It may not always seem like it, but going to college can actually make you happier. Perhaps not in the short term--there are finals, after all, and that general lack of money or personal space that comes with the college lifestyle--but in the long term, people who go to college consistently report being happier. They also claim to be healthier and more likely to make good choices. This comes on top of the financial benefits of receiving a degree, which include better job security, lower unemployment, and higher salaries.
In a working paper entitled, "How Large Are Returns to Schooling? Hint: Money Isn't Everything," available from the National Bureau of Economic Research, two researchers use data from General Social Surveys from 1972 to 2000 to gauge whether increased education has any correlation with increased happiness, job satisfaction, and other indicators of a better life. While it's difficult to show direct causation, their analysis did find a strong correlation between college education, especially receiving a bachelor's degree or higher, and many positives in life.
People with college degrees were more likely to report having satisfying jobs with a greater degree of autonomy, sense of accomplishment, and opportunity than other workers with similar backgrounds but less education. This can play into greater happiness, since work is such a big part of many people's sense of identity and fulfillment. Their research also backs up earlier reports that college graduates are less likely to face unemployment long-term or need to rely on public assistance, which can also correlate with higher self-esteem and a lower likelihood of depression.
Recipients of college degrees also make better decisions, likely due in part to the reasoning and research skills they gained in college. They report being healthier, possibly because of making positive decisions about their health, including both lifestyle choices and healthcare decisions. They also are less likely to get divorced, more likely to hold off on having children until they're financially and emotionally ready to do so, and may be more likely to develop better relationship and parenting skills than less educated counterparts. They also are likely to plan for the future, as opposed to living only for today. Finally, those who had more education were likely to be more trusting, believing that people are basically good, which can lead to more social participation. Having stronger friendships, stronger family ties, better health, plans for the future, and positive attitudes can all tie in easily to increased happiness.
Achieving any amount of post-secondary education can influence all of these figures, and even respondents who just finished high school were more likely to report positive results than respondents who did not. While increased education can correlate with less free time and more job-related stress, many people consider these acceptable trade-offs for overall improvements in quality of life. So if you're wondering, " why go to college?" you hopefully have some good reasons. If your question has now changed from "why" to "how," check out our free college search and scholarship search to get started on the path to a happier life.