When thinking about the benefits of a college education, it’s important to remember that a four-year degree is not about preparing oneself for a trade. It’s about preparing oneself for life. And when put in that context, it’s obvious that higher education should never be thought of as a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have.”

Unlock potential. I have first-hand experience of the talent that can be unlocked when intelligent young people are given opportunities, regardless of their background. As an immigrant who came to the United States while I was in high school, going to college was my biggest chance to make positive changes in my life and be able to give something back. My degree represented my chance to achieve the American dream.

A degree is essential. Unfortunately the cost of education is rising. For me, it’s not so much a question of can you afford to go to college as can you afford not to. The globalization of business, economies under pressure, and increasing job competition have created a perfect storm for young people: they need more than ever to be prepared. A college degree is essential for preparing you for the challenges ahead.

Start early. I believe preparing for a working life should start even earlier than college. Based on my personal experience, I have made it my mission to work with high school students to help them identify career paths that reflect their values and interests, and bring out their passions. After all, if you don’t really understand the breadth of careers that are open to you, how can you choose the best degree to help you realize your potential?

Get experience. Education is critical, but in these competitive times it can no longer stand alone. Young people need to couple formal learning with on-the-job experience to give them a better chance of finding not just any job, but the right job. The most successful graduates take the initiative, either by finding work experience themselves, or getting involved with student organizations and groups that facilitate this experience. I had a few internships before graduating, at a time when internships were not as encouraged as they are now, and the experience undoubtedly gave me an edge. It made me far more marketable and meant I started my career with an open mind to the possibilities available to me.