kinds of ideas, and you will often run into situations in which ideas don’t line up with one another. And you will run into situations in which one really-smart-seeming professor fully disagrees with the ideas of some other really-smart-seeming professor. Good. This should be part of the deal! Learning how to work with a variety of ideas is a major goal of any college education, and I promise that you will find ideological diversity to be a major part of the world after you graduate.
11. Diverse people. People are great—we come in all shapes and sizes! People vary in terms of gender, socioeconomic background, religious background, cultural background, and more. We differ from one another in terms of what kind of music we like, how we like to spend a Saturday afternoon, and what kind of food we eat. And this is a beautiful thing. In your classes, in the dorms, and all across campus, you will experience diversity in all its beauty. And this fact will help you see that the little bubble that you come from is but one of many such bubbles that exist around the world. And this lesson will help you work with all kinds of people across your lifetime.
12. Become a writer. Your college experience will come with a lot of writing. Students should embrace this fact. No matter how smart you are at 18 years old, I guarantee that you have work to do on your writing—that’s just how it is. Writing assignments in college are designed to get students to advance as writers, developing skills associated with presenting information in an engaging and cogent manner for all kinds of audiences. And strong writers are, simply, invaluable.
13. Public speaking. Your collegiate experience will most likely include some public speaking opportunities. Embrace these opportunities! When you grow up, you’ll need this skill! No matter what your job ends up being, you’ll need to communicate ideas to other people. You’ll need to speak to others. You’ll be giving reports on your work. You might find yourself trying to convince some client to buy your product. You might find yourself trying to convince the school board to hire another art teacher. You might find yourself presenting your research at a conference. The education that you will receive in public speaking is absolutely critical for your future.
14. Giving back to the community. Throughout one’s college career, there are many opportunities to give back to the community. You might be part of an honors program that includes a community-service element. You might have a class that includes an assignment related to community service. You might be in a student club or sorority that includes community service in its mission. College is full of opportunities to volunteer time and give back to the community. And let me say that from my perspective as a grownup in today’s world, I can confidently say that we need people with this mentality and with these skills now more than ever!
As I write in my upcoming book, geared toward college students: What you might not realize is that people in my generation are depending on people in your generation to help get this world back on track. This is partly why we care so much about you understanding the value of community.
Sure, college isn’t for everyone. And yes, there are many, many examples of very bright and successful people who did not go the college route. I don’t deny this. And I don’t think that a college education guarantees success. This said, for the reasons demarcated herein, I think it is fair to say that a good college education comes with all kinds of lifelong benefits.
If you’re a high school kid who is looking at various options for your future, I say give the college route your fullest consideration. And if you’ve completed some college but have never officially obtained your degree, I say go ahead and register for those final classes and seal the deal. The college experience develops a young adult in a holistic manner in ways that positively affect one’s entire future moving forward. And yes, you’ll most likely make more money to boot!
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Weekly earnings by educational attainment in first quarter 2016 on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/weekly-earnings-by-educational-attainment-in-first-quarter-2016.htm (visited January 10, 2018).
Geher, G., (in contract). The APA Guide to Student Success: What is the Point of the Psychology Major? Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Wilson, D. S. (2007). Evolution for everyone. New York: Delacorte Press.