How Much is Your College Degree Worth? Not as Much as You Think

When I was in high school, my parents always told me that the only way I was ever going to do anything in life is if I went to college. NOT going wasn’t even discussed. You had to go to college if you wanted a job. If you wanted to work at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart forever, then fine, you could skip out on college – but everyone knows (at least according to my parents back then) that working at Wal-Mart wasn’t really a job as much as it was a sentence to the worst life ever.

Well, I went to college, and I even did my parents one better and went to graduate school. Armed with both a BA and MFA, I was certain I could pretty much get any job I applied for, and would get paid 35K at the minimum.

Ha. Ha. Ha. And I’m not alone. Not only have most of my friends with MFAs scrambled to find anything to pay the bills post graduation (working at Borders, in a file room…with freaking MFAs!!), but it seems like degrees in general are losing the battle to inflation.

According to this really long and slightly boring article from the Wall Street Journal, college degrees no longer carry a promise that you’ll immediately grab a job and get paid in awesome wages.

“What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college.

To be sure, the average American with a college diploma still earns about 75% more than a worker with a high-school diploma and is less likely to be unemployed. Yet while that so-called college premium is up from 40% in 1979, it is little changed from 2001, according to data compiled by Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank.”

So yes, going to college is better than not going to college, but your diploma just ain’t worth what it used to be worth — especially in today’s economy. What it comes down to in 2008 is a small group of skills that sets you apart from other applicants, not just the fact that you have 4 years of psychology classes under your belt.

The moral of the story? If you know what you want to do once you graduate, get real world experience now. Internships and extracurriculars have never been more important, and fostering relationships with people who might hire you in the future is a great way to be sure you won’t be working minimum wage with four years of a good, quality school under your belt.

(image source: businessweek.com)

6 thoughts on “How Much is Your College Degree Worth? Not as Much as You Think”

  1. it doesn't help that MANY people getting college degrees 'by force' tend to do art and liberal arts degrees which are basically just glorified high school. (I know, my second BA was a liberal arts degree)

    If you go to school for science of financial degrees you will get a job and you will get paid.

    Going for English lit will earn you a $50K piece of toilet paper to wipe your ass with also known as a diploma.

  2. One route almost never mentioned and that is most certainly not for everyone is the military. I did a few years in the Army and finding solid, white collar employment has never been a problem for me. Almost every person I have ever interviewed with has mentioned my military experience, tipically with a hint of admiration in their voice. The military teaches you to buckle down and get the job done, even under the worst possible circumstances, this is a trait that many employers are loking for and that many of them realize you dont' get in %90 of college degree programs. That being said, I still think a college degree will earn you more money… if crunching numbers for a living is your idea of… living

  3. Get a real degree, see if you can get a job after college, and then complain if you can't find work. Don't spend 4 to 6 years on useless crap like MFA then bitch about the fact that you can't get a good job.

  4. It use to be that you went to college you were going for high level jobs, which college really helps. But for people that go and then start off at entry level jobs, it is a waste because you could have been doing that job from high school. Now you get a added bill to pay. So of the wealthiest people hit it before completing their degrees like facebook, myspace, google, yahoo, microsoft, napster, etc… Now you need a college degree to run those companies, but for all blue collar jobs you don't.

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