Go to college - earn more and live longer
The bigger picture
College is expensive, even if you get a maintenance grant, but it is usually worth it in terms of lifetime earnings and, believe it or not, better health.
Of course, there are always exceptions, but in general Irish graduates earn more than those who don't go to college. If you want proof, look no further than the wonderfully named Education At A Glance report, the dense, 565-page compendium of data and tables published annually by the OECD.
The table of contents takes up eight pages alone in the latest version but the report itself is packed full of useful information. For instance, it shows that adults with third-level education in OECD countries earn about 60pc more, on average, than adults with upper secondary as their highest level of educational attainment.
Irish graduates do better than the OECD average, earning 84pc more over their lifetime than non-graduates. In general, employment rates and earnings increase as an adult's level of education and skills increases, but the labour market still regards a diploma or degree as the primary indication of a worker's skills, it says.
A third-level qualification is not just a better money maker. According to the OECD, adults with higher educational attainment are more likely to report that they are in good health, that they participate in volunteer activities, that they trust others and that they feel they have a say in government. In other words, more highly educated adults tend to be more engaged in the world around them.
A cure for all ills then?
Well, not quite. There are life-improving advantages in going to college but you need to know what you want to do and stick to the course.
Sadly, too many don't do either. Some apply for a prestigious course because they are expected to get high points and their parents want them to pursue a professional career. Others apply for particular courses with no thought for the morrow and no suitability for what they have chosen.
The introduction of the online change-of-mind facility many years ago by the CAO was a very helpful innovation but how many times has it been used late at night with a few pints aboard and a discussion with some mate who was very persuasive about the need to take a course in property economics or creative writing?
Small wonder that the annual Irish Independent/National Parents Council helpline gets odd queries about what exactly a course in forensic and environmental chemistry or herbal science actually involves.
Lack of foresight is not the only reason people drop out. A worrying new report from the Higher Education Authority shows that 16pc of first-years don't make it into second year - that's one in six freshers who don't make it past the starting blocks. It confirms, once again, that the better you do in the Leaving, the more likely you are to stay the course.
Predictably males are more likely to drop out than females. Predictably also, rates of non-progression, as they are called, are linked to socio-economic background, with the lowest drop-out rates among children of farmers and higher professionals. Sticking with a course you are unable or unsuitable for is too much for many. But the corollary is also true: staying the course can reap rewards.
Higher education is a life changer for many. But you need to plan to get the most out of it.