Having recently submitted applications, or with deadlines looming, college is top-of-mind for many potential students. And the decision is a big one. Heading to college -- whether it be to earn a two- or four-year degree -- is a major investment, one that nearly 16 million students decide to make each year. For them, a college degree is not just a path to a better career; it's a path to a better life. That’s because for many students, college is more than just a place where learning is confined to a classroom. For today’s students, learning is everywhere.
The college experience can be an important transition to adulthood; one where students will learn and grow. That's because the campus itself is a classroom where students get to know themselves and see the world from a new perspective. College is a shared space for knowledge and growth-seekers. And, importantly, college is a place where students often learn from each other just as much as they do from their courses.
Given the many surprising benefits to college, we have assembled 11 ways college can benefit students beyond the classroom.
Exploring new interests: From rowing to reading, colleges have countless numbers of activities, groups, organizations, athletics and clubs. Students are encouraged to explore their interests, discover new passions, and gain a sense of self-awareness. Many colleges also have a student union where students can gather, socialize and get involved.
More critical thinking skills: Through problem-based learning, collaborative projects, and writing and research assignments, college courses help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Their ability to successfully analyze, synthesize and evaluate information will benefit their personal lives while also teaching them a valuable skill for just about any career.
Exposure to different cultures and ideas: College campuses are diverse communities that expose students to diverse perspectives and cultures. From courses and guest lectures that invite students to explore new ideas and ways of thinking, to a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities and life experiences in the student and academic population, to opportunities to study abroad -- colleges can open a doorway in each student's mind to a world they hadn’t before imagined.
More job opportunities: College graduates have a much wider range of job options available to them, including many jobs that are not open to those without a degree. In addition, those opportunities are easier to find. College graduates will see nearly 60% more job opportunitiesthan non-graduates; one reason for this is job openings for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are advertised online more frequently than those requiring a high school diploma, making it harder for workers without a higher degree to connect with prospective employers. Students can also learn about many of these job opportunities at their college career service or resource centers, which host career fairs and provide students with valuable tips on interviewing and resume writing.
Greater employability. According to the Education Pays report, the unemployment rate for those over 25 with at least a bachelor’s degree has consistently been about half of the unemployment rate for high school graduates; the most recently available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020 cites a 2.2% unemployment rate for college graduates and a 5.4% rate for high school graduates. Additionally, according to a 2019 report by Georgetown University, college graduates are more likely to have jobs that are insulated from automation, which helps to increase students’ long-term employability.
Increased earning potential: According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates earn on average $1 million more over their lifetime than those without a college degree. Someone with a high school diploma can expect to earn $1.3 million in their lifetime, whereas a worker with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn $2.3 million. This number goes up even more with an advanced degree.
Higher job satisfaction: A study by the Pew Research Center found that college graduates are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and report higher levels of happiness. Forty-two percent of high school graduates say their job is “just to get them by,” compared to 14% of bachelor’s degree holders.
Better benefits: In addition to the $1 million to their total lifetime earnings, college graduates are more likely to have access to benefits such as healthcare, retirement plans, and paid time off. Further, employers will often cover a greater amount of healthcare costs or offer more vacation time as well as retirement investment options.
A sense of accomplishment: Earning a college degree is a significant accomplishment that can boost self-confidence and self-esteem. In fact, bachelor’s degree holders report higher levels of self-esteem than high school graduates.
Networking opportunities: College is a great place to meet new people and make connections that can be valuable later in life. The connections that students create in college with faculty, classmates and members of clubs or student organizations will not only help them to start building a professional network, but can also lead to new interests, friends and other possibilities. Importantly, they will become part of an institutional support network that students can later call upon for work advancements, mentoring programs, and additional skill-building.
Personal growth and development: College can be a time of great personal growth, as students learn to live independently, manage their time, take responsibility for their own education, and improve decision-making skills.
College is an investment in students’ future that can pay off in many ways. It can open doors to better job opportunities, increase earning potential, and provide personal growth and development, and more. Not only that, within families, it has shown to help in ensuring the next generation will also attend college. Pursuing higher education can be a big decision in terms of resources, time and energy, but there are many reasons why that investment is worth it for many students.