Biggest Regrets for College Grads

Recently, a compensation research company called Payscale surveyed a large group of people – 248,000 of them in fact. While the survey was primarily intended to gather information on salary and other compensation for various jobs, they went further than that: Given the importance people place on college degrees (as evidenced by the recent college bribery scandal), they wanted to know whether people had any regrets about the degrees that they earned.

If you have regrets about some aspect of your postsecondary experience, you’re not alone: According to their survey, you share those regrets with 66 percent of the degree-carrying public. The kinds of regret that people feel, however, varies widely by age and degree held.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Baby Boomers are the ones with the least regret – 51.3 percent reported having no regrets at all – and, coming from an age when college was much more affordable, they are also the least likely to regret taking on debt in order to fund their education (only 13.4 percent had regrets about student debt). This is in stark contrast to the Millennial Generation, where only 28.7 percent had no regrets related to their degrees, and 28.8 percent regretted their student loan debt, the top category of regret for that group.

There are some other interesting breakdowns as well, such as the fact that those with MBAs and Masters Degrees are most likely to regret their student loan debt, possibly because they carry the most with the fewest marginal benefits. Those with Ph.D. degrees are the least likely to carry regrets.

But what was most interesting was the breakdown by major. There was a clear trend showing that those who majored in “hard” subjects, like computer science, engineering, and math, were not only among the least likely to regret their debt loads, but also the least likely to regret their majors. In contrast, those in majors such as the humanities and social sciences carried the highest level of regrets, including regrets about their student loan debt as well as regrets about choosing those majors in the first place.

What conclusions can we draw? First, that student loan debt is a real problem, particularly among Millennials (which shouldn’t be a surprise given the increase in college expenses over the last twenty years or so). Beyond that, it’s really interesting to see that the more practical degrees – those that lead most directly into high-paying jobs – result in the fewest regrets. While I’m a believer in the value of a traditional liberal arts degree, I also think it’s true that some percentage of people in degrees such as sociology or history are people who felt the need to go to college but didn’t have the kind of direction that would allow them to focus in a specific career-related field. The lack of a direct career connection could certainly explain, at least in part, the dissatisfaction with those majors, and with the inability to handle the resulting debt.

Take a look at the survey for yourself – it’s fascinating stuff, and will certainly provide you with your own insights based on your experiences.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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