Many blogs will vehemently encourage you to pursue higher education. We wanted to take a slightly different approach today, though.

It should be obvious to every parent and student that college can open doors that would otherwise be closed to those without a degree. That isn’t to say college is the only way to succeed, though.

Considering the Investment

While you might not need a college degree to become a successful adult, it certainly helps in many ways. College grads typically earn higher salaries than non-grads, attain better health and lifestyle benefits, and achieve an overall better standard of living. In fact, college grads earn about $35k more per year than non-grads.

At the same time, an average of 1 in 4 students drops out of university in their first two years. Let’s not forget that, while college is a beautiful idea that can help change a lot of lives, it can also be an expensive, exclusionary benchmark. It’s simply out of range for many people, and it gets more and more expensive every year.

The federal minimum wage is hovering at $7.25 per hour, as of this writing, and has not gone up since July 2009. These wages fall drastically short of the estimated $100k salary the average household is expected to make in nearly every major city and work center.

A college education can offer better job prospects, but it doesn’t guarantee them. What’s more, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to offset the costs associated with getting a degree.

So, with all that in mind, it’s time to ask the big question: is college right for you? Let’s work through three key questions to consider. 

1. Do You Need a Degree?

This depends on what you want to do. No one expects you to have the full scope of your life figured out at 17. That said, having a general idea of what you like, what you are good at, and where you want to be in five years is important.

Let’s say you’re an artist. You want to make it as a professional; will college be necessary to develop the skills and connections you’ll require? On the other hand, if you’re a brilliant mathematician seeking a highly profitable STEM degree, you’d do yourself a great disservice by skipping college.

This is a matter of perspectives. You should sit down and weigh out every one of your most reasonable and attainable options. Talk it over with family, teachers, and counselors to try and get multiple perspectives on the question. Also, remember that foregoing college doesn’t mean that you’re done with education; there are other options out there to consider, which we’ll discuss later.

With this question, just remember that careful planning, critical thinking, and being deeply honest with yourself are vital.

2. Can You Afford it Out of Pocket?

Remember that bit we mentioned earlier about college being expensive? Well, it’s important to understand just how expensive we’re talking.

According to Education Data Initiative, the average in-state tuition and required fees for a public, four-year institution, total $9,349 per year. For out-of-state tuition and fees, the total shot up to $27,023.

That’s not even accounting for other expenses you might need to cover. For instance, there’s books, supplies, housing, and daily living expenses like food. All things considered, the cost of attendance at a four-year institution in the US averages out to $35,331 a year.

Some students may be fortunate enough to have a college fund pre-arranged for them by their parents. Most people won’t have this benefit, though. Therefore, they need to find some other way to cover the cost, which means applying for grants and scholarships.

3. Can You Get a Grant or Scholarship?

How are your grades? Do you qualify for grants or potential scholarships? 

These questions are critical, and they deserve a cautious and rational answer before you make any decisions. Your best option is to start by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Here’s our guide for how to do this.

Of course, if you’re unable to cover the entire cost with grants and scholarships, you’ll need to take out loans to cover the difference.’

We want to be clear on this point: THESE LOANS ARE NOT FREE MONEY. You will be required to pay it back with interest. Be very aware that you are taking on a considerable time and monetary commitment. Student loans could govern your finances for the next several decades of your life, and they can add up quickly.

4. What Other Options are There?

Remember: college is not an absolute necessity in every case. There are a few different paths you can take after high school, including:

Going into the Workforce

You may have your work cut out for you going this path. However, there are a good number of people who go straight into the workforce after graduation, and still manage a comfortable lifestyle.

Perhaps you find a job that requires no schooling, pays well, and offers chances for advancement. Jobs like this are not as common as they once were, but they’re still out there.

You can go to a Trade School

Did you know that many electricians make over $100k per year? Plumbers make around $80-$140k. Carpenters fall somewhere in the middle at around $70-110k. These and other trades like hair stylists, nail technicians, IT professionals, massage therapists, and personal trainers offer specialized, well-paid career paths that don’t require a four-year degree to get started. 

Of course, unless you have someone willing to offer you an apprenticeship, you will still need schooling. The good news is that most trade school and certificate programs are offered for a very reasonable price through state and county-run institutions. With trade school, you could be employed in your chosen profession in less than two years, and pay a fraction of the cost of college.

Take Time to Think it Over

University is not for everyone. Deciding if you’re one of them, though, is a serious decision that requires a lot of thought, self-reflection, and support. Don’t make the choice lightly. 

There is nothing wrong with taking your time to weigh all of your options, consider all the pros and cons, and think about who you are and what you want from life (important-est of all). Like we mentioned before, you do not have to decide your entire life figured out at 17. 

It’s also important to remember that, even after you choose a path, you’re not obliged to follow it forever. Many people go into the workforce or start pursuing a trade, then decide it’s not the right decision for them. You are entitled to enter university at any age, provided you meet the basic criteria and can handle tuition. This means it’s okay to take your time and choose wisely.

Take the time to make the right decision for you. After all, your future is worth it.