For students my age, going to college is a requirement that is drilled into us from a young age. Elementary school teachers ask us what school we want to go to when we grow up. High school teachers tell us that our college professors will grade a lot harsher than they do. If a student is an athlete, the goal of wearing a university jersey is more of an expectation than a dream.

With the idea of college so ingrained into childhood and adolescence, there is little time to consider the possibility of other options. I never stepped back and asked myself why I wanted to go to college, if it was worth it for me or how a college education would benefit me. Many college students are in the same situation.

Society said, “go to college,” and we all enrolled.

Now, in the back of our minds behind the mountain of assignments and stress of submission deadlines is the nagging fear of “is this all really worth it?”

For most of the class of 2019 graduates, I don’t think it is.

Finals week looms and soon, NAU’s graduating students will be ready to walk across the stage. For many of them, as they step into the beginning of their new life, they will be handed nearly insurmountable amounts of student debt along with their degree.

The average total cost for students living on campus at four-year public, in-state universities was $24,320 in 2017-18, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

I definitely didn’t have $25,000 sitting around as a senior in high school. One route taken by students who can’t afford the upfront cost of college is taking out student loans to pay back later after accumulating a sum of interest.

While it might seem appealing to get “free” money and just pay off college a few years later, that is not quite a reality anymore. According to the NCES, about 63% of 2007-08 bachelor’s degree recipients who did not further their education owed an average of $24,000 four years after graduating.

The plan to pay off student loan debt quickly isn’t happening. A study by Cengage states it takes graduates close to 20 years to completely erase their student debt.

Being saddled with thousands of dollars of debt in one’s 20s and into one’s 40s for a degree is simply not worth it.

You might frown and say, “Well you’re in college, Ryan. Take your own advice.”

Let me explain. I have scholarships that cover my tuition and some fees, I’m working nearly full-time and I’m cutting expenses. It’s an intense path that requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but I’m graduating with little to no debt. That makes college worth it for me.

Accumulating student loan debt is often justified by the promise of getting a better paying job in the future. But does every degree really guarantee a better starting salary than someone who didn’t seek higher education after college?

The average college graduate’s salary is more than $30,000 higher than the average salary for a worker with a high school diploma, according to the New York Federal Reserve’s website. While that is an appealing pay gap, the student debt still has to be paid off. By the time all costs are calculated, the final earning jump of a college graduate over a high school graduate is a much less satisfying and justifiable number.

Almost anything taught in a college lecture hall can be learned through on the job experience in your field of interest, or on the internet if you devote enough time.

If college is worth it, it should have an answer that is unique to each student.

To the freshly graduated students who contribute to the $1.48 trillion of national student debt, I’d advise them to hope and pray that presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s student loan forgiveness plan makes its way into action.