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By Ben Feuer

Lately, there has been a lot of debate about whether college is right for every student, or indeed the majority of students. If you are applying to college next year, should you be listening to this debate? Here is the answer.

Okay. I’m going to get personal here for a minute. It’s hard for me to fully appreciate the challenges some people have in accessing higher education. I was fortunate; my parents both went to graduate school at Ivy League universities, and aside from some handwaving about cost of education and student loans and murmurs like “Rutgers is offering an awful lot of tuition money”, there was never any serious doubt that I would have control over my own choices when it came to higher education.

For a variety of reasons, many people out there are not as fortunate as I was. That said, college is still the gateway to a better way of life for the vast majority of young people in this country.  According to Pew, millenials with college educations earn $15,000 a year more on average than their peers, and face unemployment rates of around 4%, as opposed to 12% for those with high school educations.

With that said, the trend may be changing, and there are already important alternatives to consider.  Trade schools are on the rise, and talented technicians earn almost as much as college graduates, on average.  Community colleges can provide valuable associates degrees, or can act as gateways to the full college experience.

But every major choice in life is difficult, and a choice like whether or not to go to college is exceptionally difficult.  That’s why, if you are thinking about whether or not to go to school, I recommend you check your gag reflex.

No, not the gag reflex after you have one too many dirty martinis (but you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?) – – The gag reflex is a little acronym checklist to help students decide if college is right for them.  I know, it's cheesy, but hey.

Here are the steps of GAG.  They should be considered (and prioritized) in order.

1.  Grades.

How successful were you in high school? This also applies to standardized tests like SATs. The reason we consider this first is because it has such a heavy influence on everything else. If your grades aren't up to snuff, it really doesn't matter that you think you be interested in being a doctor – – nursing's a better fit. On the other hand, if you have great grades, maybe you can trade prestige for scholarship dollars by going to a local or state school. Long story short, if you have the grades and put in the work, you belong at a top school. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let fear stand in your way.

2.  Access.

Students who come from money are always going to have college options, whether private, out-of-state, for-profit, online… The list goes on. Students from limited financial backgrounds have to seriously consider alternate strategies more seriously.  But there are other factors besides money that can limit access. Handicaps, both physical and mental, play a role in evaluating a student’s college readiness. Some students, either by preference or necessity, stay close to home. 

3.  Goals.

Not everybody thrives in college, and not everybody who eventually thrives in college is ready to do so at age 18. Some people just need to have a little work experience and maturity before they are really ready to go out on their own like that. Don’t worry so much about career goals at this early stage, because no offense, you have no idea what your options are when it comes to career. Nobody does, until they get out there and find out what the market is actually looking for. The kind of goals that matter at this stage are little bit bigger picture. Are you interested in the arts and humanities, or are you more of a math and science gal?  Do you like working in teams, or alone? Do you think you are interested in management? What kind of situations, settings, and environments make you feel most comfortable?

Naturally, you’re going to talk any major life decision over with your friends, family, and loved ones. It’s good to get a lot of opinions. That said, in the end this is your life and your choice.  Do yourself a favor and gag before you leap.

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