It’s also important to remember that investing in college, like investing in a house or a business, is a long-term prospect. As Figure 2 shows, new college graduates start out earning just a little more ($5,000 to $6,000) than high school graduates. Over time, this earnings gap grows markedly, so that after 15 years it’s over $25,000 per year. This means that comparing the current salaries of recent college graduates with those of people who started working right after high school won’t tell you that much about the future. Things will look much different 10, 20, and 30 years from now when the college investment has had enough time to pay dividends. Whether you launch a career in a boom or a recession, a college degree is an asset that becomes more valuable over the course of your work life.
Yet I want to answer that question. And I guess that’s part of the reason I’m writing this essay. I’ve accepted the fact that, right now, I simply don’t know who I’m going to be, and that it’s going to take some time before I can finally look around and think to myself, “I want to spend my life doing this.” But I’ve come to realize that college can serve as the catalyst that gets me there, the place where I can begin to learn and see the world on my own terms, and take advantage of the choices I’ve been blessed with the ability to make, when the same couldn’t be said about the generations that came before me. I know that with the freedom to study what I want to learn, I can pursue a career born, not out of necessity, but out of choice. I’ve been given the opportunity to change not just myself, but the attitude that my own family will have toward higher education, and the doors that it can open in their own lives.