How the “American obligation” can influence your future

Opinions expressed in editorials on The Central Trend are the view of the individual writer and are not the opinion of the entire staff of The Central Trend or the Forest Hills Central staff or administration.

Growing up as an American, we have societal obligations: undertake twelve years of school, graduate high school with a diploma, and attend college—earning a degree is the ultimate goal. Not complying with these standards inadvertently puts you behind those who do; it’s human nature to want to keep up with your peers and those you idolize. 

We have all felt inadequate after viewing a presentation self-deemed “better” or taking the longest to finish a test. Envision, if you haven’t already, not graduating high school. When it comes to education, simply giving yourself a week-long breath essentially costs you your future. Getting back on track with academics—let alone keeping up—is a grueling and emotionally tolling process. Detrimental to our mental wellbeing and even harder on our self-esteem, these obligations are onerous to balance. But some could argue that these liabilities fuel our motivation. Where would we be without them?

Detrimental to our mental wellbeing and even harder on our self-esteem, these obligations are onerous to balance. But some could argue that these liabilities fuel our motivation. Where would we be without them?

The current immediate college enrollment rate is 69% as of 2018, compared to the 1950s where only 3.4% of the American population attended college. Higher education has obviously gained universality over the years. Therefore this must mean the career industry has expanded its positions in higher education demanding roles, right? This isn’t the case. Regardless of the degree you earn, if any, attending college does not ensure your “dream job,” let alone a job. 

Forty-three percent of college graduates are underemployed—meaning they are underused in the work field in spite of their skill level. The standard salary of a college graduate comes to roughly $50,000 according to a 2021 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) salary survey. This is about $10,000 more per year than the typical high school graduate. While $10,000 a year is an opportunity most people wouldn’t contemplate, one must take into consideration the student debt those who did attend college face. It takes roughly 20 years for the typical degree holder to pay off the majority of their student loans. Some can even endure student debt for as many as 45 years. 

Even once one undergoes years of education, they have yet more obligations to face: find a well-paying, steady job, purchase a house, seek a spouse, and have children, according to the stereotypical “American dream.”

When does it cease?

By complying with the American obligation, you may just be signing your life away. What if it’s all for nothing? What if you go to college for four years, accumulate loans and debts, and wind up with an underpaying job that you are overqualified for? Not to say that this is the case for all college graduates, but with college education increasing in popularity, the job market becoming more sparse and tuition growing more expensive by the minute, it is just not possible for everyone chasing the “American dream” to catch it. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ill-fated though, or that you should completely rethink your future; there are many unconventional ways you can broaden what lies ahead. One way to do this is by taking a gap year; it is a common misconception that students who pursue a gap year are less likely to attend college, which is assumably why only 3% of students participate in one. However, research argues that students who have taken on gap years are more likely to graduate in four years or less compared to the national average of six years. Many highly credible universities—including thos in the Ivy League—are starting to fund gap year programs and studies because of recent, convincing research debunking the myths that swarm the notion of a gap year like flies. 

Another unique way to dodge the inevitable obstacles established by obligations is attending community college, as opposed to jumping right into a four-year university. The graduation rate of universities is declining as the number of students attending rises. Trade school, travel, and independent study are just some of the many more alternatives.

In short, college is not for everyone, though society has undoubtedly built up enough stigma to suggest it is. If you ever find yourself mindlessly following in the footsteps of your peers, don’t hesitate to take a minute and consider your options. It just might work out in your favor.