| Works for Me |

Is a College Degree Still Important?   

The answer to this question is one that is ever-evolving


My husband and I are both college-educated professionals, and we have raised our children with a strong emphasis on education.

We’re starting to look into options for our seminary-age daughter, and would like your feedback on the “college issue.” We’ve heard that the need for a college education is not what it used to be. Is that true?

Do you think a college degree is still considered important, and something that employers will pay more for?

~ A frustrated business owner


Parents who want the best

The answer to this question is one that is ever-evolving. Based on what I’ve seen in the last two to three years, the short answer is this: The only reason to get a degree nowadays is if you’ve chosen a career that you can’t practice without a degree or license. For anything else, it’s likely not worth the investment.

If your daughter is choosing to be a doctor, lawyer, therapist, engineer, or architect — college is obviously necessary.

But if you’re looking at fields like business, design, computers, trades, marketing, or IT — probably a course, certification, or hands-on training is way more worthwhile.

In preparing this article, I was curious to hear what others had to say on this currently hot topic, and so I took a LinkedIn poll (see sidebar for post). The responses gave a lot of practical advice, from hundreds of people, but my favorite comment (from Michael Morrison) made this very important point: “A self-taught programmer has a great mind to figure things out on their own. A self-taught doctor is a murderer.” Like everything else in life, this advice has to be taken in context.

Interestingly, many people shared non-educational reasons to attend college.

The most common reasons were:

Networking opportunities that can be useful throughout a career.

A chance to learn life skills by living independently from parents and families.

The self-discovery process that taking classes in multiple areas affords.

Viewing these reasons through the lens of the frum community, much of the justification for attending college may disappear. The frum community has an incredible built-in network. A large percentage of people I meet have found their jobs through the number one job site in the world: shul.

Does this sound familiar? “I met a guy at Minchah, and mentioned I was looking for a job. He said his brother-in-law was hiring…”

Of course, if you’re looking to work outside the community, a larger network can make a difference.

The common post–high school choice to attend out-of-town yeshivah and seminary provides a natural opportunity for independent living. Additionally, marriage at a younger age is more common in our community, and many are prepared to move on to that stage fairly quickly. When we choose an education, we’re mostly focused on gaining skills and a way to earn an income, not an “experience.”

As for self-discovery — for better or for worse, young frum people are expected to make career choices pretty soon after graduation. Personally, I like to think that the frum educational system does a wonderful job of giving our children the opportunity to discover themselves and their personal goals on a deeper level at a fairly young age. Although this does not always translate into ideal initial career choices, utilizing aptitude tests and similar tools can help save years of searching. Many shared that going to college without a clear goal in mind is a waste of time. There are many faster, cheaper methods of self-discovery than spending four years and many thousands of dollars.

A young woman in her twenties from Lakewood reached out to share her experience in response to my poll. She told me she had recently gotten a new job at the same time that a few other women her age started in the same role. The difference was that she had some office experience, but no degree, while her coworkers had degrees in unrelated fields. Guess who got paid the most of the group? She did — her experience was more valued in the business than their degrees.

In large frum communities, I’ve seen this happen again and again.

What’s unfortunate is that the parents of her coworkers obviously did their best to ensure their daughters would be prepared to earn a respectable income, but didn’t take the time to look at the economy, the market, and whether their chosen degrees fit their personal abilities and interests.

I believe this story highlights what would serve people much better when making this decision: Before you get a degree, do your research. This includes finding people to follow around at work to get a real sense of what a career is like, and doing the research to ensure there’s a viable job market, and what the real earning potential is in a given role. Going through these steps will ensure that you give your daughter the proper tools to decide whether or not a college degree will be worthwhile, or a waste of resources.


Some valuable comments:

Medicine is one of those occupations where the practitioners need extensive education to be credible, competent, and effective. But somehow we’ve been convinced to believe that EVERY field is that way.

Keep in mind that you WILL change your career path several times, so pick something with at least some broad-based education to allow a pivot WHEN things get old.

If the degree provides a “skill,” you can immediately trade for a salary day 1

There are too many other ways to make money without selling your soul to student loans.

College is a product you are purchasing. Know what you’re looking for, how much it costs, and how much you can spend. What’s the ROI (return on investment), and is there a cheaper way?

A general studies degree is a waste of time and money, but many fields require specialized training (EE, ME, architecture, to name a few) and no amount of YouTube videos or Pluralsight is going to help.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 883)

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