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The Big Question

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“A college degree is the key to realizing the American dream, well worth the financial sacrifice because it is supposed to open the door to a world of opportunity” –Dan Rather.
College tuition and fees have multiplied by 3.7 percent this past year, leaving high school graduates with a major decision. The number of people in the United States that have student loan debt has reached 40 million.
College degrees are something in society that is viewed as important in the cycle of life. The question “Is college worth it?” has been a topic of discussion to many Americans across the country.
Students must often decide whether they will follow their dreams, or shoot for the career that is going to be the most lucrative.
Bryan Horton is a Reservoir Engineer for ConocoPhillips who went to the University of Tulsa. He went to college for five years, and at the end of those five years his degree cost more than $180,000.
“I’ve always seemed to have an engineer’s mind; tearing things apart and rebuilding them as a kid, as well as an interest in math and science,” Horton said over email. “As I started to research different engineering career paths I stumbled upon petroleum engineering. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow a family friend that was a petroleum engineer for an oil company in Tulsa. I was fortunate enough not to have any student loans. I secured scholarships for the majority of my college expenses.”
Horton’s experience at college benefited him in many ways.
“Going to college to get a degree was definitely worth it for me,” Horton said.  “My years in college helped me to mature and come into my own as a young adult.   I knew that I was very interested in engineering but wasn’t sure which specific one until I got into classes at school but I at least knew that I needed a degree to be an engineer so I needed to go to college.”
Among the top five most lucrative jobs is petroleum engineering. The average reservoir engineer salary is a little higher than $100,000 out of college.
Caylin Mertz is a Social Worker who went to Missouri State University and got a Bachelor of Science in Criminology, Bachelor of Science in Sociology and a Master of Science in Criminology. At the end of receiving her degrees, everything had costs around $50,000 to $60,000.
“I honestly wasn’t expecting to end up being a social worker,” Mertz said.  “When I graduated I wanted to get a job that was in something close to my field, so I applied with Children’s Division as well as several other Department of Corrections jobs and this was the first offer I got. Once I started, it didn’t take long before I realized this was the career for me. I do pay student loans. I pay $369.00 a month.”
Social work for Mertz means she earns $34,500 each year. Social Workers are packaged with the least lucrative jobs across the United States.
College is a pricey choice; some go for the enjoyment, some for a career, others, are sucked into the pressure of society.
“I don’t think that college is necessarily for everyone,” Horton said. “There is a lot of pressure on today’s youth that they have to go to college and that everyone should go to college.  I really don’t think that this is the right outlook.  Sure there are a lot of jobs that require college degrees to perform but there are also many that don’t.  I know plenty of people that have been very happy and successful without going to college.”
College isn’t something for people to take lightly; the choice that can make a difference for the rest of someone’s life.
“Take your time deciding what you want to do and be open-minded,” Mertz said.  “When I graduated I thought I wanted to work for Probation and Parole but I’m so thankful I found this job first because it’s truly the perfect job for me.”
Having a plan is a good idea before going to college, but students don’t have to have their life figured out.
“You need to have a plan and a reason to go to college before enrolling in what can be a very expensive four to five years,” Horton said.  “I don’t think you have to have your whole career planned out before you come to college but at the same time you don’t want to be spending a lot of money to go to school if you don’t at least have some idea of what it is you want to do.”
Mertz is happy with her job, no matter what the country labels her job as; what a salary is doesn’t define her happiness.
“Although this job is hard, it’s a lot of work, a lot of hours, and sometimes tears but it is so worth it,” Mertz said. “I work with some of the most incredible kids. Watching people change their lives for the better is awesome and helping kids be better off is great too. Knowing that these kids are safe and that I’ve helped people change their lives for the better. In the end it’s always their choice to change but knowing you played some small part in that is amazing.”
Many students are swayed by society’s views on whether or not to go to college for a job that will give them enough money, or to follow their heart.
“Do what you love,” Mertz said.  “If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. That is the most honest statement I can make. At the end of the day you can have all the money in the world but it won’t make you any happier if you hate what you do every day. Most people spend more time working every day than they spend with their spouses. Most people wouldn’t settle for rich spouse they hated so why do this with a career.”
People can define their own happiness; both Mertz and Horton advise to do what you love.
“If you can find a way to make a living doing the thing you love the most then you have won the lottery,” Horton said.  “That is how I classify a dream career.  As much as I enjoy my job I don’t know that I would quite say that it is the thing I am most passionate about but that’s why I have hobbies. My work challenges me and in overcoming the challenges and solving the problems I find fulfillment.  Keep in mind that money isn’t everything and it is crucial that you enjoy what you are spending most of your time everyday on.”

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Glendale High School Quill Springfield, Missouri
The Big Question