The University Dream: Is It Still Worth It?

Aug 21, 2023

When I was all of 6 years old, my mother asked my cousin and I which one of us wanted to go Harvard and which one Stanford. As light hearted as that question probably was, it planted the seed of aspiration in me, aspiration to go to a top university abroad.

When I was 10 years old, I was determined to make all those aspirations reality. I remained a straight A student, always submitted my work on time, was the class representative and the model child for every teacher.

When I was 13, I made a Pinterest board of the fancy campuses, libraries with tall shelves extending to infinity, lecture halls with the perfect blend of history, elegance and cutting-edge technology. I dreamed of the opportunity to interact with intellectuals from different races and backgrounds- each aiming to change the world. The optimal learning environment. The University dream.

I am now 17, applying to university in a few months, and the dream-crushing costs of it all have largely adjusted my vision since then.

Ivy League schools have now reached another arm and leg cost of $90,000. Not only are tuition fees rising annually, but the rate at which they are rising has also been increasing, with an increase of 3.6% in the past 10 years.

Those relentless students taking student loans to make their university dreams a reality often end up in a deep pit of lifetime debt, making the returns received for going to said ‘dream university’ quite low. According to research, the average student loan takes 21 years to pay off.

To help, the Biden Administration cut in half the amount that borrowers have to pay each month for undergraduate loans from 10% to 5% of discretionary income.

However, none of this changes the fact that the returns of attending university have been lower and lower as the prices keep skyrocketing. A poll by Wall Street Journal on March 31st, 2023, suggests that the confidence of students towards university is at an all-time low, with 56% of Americans believing that a degree is no longer worth the time or money. And it’s not just America, in England, 25% of male graduates and 15% of female graduates take home less money over the course of their careers compared to their peers who do not get a degree, according to IFS (research).

The returns received from a degree have seemed to largely boil down to choosing the right subject. In Britain, negative returns are most likely for those studying creative arts  (less than 10% of men make a positive return), visual arts, music,  social care and agriculture. While the best-earning degrees in America remain in engineering, computer science and business.

In an era of shifting paradigms, it has become crucial to re-assess the future value of our investments towards our career. The allure of a prestigious campus must not distract us from factoring in evolving demands in the job market, practical skill development and, yes, the monster of it all, affordability.

They say that as you get older, your dreams become smaller. Numbers, statistics and ‘the likely chances of success’ often cloud the scope of our aspirations. Your future is unlikely to pan out exactly how your Pinterest board pictured it at 13. But guess what? You get to embrace the thrill of the unknown. And who knows, maybe it opens pathways to even greater aspirations!

-Anisha Ali