Jun 12, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

As the worldwide trend for individuals to invest in higher education rises, many are starting to look at not just the short-term economic benefits of a degree, but the longer-term neurological, social, cultural, and health benefits of that degree.

Believe it or not, that diploma and those letters after your name aren't the ends of all that work. They're just the beginning, and the process of getting those things will enrich your life more than you realize.

Besides that highly valued, sought after degree, a college education brings you much more. 

From brain development to health and happiness, let's explore the benefits of a college education, besides the obvious. 

1. Brain development

College is good for your brain.

Neurologist Frances Jensen and psychologist Laurence Steinberg write about the development of the brain and how a college education gives students more than just information and skills--it actually changes the structure of the brain.

They define "plasticity," which describes the period of time between the ages of 10 and 25 during which your brain has an increased ability to build new neurons and to make stronger connections between them, which contributes to your abilities in higher-level thinking activities.

Simply put, plasticity allows you to benefit from increased intellectual stimulation, problem-solving, and understanding new ideas.

Sounds an awful lot like your undergraduate experience, doesn't it?

2. Discipline

Success in your undergraduate years requires that you know how to budget your time so that you can focus on your work and live your life. By setting and keeping a schedule, you will develop strong habits of discipline that will serve you well in your studies, but also in your life.

From blocking out time for classes and homework, developing an exercise schedule, hanging out with friends, and hobbies, your ability to focus on specific skills, tasks, and projects, will only deepen as a result of earning your degree.

3. Wealth

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees with a bachelor's degree earn about 64 percent more per week than those with a high school diploma, and about 40 percent more than those with an associate's degree. 

The crunched numbers add up, with an average $24,000 yearly salary difference between those with a degree and those without. 

4. Happiness

Numerous studies suggest that having a college degree contributes to overall health, well-being, and happiness. 

he Lumina Foundation's 2015 study, "It's Not Just The Money," found that college graduates report having “good” or “very good” health 44 percent more than their non-graduate counterparts. They're also nearly four times less likely than high school graduates to smoke, and significantly more likely to exercise, wear a seat belt, maintain a healthy weight and regularly see a doctor. 

A 2017 study in the UK found similar results among college graduates. 

The report, The Wellbeing of Graduates: Assessing the Contribution of Higher Education to Graduates’ Wellbeing in the UK, found that in addition to being happier than non-graduates, graduates are also more resilient when facing setbacks.

5. Health

Earning a college degree may help you live longer. 

A 2016 Brookings Institute study found that an additional year of college decreases mortality rates by 15 to 19 percent. How? By reducing deaths from cancer and heart disease. That's right: you don't even need to complete college to reap some of the health benefits. 

The researchers pointed to research that already suggests the link between education and health, including later life mortality. 

This doesn't mean that college graduates will always outlive their non-graduate counterparts.

But it does mean that you're likely to have a better job, better health insurance, better access to healthier choices, and the likelihood of earlier diagnoses of disease like heart disease and cancer.

In China, researchers found a correlation between happiness and health in those students with lower BMIs. The study's takeaway? While many Chinese students face incredible academic pressure, many rate themselves "happy" and "healthy," which researchers attribute to well-being and overall health.

 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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