Even though it was four years ago, I still remember the most stress-inducing question I saw on the undergraduate Common Application: “What will you study in graduate school?” It would not be until my second semester of college that I would pick a major, and the Common Application expected me to know in high school what I wanted to study in graduate school? Come on. I am still not sure what I will do after college, and I am a senior.
In high school and the beginning of college, I felt that choosing my major meant choosing a career for the rest of my life. People assume your major is your passion. After all, why would you spend thousands of dollars to study something you are not passionate about? Many students do love what they study, but for many others, that is just not the case.
For almost half of recent college graduates, their first job after college is not related to their major. Furthermore, nearly a third of workers never go into the field they studied. Many people change careers over the course of their lives, too. My father’s career, for example, was not bound to horticulture and business, the subjects he studied in college. He reinvented himself multiple times and has had careers in landscaping, construction, real estate and business management.
The notion that your major defines your future is unrealistic. But many people still go into the field they studied, so isn’t college supposed to prepare them for work after school? It is not even clear if universities do that. While about 60 percent of employers think recent graduates can succeed in entry-level positions, a study by Chegg found that only 39 percent of hiring managers felt that recent graduates “were completely or very prepared for a job in their field of study.” Many employers also say recent graduates lack necessary skills, like oral and written communication skills, work ethic and leadership skills.
Even though college graduates may not be prepared to join the workforce, there is another reason people continue to enroll in universities: colleges try to help their students become more well-rounded people. Just spending time at a university exposes students to ideas different than those they grew up with. Plus, students take general education courses that focus on diversity and a variety of disciplines. At the University of Massachusetts, all students must take courses in writing, math, the sciences and social and cultural diversity.
The personal growth people experience during college has value, but most people decide to go to college because of the promise that it will help them find a job. Most people would not invest tens of thousands of dollars in an education just to become a better person. People invest in college because of statistics like these: in 2015, college graduates earned 56 percent more money than high school graduates. College graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 also earn $17,500 more per year than high school graduates.
Whether they are prepared for working life or not, college graduates are statistically better off than if they had never gone to college at all. Plus, they might be more well-rounded than when they started as freshmen. If affordable, college is statistically worth it, something that my indecisive high school self would have been reassured to know.
Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]