Is four-year college experience worth its expenditure?

The “college experience” is a phrase that has been tossed around for years, particularly as a way to encourage younger generations to continue going to college. However, in light of the tumultuous past few years, more and more people are beginning to be less enticed by the “college experience,” and are opting to begin their adult lives in other ways.

It’s not surprising to hear that as college tuition rises, sometimes costing upwards of $80,000 a year with tuition rates rising 153% since 1981, fewer and fewer people are willing to take out the student loans required to meet that cost, especially considering student debt is the highest it has ever been.  

It used to be that college was the most popular option in a small field of ways for 18-year-olds to begin their journey into independence. Now, there are various options, including online and community colleges, trade schools and opting to go straight into the workforce, that still allow people to be successful,  making the idea of a college education less appealing to many.  

Yet, four-year colleges are still massively popular, and part of that is the “college experience.” It is portrayed in every college movie: sports, parties and drinking. Simply put, the college experience is about what else the college offers aside from academics. That includes clubs, sports, dorms, the food and location, to name a few. It’s what draws people to that specific college. College is a unique opportunity for young people away from home to discover themselves and learn to be independent. It is a four-year social bubble that is hard to replicate anywhere else.

However, especially in light of the pandemic, we have seen that the college experience is a fragile existence. Sports and clubs shut down. Classes were moved online and often the only social interaction students had was through technology. People began to wonder if paying to go live at college was even worth it. This led to reevaluating the entire basis of why we go to college at all. 

So, given the rising costs and a plethora of alternatives, is the college experience still worth it? My take is that it depends on who you are as a person and what you want to do with your life. 

If you know what you want to do and it does not involve college, it would be wasting time and money, even if the college experience were worth it. There are a variety of ways to be successful and you do not need to spend four years of your life doing something non-essential so that you can meet societal expectations.

However, there has been a trend of devaluing an undergraduate degree in the workforce, with many starting jobs requiring masters degrees or prior professional experience. If you know that the field you want to go into does involve a college degree, then I would find one that meets your needs and has the right experience for you. While college is about academics, there needs to be more to college than just academics. However, it is a sliding scale of how much of the college experience you want to integrate into your life.

There are a variety of different college experiences to choose from. I chose Lewis & Clark because it offered the college experience I wanted. It was small and close to home, it had the right major and small classes and it had clubs and sports that I enjoyed. I did not want Greek life or 100-person lectures; I think I would have hated college if that were all there was. 

Similarly, if community college or online classes offer enough of the college experience for you, then go for that option. My understanding of it is that it is the thing on the side that makes college extra enjoyable, but it certainly should not be the only reason you go to college.

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