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Is College Worth the Money? Reflections from Six Graduates of the Class of 2011

Their answers about whether their degrees are worth it might just surprise you.

Students are racking up astronomical amounts of debt and moving home with mom and dad after graduation because there are no jobs to be found. PayPal founder Peter Thiel is even encouraging students to drop out and try entrepreneurship instead because, he says, college isn't worth it. So we decided to ask some graduates from the class of 2011 what they think. Almost all of them are worried about paying back their student loan debt, and of those not going on to grad school, none will have traditional full-time jobs. But their answers about the value of college might surprise you.

1) The Journalist
Sara Fletcher
Age: 22
College: Northwestern University
Major: Journalism
Post-college plans: Fletcher's headed to Portland, Oregon for a public relations internship.
Is college worth the money?

"I chose Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism because it is top in the country. The connections here are undeniable and the opportunities for internships and post-grad jobs are better than I could have hoped for had I attended school in-state. I was challenged from the moment I arrived at Medill to basically act as a full-time reporter. Those skills, which I was challenged to develop very independently in and outside of the classroom will be incredibly useful for my work in PR and marketing. That said, I think college, particularly at a top school, is somewhat of a luxury and privilege. It's a chance for a lot of people, myself included, to take four years to really focus ourselves, figure out our passions in life, and gather the skills, critical thinking and connections to live out those passions. Because of the high price, for many that I've met, the luxury of four years at an elite school to "find yourself" sometimes isn't as immediately justifiable, particularly when a high school grad has the life skills and confidence to enter the working world."


2) The Dentist
Leah Munson
Age: 21
College: Binghamton University
Major: Biological Sciences
Post-college plans: Munson's hoping to get into dental school and be an orthodontist.
Is college worth the money?

"I hated college while I was there because I felt like everyone was wasting my time. I have known what I wanted to do since I was 12 and sitting in yet another classroom learning material that only grazed my interest was frustrating. I rushed through my undergraduate work, graduating in 3 years so that I could finally get to where I wanted to be. Although I have learned a lot in college and looking back I believe that it was very important in shaping who I am today, I hate the fact that I just spent years of my life forcing myself to learn information that I likely won't use again. College is not shaping students for their careers but rather for society. I'm not the person I was when I went to college but not because of anything I learned in a classroom. I'm different because it was a social bootcamp of sorts. Seeing as I already know what I want to do, I took the knowledge with a grain of salt. I was glad to be learning it and found it interesting but I was forced to acknowledge that I would likely never use it again."

3) The Startup Guru
Ashwin Anandani
Age: 22
College: Northwestern University
Major: Economics
Post-college plans: Anandani graduated early, managed to raise some money for a social change startup idea and moved to the Bay Area to pursue it. In the meantime, to keep a roof over his head, he also found a paid part-time job with another startup.
Is college worth the money?

"I don't think the value of a college is equal to the sum of its graduates' wages. I paid a couple hundred-thousand dollars in total for my (almost) 4 years at university, and while I came out being able to think well, which is what I believe university is really meant to "teach" you, I can only say that the university contributed a very small share of that ability. Now that I've been out, I'm thinking, 'I really just paid money to be assigned papers and math so I could have a piece of paper that serves as a filtering mechanism for corporations' HR departments?'

I would say my assignments and college requirements were more of a very arduous process of creating a 'fallback plan' so I don't end up on the streets if my startup fails. It's almost a monopoly in terms of options, too —'If you don't go to college, where will you go?'—so we pay the high price to be locked into a degree and we learn how to make standardized documents and take standardized tests. Too bad the world isn't standardized like my degree was."


4) The Teacher
Alexis Valdez
Age: 22
College: Holy Cross College
Major: Elementary Education, K-6 and ENL (English as a New Language)
Post-college plans: Valdez, who is the first in her family to go to college, doesn't yet have a permanent teaching position. She says she plans to keep submitting applications to all the school districts in her area, and hopes to substitute teach to pay the bills.
Is college worth the money?

"I think that even though right now I'm in a tight spot as far as a job and finances go, college was definitely worth the money. In my specific field the job market is particularly sparse, though I wouldn't be as marketable in the teaching world if I hadn't had the opportunity to get real classroom experiences through my college program. I will admit that I'm not pleased to be deep in college debt, but in the long run, I believe that getting a college education was the best choice I could have made for myself to ensure a better future."

5) The Entrepreneur
Name: Arnela Sulovic
School: University of Southern California
Major: Communication
Post-college plans: Sulovic, who immigrated from war-torn Bosnia, is the first in her family to go to college and graduated in three years to save money. She wants to start her own business, but right now she's working as a summer resident adviser for off-campus housing and a sales/partnership intern at Thrillist Rewards. She's still looking for a full-time job.
Do you think that college is worth the money?

"I strongly believe that college is worth the money. Although everything I learned in the classroom may not be applicable to my career, USC gave me access to unparalleled experiences, introduced me to incredible people and ideas, and broadened my perspective. Furthermore, the extracurricular activities that I participated in helped me build real-world skills and leadership experiences. There are many benefits that one can gain only by experiencing a higher education. If I had known exactly what I wanted to do post-graduation, I could have taken advantage of more opportunities in college. I wish all college classes were hands-on, skill building, and exploratory."

6) The Lawyer
Name: Beverly Ozowara
Age: 21
College: University of Notre Dame
Major: Psychology & Film, Television, Theatre
Post College Plans: Ozowara will be attending Valparaiso Law School and wants to be a family lawyer
Do you think that college is worth the money?

"I think that college is definitely worth it, but not because I learned specific things that would be helpful with my career. It was worth it for the valuable resources and connections I formed. It was also worth it because of the priceless undergraduate experience that I couldn't have gotten easily anywhere else. For example, I had the opportunity to travel (for a third of the normal cost) to Brazil with the Notre Dame Concert Band. During the trip, I was able to do things like perform at the oldest concert hall in the Americas and to swim in the Amazon River. I will admit though that I did not learn very many things that are specific to my career. It would have been helpful if there had been a pre-law program or more advising since freshmen year of college geared toward getting internships and familiarizing myself with corporations and the business world."

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