Will Going to College Actually Set Your Student Back?

For years, college has been regarded as the stepping stone to a great career, a higher salary, and a fulfilling life. It’s been marketed as the threshold of the American dream. Go to college, get a degree, get a job, make a difference, and then enjoy the fulfillment that brings. That’s been the mantra of our culture in regards to college.

While I would submit that there are far more fulfilling things than a good career, we won’t examine that today. Instead, I want to examine the basic insistence that college is always a stepping stone that moves someone forward.

Is this always the case? How might college actually set a student back?

College Debt

This is a big consideration for students interested in earning a college degree.

According to data from April 2022, the average American student has over $30,000 in college loan debt.

This by itself is enough to set a student back financially for several years as they work to pay off that debt rather than building assets.

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It takes several years for students to work out of this “hole” that debt creates. The average net worth of students takes a hit due to the student loan debt which delays their financial progress.

The setback of debt is significant but it’s not the only thing that can set your student back.

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is a term used in economics to describe the “hidden” cost of losing potential gain. For example, let’s say you have $5 and can choose to spend it on a sandwich or an apple pie. If you choose the sandwich, the opportunity cost will be the apple pie since you lost the opportunity to get the apple pie by choosing the sandwich.

We face opportunity costs all the time. And college presents some big ones. If you spend four to five years on a college campus earning a degree, that’s four or five years you won’t be able to spend working full-time, building your own business, or doing any number of other things.

While the time invested in college is a valuable tradeoff for many people, there are many more whose gain from college is less than what they would have gained if they had spent that time doing something else.

Opportunities are incredibly valuable, especially for young adults. Working full-time, building an organization or business, traveling, or getting real experience in fields and projects may be far more valuable than a degree. 

Move Your Student Forward

So, yes. There are cases where going to a traditional college and earning a degree, actually can set you student back instead of moving them forward. The key is understanding what your student’s goals are before they make a college decision and then finding a solution that fits with their goals in the best way possible.

Not a fan of the cost and downsides of traditional higher ed? Check out Ascend, Unbound’s program that enables students to earn college credit while pursuing other opportunities that interest them for a lower cost than attending a traditional school. Book a free consultation before April 22 to save $100!

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