High school graduation is something most young people look forward to – not just because it’s an accomplishment, but also because of the freedom it brings. No more school! No more 6 a.m. alarm clock, no more hall passes, no more homework. Sure, entering the work force will entail a schedule, but it’ll be different than school – there’s a paycheck involved, and no classes to sit through.
Many young people develop a negative attitude toward education. Though schools vary, this is likely because there is limited freedom and self-direction in middle and high school. While there may be elective courses students can choose, much of secondary school can feel more like an obligation or chore than a choice. This may be due to the fact that many curriculums are pre-established, many classes are chosen for students and many assignments come with rigid guidelines that don’t leave much room for creativity. It’s an educational circumstance that most of us push through because we know a high school diploma is important.
It’s no wonder, then, that many young people are tempted to consider their high school graduation day the end of their educational careers. But we at Good Choices Good Life want to encourage young people to carefully consider their higher education opportunities. The schools and programs offer much greater freedom to students. While there are required courses, there is a tremendous amount of choice involved – the initial choice to continue your education, the choice of which program to enter and the choice of where to go. It’s important to make the most of your secondary education (see our article series Driven to Learn for tips on this), but we also want you to get excited about the greater opportunities for growth and development that comes after.
Most young people face important questions as they approach this point in life. Why continue your education beyond high school? What options are available? In this article series, we’ll delve into these, as well as other considerations young people should keep in mind when choosing an educational program, a school or an academic plan for their life.
Higher education serves many purposes, only some of which are emphasized in our culture. Because we as a society don’t acknowledge the full span of reasons for pursuing education after high school, some young people may think it’s not for them and, therefore, miss out on many of the potential benefits that such an educational experience provides. Below, we’ll look at some well-known and not-so-well-known purposes the various forms of higher education may serve – from vocational schools and certificate programs to Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs. It’s not just about learning; it’s about the opportunity for further personal development as well.
1. Career Preparation
Some young people have a pretty solid idea of what type of career they would like to have as an adult. For such people, post-secondary education will primarily serve as a means for gaining the skills, training and knowledge necessary to enter their desired profession.
This is one of the most acknowledged reasons for people to seek higher education. However, many young people aren’t sure what they want to do – and that’s okay. Having goals is great, but nothing says that we need to have our lives totally planned out by the age of 17. In fact, many major universities encourage incoming students not to select an area of focus until after their freshman year, or in some cases, their sophomore year. So, even if you’re not sure what profession you’re interested in pursuing, you should remain mindful that academic environments offer one of the best places to explore your options and make that choice.
2. Broader Practical Benefits
Preparing oneself for a career isn’t the only practical benefit of a college education. According to a 2013 report by The College Board, there are many other important ones. Consider the following areas in which people with more than a high school diploma tend to be more successful:
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Economic: The median yearly income of someone with a high school diploma alone is $35,400, compared to $44,800 with a two-year (Associate’s) degree and $56,500 with a four-year (Bachelor’s) degree. Even taking into account the repayment of student loan debt, two-year and four-year degree-holders tend to earn substantially more over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma.
Health: People who obtain post-secondary education tend to make healthier choices. In 2012, only 8% of four-year degree-holders surveyed smoked, compared to 20% with an Associate’s degree and 25% with a high school diploma alone. Among 25-34-year-olds, 85% of those with a Bachelor’s degree and 71% with an Associate’s degree reported exercising weekly, compared to 60% of those with no post-secondary education. This trend remained constant throughout all age brackets.
Civic Involvement: Among those who hold a Bachelor’s degree, 45% report knowing “quite a bit” about current political issues, compared to 34% with some college or a two-year degree and 21% with a high school diploma alone. Among people ages 25-44, 73% of Bachelor’s degree-holders and 58% of Associate’s holders voted in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 42% of those with a diploma alone. In 2012, 17% of those with no post-secondary education reported volunteering, compared to 29% of those with some college or a two-year degree and 42% with a Bachelor’s or higher.
