College used to be the only key to a successful life. Today that is no longer the case. Opportunities for college students grow ever smaller, and the cost of a college education is sometimes overbearing.
The average American college graduate will accrue over $35,000 in student debt. That number is set to rise as colleges are continually raising their tuition; knowing students can (and will) get loans. College is often pushed as the only path to success, and most students will burden themselves with student loans to pursue that promised path. While that path to success might have been correct in the past, the rising cost of tuition and the changing labor market have made that path a bit narrower. College tuition costs have risen by 250 percent over the last 10 years, and the average student debt has increased by 78 percent. The average monthly payments for a student loan comes at around $400 a month or almost $5,000 a year. Half of all millennials who took on student loans now say that the financial returns of a college degree aren’t worth the cost.
Degrees for the Job Market
Unless you’re in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), your chances of finding a job related to your degree are minimal. Close to 50 percent of all college graduates are underemployed or work in positions that don’t even require a college degree, and only 30 percent will have careers related to their field of study. Most college graduates will eventually find work in an office environment or even in sales. This phenomenon can be blamed on the lack of career counseling in high schools and colleges. High school graduates will often choose degrees they consider easy and exciting without any planning for their future career path. Degrees in social sciences are prevalent among students and virtually unneeded in the job market.
Trade Schools and Blue-collar Work
While students will often scoff at blue-collar work, skilled workers in specific trade jobs are getting paid more than the average college graduate. Wages in manufacturing, construction, and transportation are relatively high, often surpassing the $30 per hour mark. Unlike college graduates, skilled workers are in demand, and some companies will even pay for the schooling of their future employees. College graduates earn more in the first year of their job, earning $46,000 compared to the $40,000 for skilled workers. However, that pay gap diminishes after 10 years, with college graduates earning $55,000 and skilled workers earning $54,000. Considering skilled workers get to work a few years earlier and aren’t saddled by student debt, trade school might be a better option for some instead of college.
Student debt and choosing the wrong degree are two of the biggest pitfalls in starting your career. Should you go into STEM, opt for a skilled trade, or select the degree you find most interesting? Carefully weigh your options and plan your future because what happens in college (or trade school) affects the rest of your life.