A four-year college degree isn’t for everybody. I’d be reluctant to even say it’s for most people. However, everybody needs and deserves education. Our society just needs to do a better job recognizing the validity of the huge variety of types of education for different types of people, interests, and careers.

I know a lot of people who went to college, but I know less people who have diplomas stuffed in a drawer somewhere. And that’s totally fine.

Now we have proof that this is totally fine, found in a paper from economic think tank the Hamilton Project. Turns out the boost to your lifetime salary received from even a little college experience significantly exceeds the amount you spend to attend. (Students with some college experience earn $100,000 more over the course of their lifetimes than students who have none.) If you’re looking at higher education as an investment into a future career, it’s worth getting any amount you can pull off.

Naturally, if you’re looking at this purely in terms of numbers, a degree still helps a lot more. Students with bachelor’s degrees earn $500,000 more in their lifetimes than students who end their education after high school.

Source: "Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?" The Hamilton Project
Source: “Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?” The Hamilton Project

However, let’s say you’re a struggling high school senior who knows he can make it into college, but isn’t sure if he can make it through. Pursuing a degree isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Getting half a degree still leaves you with half of what you’d learn if you hadn’t tried at all. And that will have some impact on what opportunities you get once you enter the workforce.

Ever heard anyone say, “Reach for the moon. Even if you don’t make it, you’ll land among the stars”? If you can ignore the horribly inaccurate astronomy, it’s still advice worth thinking about.