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Is Going to College Really Worth the Cost?

The cost of college has steadily risen over the years. So is earning a degree still worth it? Our experts explain why it is for several unexpected reasons.

Suzanne Shaffer
Freelance Writer
College Coach
The better way to ask this question is: “Is going to college really worth the cost for me?” There are many paths you can take in life—college is simply one of them. If academia is something you enjoy and thrive in, it’s certainly worth the cost, especially if you’re wise about where you apply and can graduate with minimal debt. But if you’re a person interested in the trades and you enjoy non-conventional paths of study or simply have a strong entrepreneurial spirit (like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg), college may not be a wise investment.

There are so many careers that pay well and don’t require a college education. Going to college simply because “that’s what everyone is doing” isn’t a wise path to take after high school. If you’re simply not ready to decide, take some time and pursue your various interests. Work at a job that interests you. Research apprenticeships in the trades. Take time to explore other options like the military, which will pay for college if you decide you want both. Or work at an internship that can lead to a future job and career. Always remember college is only one path you can take, and its worth can only be determined by asking yourself if it’s worth it for you.

Dr. Deb GellerDr. Deb Geller, EdD
Former Dean, University of California, Los Angeles
I would argue that college is a worthwhile investment, and not only because studies show that the typical college graduate will earn 84% more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. The real value of the college experience is in the holistic development that occurs over the four or five years it takes to earn that degree. College is a time to develop a sense of identity and to refine one’s values. It's a time to develop interpersonal skills, communication skills, and leadership skills. Studies show that college graduates are more civically engaged; they vote frequently and get involved in local issues. Indeed, today’s college graduates are tomorrow’s global leaders. As the cost of education continues to rise, students need to pay more attention and seek ways to avoid debt. Strategies include attending in-state schools, working part-time, and applying for scholarships.

Hicks Grazette

Jacqueline Hicks Grazette
Chief Executive Officer
Majoring in a high-demand field will definitely make the investment in college worthwhile. Students who enter math, science, engineering, medicine, and computer technology fields find those majors still pay off in jobs after college. Remember, you don’t have to enter the top of the food chain in many fields to make good wages. For example, in the medical field, beginning radiation technologists, paralegals, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants enjoy better or equal earning power to entry-level doctors, with much fewer years of schooling. That entry-level doctor will have to put in 18–20 years of education and much more time and financial investment in establishing a practice before they begin to significantly outpace the earnings of those workers.  

But every major survey has shown that workers with a college education, even if they delay entry into the workforce due to recessionary pressures, ultimately out-earn people without college degrees in the long run. That has not changed and is not likely to change. What has changed is that students and parents are now thinking less abstractly about what they want to do with their educational investment and are thus more price-inelastic about college costs.

Aaron McDanielAaron McDaniel
Corporate Manager
Entrepreneur & Author
College happens outside the classroom. Yes, in class you get to interact with thought-leading professors and brilliant peers, but the true education in life happens in the experience of living in the dorms and finding your passions through on-campus activities. I firmly believe that I learned more from the leadership positions I took on within student organizations than I did in all the college courses I took combined. From teaching a course on leadership to being president of professional clubs and being part of a community service project, that is where the real learning occurred that I regularly call on in my career. Get involved in leadership positions on campus (within professional organizations in particular) that will help you build practical skills that are needed for success in the workplace, like effective communication, strategic thinking, and management. This makes the cost of college more than worth it.

To make college worth the real or figurative cost, you need to take advantage of everything a school has to offer. Everything. How might you go about getting the most bang for your tuition buck? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Use the career services office: From having your résumé reviewed to attending networking events, take advantage of the professional job coaching available by the trained career services staff. (These services might even be available to you after you graduate!)
  • Attend on-campus lectures: Schools bring in amazing guest speakers all the time. Keep an eye on school websites and residence hall bulletin boards for expert speakers and presentations in fields of interest to you (whether or not they’re related to your official major). You’re sure to learn something new and interesting, plus you might be able to ask your own questions or even meet the speaker afterward—a great networking opportunity!
  • Join a club: Better yet, join a bunch of them. You can even create your own! Campus activities offer real-world experience in things like event planning and management, exposure to new and unique fields, and the application of classroom lessons, not to mention plenty of social time with people who share your interests.

You’re not just investing in a college education; you are investing in you. And you owe it to yourself (and whoever is footing your tuition bill) to take advantage of every opportunity available to you.

Find ways to make college more affordable with articles like The Real Cost of College and How to Pay It.

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