People who seek education beyond high school are likely to be better off in terms of economic well-being, physical health and participation in political and community affairs. Regardless of what you study, devoting time to educating yourself and training your brain beyond high school comes with many potential benefits.
3. Personal Development
Not all skills are clearly connected to a career or statistics, but they can be equally as important to a well-rounded, fulfilling life. The following benefits, typically derived from a successful higher education experience, can prove to be major enhancements to your life:
Better communication (written and verbal): Many higher education programs feature advanced writing and speaking assignments; this trains individuals to express themselves clearly and communicate more effectively with others.
Critical thinking skills: The ability to think and to think well – to ask questions, to analyze and to reflect, for example – is crucial to all areas of life. The ability to identify and solve problems comes in handy in one’s personal and social life as well as on the job. Critical thinking skills can be cultivated in any number of higher education programs, whether you’re learning to diagnose a problem in a car’s engine or analyzing a literary work. See our article titled The Importance of Good Thinking for added perspective on this point.
Identification of skills: Young people may find that they have skills they didn’t know they had as they are exposed to new things and new ideas in a higher education environment. You may be surprised to find that you excel at a certain type of math, have a knack for dancing or want to read more from a certain author. There are many great things to know that will broaden your prospects in life and pursuing higher education will expose you to many of them.
Realization of passions: Young people may be shocked to learn that they love physics in college, or that they really want to pursue art. Putting yourself in an educational setting where you can dabble with different disciplines can wake you up to passions you never knew or realized were there.
Greater sense of discipline: While programs vary, in many higher education settings, students are given more responsibility than ever before. They must take initiative, manage their time well and remain organized. These skills can transfer to all other areas of life, from keeping one’s living space livable to being a reliable person to excelling at one’s job.
Sense of accomplishment: A high school diploma is something to be proud of, but, since school is mandatory until the age of 16, young people spend about half their time there without having chosen to do so. This can make the experience feel more like an obligation than something a person willingly pursued. But the choice to enter and complete a higher education program is based purely on a person’s initiative, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from going “above and beyond” is something that can instill you with the confidence to pursue whatever you desire in life.
Not all benefits of education are career-oriented, although the above benefits do have practical applications in that area as well. Developing oneself in the above ways is extremely valuable, and higher education can help you do so.
4. Pursuing a Passion
This is perhaps the least-accepted reason, culturally, to pursue higher education. Some hold that the time and financial investment of post-secondary school should only be pursued with practical, concrete career goals in mind. However, pursuing our passions is an extremely important component of a healthy, well-lived life.
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When I first began thinking about college, I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I knew that I had an intense love of philosophy – asking and thinking about questions such as what has value in the world and how we should treat one another. I could have made myself miserable by entering a program that had more clear career prospects but less interest to me, or I could have skipped college altogether and read my books on my own. But I knew I wanted to commit a substantial amount of time and energy to rigorous study of the discipline. I’ve heard it a million times: “What can you do with that degree?”
With that degree, I can show that I worked hard. With the education that led up to that degree, I am a better thinker and writer. Just as important, I think, is that I spent four years of my life immersed in something I love and realizing that I want to incorporate it in how I behave and what I do throughout my life. My studies have influenced how I treat others and the work I do for Good Choices Good Life – incorporating important philosophical concepts into practical decision-making advice. We can figure out ways to apply our passions as we pursue them.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
William Butler Yeats
Education is not only a tool for making money – it can be good for our hearts and souls as well, and help us figure out how we want to live. On top of the well-being that comes with pursuing a passion through higher education, one gets the additional benefits mentioned above, making it not only fulfilling, but very practical as well.
One’s choice of school and program will depend largely on what he or she seeks to gain from higher education, but before a person can make a good choice in this area, it’s necessary to know about the different options available. In Part 2, we’ll go over several different types of programs in detail. Then, in Part 3, we’ll cover many considerations one should keep in mind when choosing a program.