The following is an exerpt from the book, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about College."
Before I tell you all the great things about college, and all the things that are going to happen before, during and after, we should start with a very basic question: why do you want to go to college anyway? I mean, you could be doing a lot of things: playing in the NBA, bustin rhymes with your boys on stage, acting in Hollywood, or just plain old "kickin it". More realistically, you could also just jump right out and get a job after high school. There was a time when that wasn't such a bad thing. My grandmother always tells me stories about the days when a high school diploma went a long way, when a house cost 8 cents, when dogs didn't bite and you could leave your front door open at night. But a lot of things have definitely changed since then, and a person must adjust to the times.
If you want to increase your chances to getting a good job one day, then getting a solid education under your belt is a great place to start. Once, I asked a friend if she was going to college. I think that she was the kind of person that wanted to make the quick money, rather than spend 4 years investing in her education. In her mind, it was all about making money right away, and college would be a waste of 4 years for her. When I asked her if she was going to go to college, she said "I like money too much to go to college". I said to her "I like money too much not to go to college!" So the fact is this: you need degrees to get to the cheese! To lay it down in concrete terms, a census bureau survey showed that college graduates earn nearly one million dollars more during their lifetime than people with high school diplomas. What would you do with your extra million?
Sure there are exceptions. I went to college with guys who never graduated and left early for the NBA to make more money than most of us will ever make. However, this is clearly the exception. For every Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson, there are literally millions of other students who are not quite good enough to make the big money. For every Vivica Fox or Jenifer Aniston, there are a lot of women out there in Hollywood with roaches crawling across the bathroom floor. I am not saying this to stamp out the dreams you may have, it's a reminder that you should pursue higher education no matter what you decide you want to do. This guarantees that you will have something to fall back on in case your plans don't turn out quite the way you thought they would.
One thing that we are taught to do is to think of college as optional. It's something that we do if we feel like it, but if we don't do it, then we don't get in trouble for making that choice. But this simple logic is incorrect. When you finished the 8th grade, did you think about not going to high school? When you finished the 5th grade, did you consider not going on to the 6th? Well, the only difference between the 12th and other grades is that you can stop if you want. But would you have stopped going to school after the 8th grade if you didn't have to keep going? Maybe the answer is yes (I probably would have too), but you are probably glad you did go to high school. Without going to high school, the only fast food restaurant you could eat from would be McDonalds, not because it's good, but because they have pictures of the food and you don't have to be able to read to place your order. Without going to high school, you would have never met your friends, you would have never had a chance to play sports, and you would never have had some of your best experiences as a person.
As you think about whether or not you should keep going to school after the 12th grade, you should realize that stopping should not even be an option. After you finish high school, you probably don't even have a good trade to earn a decent living, so your ability to survive in this world and get all the things that you want would be severely limited. College is not the only way to financial success, but it is one of the ways that works if you want it to.
In other words, stop using the word "if" when you or your children are thinking about college and start using the word "when."
This was an excerpt from the book, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about College."
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a finance professor at Syracuse University. He does regular commentary in national media, including CNN, MSNBC and BET. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered directly to your e-mail, please click here.