Choosing what to do after high school can lead to a consideration of a number of options: join the military, join the Peace Corps, go to college, get a job and enter the workforce. This article looks at the choice of college or work and discusses the pros and cons of college vs work.

The Figures Are In

College loans can be a reason why people opt for work over college. But the increased income college graduates earn when they enter the workforce can make up for this. For most people, the statistics show that college is a better choice economically in the long run.

In addition to the direct benefits of a liberal education, a study of workers aged 25 and up in 2006 showed that the median income of someone who had only completed high school was $27,380, while those with a bachelor's degree had a median income of $46,440. Increased job flexibility, increased savings, and better consumer decision-making were other, ancillary benefits of a college degree as determined in a 1998 study by the Institute for Higher Education.

So Why Choose Work?

This does not necessarily, however, help the person who can't afford college in the short-run. Some people choose to spend a few years working in order to afford college in the future. A situation in which there is family or personal debt may make paying back money owed more pressing than continuing one's education.

There are also cases in which college does not serve a high school graduate's dreams. For example, a person who has already worked in the job out of which he or she wants to make a career may do better working in that industry, possibly apprenticing him or herself to someone skilled in the field. There are a number of auto mechanics, for example, who have learned the business by working in a garage rather than by getting a degree and official job training.

There are also people who may be fully qualified in their field by the end of high school. Students who have taken the opportunity to do vocational training during their high school career. High school vocational education may have provided sufficient training - whether in culinary arts, landscaping, or some other field - that the graduate is prepared to work in his or her chosen field without further education. Artisans, such as weavers and other craftspeople, may also find themselves prepared to turn their attention fully to work after high school.

There are also people for whom “regular work” is just a way to earn a living, while the main focus of their efforts is elsewhere. This situation can arise for people in the performing arts - whether an aspiring rock band or an actor - who just needs to keep paying the rent and eat while pursuing a career in another field for which college is not necessary.

Not Everyone Fits the Mold

While it is true in general that lack of a college degree will diminish a person's lifetime earnings and job flexibility, this is by no means always true. And the cases in which it is not true are often those of inventors and entrepreneurs: people who are doing and making something new that doesn't fit the mold and the common path.

Soichiro Honda is one example. The only reason Honda even went to high school was to get information he needed to solve engineering problems he encountered in his out-of-school experiments. Grades and attendance weren't important to him, and when the principal challenged him, he left willingly, and started his first company in his early twenties and Honda Motor Company in his early forties.

In our own time and country, Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Michael Dell of Dell, are all college dropouts. They began by following the conventional wisdom and enrolling, and ended up taking a different route because college didn't serve their ends.

So in the end, the choice is something of a personal one. While, in general, choosing college after high school makes sense economically and in other ways, there are a number of situations in which choosing work can be the best choice for an individual.


US Department of Education: Digest of Education Statistics: “Table 372. Distribution of earnings and median earnings of persons 25 years old and over, by highest level of educational attainment and sex: 2006” -

Eric Digests -