"Should I go to college?"
This question once provoked deadpan stares and a resounding "duh" from all friends and family members. Synonymous with success and stability, attending college was seen as a prerequisite for the comfortable middle class lifestyle.
Although still true today, it's a lot easier to fill out the "cons" column when contemplating this question. With record-setting student loan debt, rising tuition costs and a shifting labor market, students and families can't help but wonder if going to college is the best choice.
"I went to school for criminology and political science. I'm now a call center representative. I love the company I work for, but I can't help but feel frustrated when I think about the time and money I spent earning my degree," explains a recent college graduate who prefers to remain anonymous.
Between earning a degree you may not use, juggling school, work and home life and accumulating thousands of dollars in student loan debt, you can't help but ask yourself: "Is it worth it?"
A social psychologist would say, "yes."
Keggers and Confidence
The American "college experience" typically evokes images of Sperry-wearing frat boys clamoring around a keg of PBR, red Solo cups in tow. For students pressed for money and time, this stereotype may add to the "cons" column.
However, there is a veritable story buried beneath Friday hangovers and Spring Break trips: one of the emotionally immature high school student that blossoms into a self-reliant and disciplined adult. Social psychologists call this "grit."
"Grit is a disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance," explains Angela Duckworth, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in an interview with Edutopia. "Students with high levels of grit are more successful in both academic and non-academic pursuits.
Duckworth's research suggests that grit may be as vital as intelligence when it comes to high levels of achievement, such as finishing college or forging a career path.
Beyond the Bachelor's Degree
Learning to navigate the trials and tribulations of college is said to foster this defining personality trait.
"There is a strong body of research that shows that completing college requires a fair amount of persistence and provides evidence to employers of work ethic and the capacity to 'stick with it,'" explains David Meketon, School Liaison for Pennsylvania University's Duckworth Lab. "Besides what is learned through course work, students demonstrate the capacity for task completion and time management [during college]."
Meketon links grit to various measures of success, including finishing college, effective sales work and achievement within the United States Military Academy. "College is sometimes the first place that people encounter road blocks. We've learned through our research that the ability to tolerate frustration and failure is what is needed to achieve 'the good life.'"
It turns out that college is more than just earning a piece of paper while perfecting your beer pong shot. The social and emotional development that accompanies earning a degree is arguably just as valuable as the degree itself.
Growing Up: Priceless
"Grit" can be viewed as an all-encompassing term for what you really get out of college. As many graduates can attest, the years spent earning a degree encompass far more than developing and killing off brain cells via two very different types of all-nighters.
Most regard their college years as their most formative, crediting library study sessions, awkward social events and end-of-the-year parties for the person they are today. A foreign environment, coupled with fresh experiences and a newfound sense of independence, creates a crash course in character building. For many, you just can't put a price tag on growing up.
This piece was originally published on GenFKD in May of 2015.
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