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Question 2

Do you think that your college education was a good investment?

Photo prompt #2: A picture from graduation.

On an intuitive level, Macalaster was the only school that didn’t feel “wrong” in terms of overall fit. Academically, Mac was rigorous and had strong programs in my areas of interest. Financially, Mac had a 100 percent need-met policy. Culturally, Mac was small but incredibly diverse. Geographically, Mac was as far as I could get from home.

In that last sense, my college experience probably saved my life. Going to school halfway across the country from my self-destructive family — away from the open aggression and silent tension of my parents’ failed marriage, and away from the harrowing ups and downs of growing up with a parent with an un-diagnosed personality disorder — let me, for the first time, live as if I wasn’t walking on eggshells.

Macalester became a safe space for trial and error as I bumbled through the messy process of learning how to live without trauma. My college years became, as they become for many, an incubation period of rapid growth and development. In that sense, my college education is one of the best investments I have ever made.

I’m so intellectually driven that I think I would have gone mad without some sort of further study after high school. As proof: I ended up double-majoring in International Studies and English, and double-minoring in Hispanic Studies and Human Rights and Humanitarianism. Along the way, I found my sense of political consciousness and some of the few, close friends I’ve actively maintained contact with in the busy years post-graduation.

Now, a little over three years after graduation, I am happier and healthier than I have ever been.

So, if I look at my life holistically, I wouldn’t do anything differently.

But, from a strictly financial perspective, I wouldn’t necessarily advise others to do the same.

If you haven’t already gotten a Bachelor’s degree, I would consider trade school. Mostly because I feel that if you have already gone so far as to get a Bachelor’s, a graduate degree is more or less required to succeed in finding meaningful, financially viable employment.

Now, when I was in school, Mac cost less than it does today: closer to $40,000 than $50,000. And the 100 percent need-met policy with regard to financial aid — which continues to this day — meant that it was actually cheaper for me to attend Macalester than it would have been for me to attend one of the many local schools in Virginia, which had no such policy. In other words, the net sum of the debt I willingly and knowingly took on during my undergrad career was actually substantially less than the national average.

That said, it’s still more than I can comfortably handle given my current cost of living, salary, etc.

If I could do it all again, I suppose there is one thing I would change: I would have waited to take the GRE, which turned out just to be a lot of money spent on a test that my graduate school never even asked for the results of.

I do think that getting my graduate degree will increase the range of opportunities and salary levels available in my current career. I also believe that it will open doors to other career paths.

Depending on the path I end up taking or staying on, getting my particular degree may be a horrible decision in the long-run financially. On the other hand, it may also be the key to better financial health.

It is, in the meantime, more than “worth it” to me. I am glad that I didn’t go straight into grad school after college. I wouldn’t have ended up in the field I’m in now, where I find that being simultaneously grounded in a personal practice, professional practice, and academic study has lent an incredible sense of integrity and unity to my life.


  1. Anonymous at 9:56 am, October 3, 2012

    It is clear why going away to school was a good choice for you. It is for many others for the same reason and I do think going away teaches kids how to be on their own. However, I am thinking that more people should consider starting out at a Community College (like Bunker Hill in the Boston area for example), getting their 2 year degree and either seeing what is there for them in the workplace after (I make over $60k with just an Associate’s Degree) or taking the 2 year and finishing it at a 4 year school. Less debt since you spent 2 years at Community College, but also it seems that Community Colleges teach more real life work based skills./majors. There is a lot of job training, resources and classes that teach skills needed in the workplace. What do you think of that? I think a lot of people don’t consider starting out at a Community College because there is still a stigma attached to it.

  2. Morgan at 10:40 am, October 5, 2012

    I would agree with many of your comments in principle, especially with regard to the desirability of job training as an explicit part of higher education. In fact, I have worked proactively to incorporate two professional trainings into my graduate studies. That said, I think that attending a community college would have been a horrible idea for me. At the time, the thing I needed most was to get away from my toxic family environment, something that a four-year residential college neatly enabled. Now, I think that a fair number of my students have similar needs. That being said, my own younger brother stayed home and went to a community college for his Associate’s. He seems to have gained something from it, but I’m admittedly unclear about what that is. He still hasn’t been able to find work in a very competitive job market and, in this increasingly competitive school market, he has also not been accepted to finish up his BA/BS at a 4 year school as he initially planned. There may be other motivational or family dynamic issues involved there, though. Ultimately, I think that – for my brother and others who do not go on to get a Bachelor’s – trade school or an apprenticeship-based education in a particular field of employment may be preferable even over an Associate’s.