Is College Really Worth It in 2018? Or Just a Big Mistake?

“I keep looking through college degrees and the jobs you could land with them and I just keep going back to how overpriced it all is. Is it even worth it?

That’s a really interesting question, not just to prospective college students, but also to people in their mid 30’s still paying off their college loans, so let’s examine it.

Now of course most people outside of the United States will be like, “Of course university is worth it.” “University is free,” or, at least, very inexpensive. We also have subsidized education here in the United States, but it’s much less subsidized so here, if you live in Indiana for instance Indiana University costs about ten thousand dollars if you don’t live in Indiana it costs about thirty thousand a year So is it worth it?

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Well let’s say you spend a hundred thousand dollars on college including like, sixty thousand in student loans With interest you’re going to pay about eighty thousand total on those loans.

So your total college cost will be one hundred and twenty thousand dollars Expect you will also have spent a lot of time writing papers, and attending classes, and going to supposedly epic frat parties that are never actually very fun because even as you’re dancing and drinking and talking to vaguely attractive strangers there’s this omnipresent, gnawing feeling in your gut that nothing means anything and you feel this endless existential isolation Was that just me?

Right, so anyway, you’re doing all of that when you might be working That’s called “opportunity cost” On the other hand, the eighty thousand dollars that you spend will actually be slightly less than eighty thousand dollars would’ve been because of inflation I’m gonna ballpark here and just say that your college cost is like $140,000 in this example But then you have 50 years of labor-forced drudgery to look forward to Now again we have to deal with inflation and stuff, but let’s just say that if you make $175,000 more than you would’ve made, then college was “worth it.

” So how much in per hour earnings over your career does a college degree have to generate in order to be worth it?

About $ So over the course of your career, if you make $13 an hour on average when you would’ve otherwise made $ college has paid for itself And so most studies show that on average college is still very much worth it Although I should note that there are some for-profit universities and misleading vocational training programs that probably aren’t worth it But assuming you go to a reasonably good, accredited university there are two things that are true: One- it is criminally overpriced Two- it is probably still worth it But Hank, my problem is that calculation assumes that human life is a purely economic phenomenon, which it isn’t.

Let me give you an example As you know, Hank, a long time ago I worked the graveyard shift at Steak and Shake, and I made about $14 an hour on average It was a great job with good benefits, there was even a stock buying program which is why I still own 15 shares of Steak and Shake stock But about once a week at 3 or in the morning I’d walk into the bathroom and even though the toilet was fully functional, I’d notice that there was vomit in the urinal.

Shake photo

Now Hank, I don’t know if you’ve ever cleaned a stranger’s vomit out of a urinal but let me assure you that the most intense games of rock-paper-scissors I will ever play were played to decide who was gonna be on vomit-urinal duty. After graduating from college, I actually made $1 per hour less when I started working as an assistant at Booklist Magazine, but the job was better in every way. I was surrounded by books and people who loved them I had opportunities for advancement, and in 6 years of working there I never once saw vomit in the urinal!

Hank, it’s been my experience that maximizing income is a hell of a lot less important than maximizing passion and fulfillment in your life both professionally and personally When I was in college, I remember fearing that the dreary grind of adulthood would feature, like, infinitely more existential dread than frat parties had, but the opposite has been true for me.

I’m much less likely to feel that gnawing fear of aimlessness and nihilism than I used to be, and that’s partly because education gave me job opportunities But it’s mostly because education gave me perspective and context Whether you’re studying electrical engineering or poetry, college is not finally about maximizing income It’s about becoming a better, and more informed observer of the universe, And for me, at least, that’s what leads to a more fulfilling life.

Hank, in a world where about half of humans live on less than $a day the opportunity to learn and study in a formal, dedicated way is still a gift, even if it has become a very expensive one. I’ll see you on Friday..

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