Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Cares What a College Degree is Really Worth? It's Career Planning that Matters.

While it's helpful that this WSJ article "What's a Degree Really Worth" draws attention to some overblown numbers for the value of college degree and the risks of getting a degree, I think a main point is missed.  Instead of focusing on the average lifetime earnings of a college grad - not a terribly useful or accurate statistic for people choosing a career or educational program, focus instead on career direction and planning. Our "Getting Started" article gives the 3 steps for that process based on the best science and practices of professional career counseling.

The point is not whether a college degree is worth $450K or $800K in lifetime earnings, but how a student plans to translate their degree or program (training, 2 year, 4 year) into a career path.  Look at the article's example of a UC-Berkeley grad earning a pittance (for San Francisco) as a small paper reporter with over $60,000 in student debt.  It is not a mystery or a surprise to any writers out there that journalism is not a lucrative profession, even in the best of times.

So to imply that it was too risky or wasn't financially worth it to get a B.A. to get that reporting job doesn't make sense. Imagine applying for any decent paying reporter job without a college degree. Pretty difficult.  When you choose a career path that has a relatively low salary and uncertain job prospects, you need to be prepared for a bumpy ride. Maybe you have to work while you go to school to avoid higher debt, or go to a cheaper school. These are compromises that you may need to make.

I am sympathetic, though.  I can relate to the graduate's comment "it [her financial situation] was harder than I think I expected it to be" because that's what happened to me after graduating law school in '96 in a recession. Despite the best laid plans, you can never be certain how things will turn out.

Some form of training or college is required for any living wage job (unless you believe in the Bill Gates syndrome - good luck to you!) It's a matter of making choices and good decisions - and being prepared for economic change. 

Our high-quality decision-making article can really help you sort through those choices and prepare yourself for any negative consequences (like living on a shoestring for 10 years) in pursuing your passion.

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