How Important is an Undergraduate Degree in the Modern Job Market?

How Important is an Undergraduate Degree in the Modern Job Market?

College gets a little more inaccessible each year. Though long touted as the best way to acquire a high-paying job, a combination of factors has led many people to doubt the importance or overall value of obtaining an undergraduate degree.

Student loan costs are through the roof. The cost of living is on the rise, making the idea of spending the first fifteen years of your professional life paying off a degree seem unappealing. And wage stagnation is a very real and pervasive problem that has seen many college graduates get frozen out of higher-paying work.

How important is an undergraduate degree in the modern job market? In this article, we answer that question and provide information on what is the best way to plan for future employment in the current marketplace.

Are College Degrees Still Important?

College degrees absolutely still have their value in the modern job market. They are particularly important in occupationally specific scenarios. If you want to be a nurse, a teacher, a social worker, etc. there is no circumnavigating the need for an undergraduate degree.

That said, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that college graduates are in the minority. Less than half of all adults graduate college. Obviously, the majority of adults are still able to function in a professional capacity without that costly diploma.

What is the best way for people preparing to enter the job market to acquire credentials? Below, we take a look at factors to keep in mind.

College Degrees as Investments

Anyone who is considering getting an undergraduate degree should look at it as an investment opportunity. The way that kids are introduced to the idea of college is whimsical at best. Seventeen-year-olds are tasked with deciding what they would like to do with their lives, not even vaguely aware of the practical realities of paying student loans.

The “follow your dreams,” attitude surrounding college education is nice, but not strictly pragmatic. People who are considering getting a degree should think about how much it will cost and how they will be able to use their degree to pay that cost off.

It’s very nice to learn about things that interest you, but at the end of the day, you can do that for free at the library. Undergraduate degrees are about developing credentials that prepare you for specific career opportunities.

Naturally, this does put the spotlight on degrees with high earning potential, but it doesn’t close the door to liberal arts. The student simply should think clearly about what they hope to accomplish with their money.

College degrees cost an average of $150,000. No one would spend that on a stock or real estate investment without thoroughly considering all of the variables and potential payouts. Why not apply that same level of consideration to your future employment opportunities?

Alternatives to College Degrees

Trade schools provide lucrative alternatives to college degrees. Unlike many degrees (see English) trade school certifications link directly with specific, often high-paying careers. Trade school, on average, costs around 10% of college and can often be completed in under a year.

Trade school professions can generate six-figure salaries and lead to entrepreneurial opportunities. There is, admittedly, a social stigma concerning “blue-collar,” work. People are advised to go to college so that they can avoid becoming a plumber or an electrician— without ever being told that plumbers and electricians—particularly those operating their own LLC—can make close to six figures annually.

This, of course, is not to say that trade school is superior to college education. It is to say that college education is not inherently superior to trade school. There are many ways to acquire professional qualifications that result in lucrative employment. While college is the only way to obtain certain jobs, it isn’t the most practical option for everyone.

Those trying to find their place in the modern workforce should be encouraged to fully explore all available avenues without being unduly influenced by the bias that seems to favor undergraduate programs.

Making College More Accessible

College does not have to be as financially inaccessible as it often is. There are several ways to make getting a four-year degree more practical.

1. Think carefully about where you go to school: Expensive universities are not for everyone. While prestige degrees are valuable for people entering highly competitive fields, those who want jobs in nursing, education, etc. will be eligible for the same employment opportunities no matter where they attend school. Why borrow $100K when you can complete prerequisites at a community college, and finish your degree at a more affordable state school?

2. Apply for grants and scholarships: Many people fail to take full advantage of their grant or scholarship potential because they assume only exceptional transcripts get noticed. While academic scholarships are typically awarded to top students, there are many smaller awards available for a wide range of achievements. Take advantage of every opportunity available to you. A $500 grant or scholarship may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s real money in your pocket, and it will add up.

3. Look for alternative options: There are accelerated nursing and education curriculums that allow you to get your required certifications quickly. While these programs are expensive, they allow you to save money on housing costs and enter the workforce sooner.

At the systemic level, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) practices can be applied to make college degrees more accessible to people regardless of their background. Universities may inadvertently produce exclusionary marketing materials by using incentive language in their ad copy, or by publishing publicity photos that feature students from the same apparent cultural background.

Through regular and ongoing efforts, it is possible to make sure that college feels like a sensible and approachable option for whoever wants to pursue it.

Ultimately, that’s the key. People preparing for the job market should feel like all potential doors are open to them, whether that means a college education, or trade school.

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