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I’ve met a number of people lately who have said something that’s surprised me. They’ve told me that they aren’t sure if college is really worth it. They believe it would be a waste of money to pay for something they might never use, especially if they change their mind on a career path later.

The group I’m talking about is made up of twenty-something millennials. They are college age and very unsure if they trust this system. They’ve seen their friends go to college and end up with little more than a pile of student loans and a degree that seems to open zero doors. They see friends living at home with parents, unable to get their own apartments.

The economy has struggled for years. College tuition is at extremely high levels creating high student debt. And older workers are being forced to stay in their jobs for longer than ever before, leaving fewer good jobs for new graduates.

When you think of it this way, this perspective makes sense. It can seem that the return on investment just isn’t there to justify spending the money. It also ups the importance of picking the right degree.

But, this perspective worries me. In today’s workforce, a college degree is often considered the minimum threshold for entry. It’s similar to how a high school diploma was perceived in a previous generation. Without one, a job seeker will likely be at a disadvantage compared to someone with a degree.

Very often, the specific degree is less important than having one. Ask anyone over the age of forty what they studied in college. There’s a decent chance you’ll be surprised by their answer because they likely have switched fields along the way.

When I hear this new doubt about the value of college, I think about a number of the older job seekers I’ve met along the way. Early in their careers, they were leaders in their field — perhaps in something like sales. They worked at the same company for years, building up clients and a big paycheck. Then one day, the industry shifted. The company they worked for went out of business and they were out of work.

Suddenly, the successful, seasoned professional they were disappears. They feel helpless. They feel lost. Employers are less interested in them. They have all the right experience and the right knowledge, but they don’t have a degree. They don’t meet the basic requirements. They struggle to find work that will pay the bills to maintain their existing lifestyle. This experience is devastating.

If you’re struggling to decide, remember the long game. Education is expensive, but it’s worth it. Think of how much you’d be willing to pay for a new car, because it drives you around. Education gets you places too, but just in a different way. And, if college isn’t for you for whatever reason, consider a trade program. Additional training will put you ahead of your competition, and help to secure your future.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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