When you tally up the cost of tuition, textbooks, room and board, and other miscellaneous expenditures involved with going to college, it quickly becomes clear that it’s going to be a hefty investment. When you start to imagine the price, you might be wondering, “Is college worth it?”
To see if the decision to go to college will pan out in your financial favor, it’s necessary to look at the average cost of college, what financial options and aid are available, and the specific pros and cons of getting a degree overall.
How Much Does College Usually Cost?
A major factor that influences the cost of college depends on which country you’re attending in and whether or not the school is public or private. The U.S. happens to have the highest average tuition fees in the world for a bachelor-level degree.
With American public institutions, it’s also important to factor in whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state resident in relation to where the prospective school is located. Residents of the state the college is in will usually pay less than those coming to the college from a different state.
Looking at the 2018-2019 school year, U.S. News & World Report found that the average tuition and fees were $35,676 for a private college; $21,629 for a public, out-of-state college; and $9,716 for a public, in-state college. These numbers reflect the full cost of college tuition without any financial aid or scholarships factored in.
As you can see, college is pricey. Yet, by considering these price differences, it’s clear that the type of institution you’ll be attending can significantly affect whether college is worth the investment.
How Do People Pay for College?
Everyone’s financial situation is unique, but one of the most common ways that people pay for college is by combining their income, savings (whether that be from the student or the student’s parents), grants and scholarships, and loans.
Grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid, so they’re a great way to make college affordable. Generally, grants are need-based and provided by either the federal or state government.
Many different organizations offer scholarships, including the government, employers, churches, and volunteer organizations. Scholarships may be merit-based (determined on the student’s academic, athletic, or artistic ability) or need-based (determined solely on the student’s financial situation).
It’s a good idea to apply to as many grants and scholarships as possible, and to continue applying for them throughout college. If these don’t provide you with enough money to cover your tuition, then the next step is to apply for loans.
Understanding Federal Loans vs. Private Loans
When it comes to loans, there are federal loans and private student loans. There are many different types of federal student loans which are funded by the government, many of which include flexible repayment plans based on income.
Private student loans, on the other hand, are funded by a non-federal lender, like a bank or credit union, and they often have certain credit requirements, higher interest rate, and less flexible repayment options overall.
Should I Take Out a Loan?
Taking out loans for college can help you afford the education you want, but it does involve accruing debt. Having debt may mean readjusting your plans and budget in order to avoid defaulting on a loan and damaging your credit score. Remember that loans always need to be paid back, meaning that even if college is attainable now, you’ll have to bear the brunt of it when you’re just starting out your career.
Figuring out how to pay for college may seem overwhelming, but it’s a major step in determining if the investment is worth it. College financial advisors can guide prospective students further regarding these options.
The Pros and Cons to Earning a Degree
One of the biggest pros of getting a degree is the potential to earn more long-term. According to a 2017 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who have earned a Bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education have a median weekly earning of $1,173, compared to those with only a high school diploma who have a median weekly earning of $712.
Another plus to having a degree is that a degree is almost always tied to a lower unemployment rate. In the same Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, they found that those with just a high school diploma had almost double the unemployment rate as those with up to a Bachelor’s degree.
If you can make a healthy salary once you graduate, then you can pay off any debt you may have accrued, in addition to living a secure lifestyle. Of course, earning a degree also offers more than just economic benefits. It can help you build meaningful new connections and open your mind up to a new way of thinking.
On the other hand, the high costs associated with earning a degree do mean the possibility of taking on a burdensome debt that can take many years to pay off. This debt can significantly affect your future decisions, such as whether or not you can continue onto grad school, buy a house, take vacations, or start a family.
Tips for Finding an Affordable College
All this considered, affordable colleges are out there! To find them, you can narrow down your search:
- Apply to public institutions rather than private ones
- Look for colleges in your state of residence
- Look for colleges in rural areas (compared to urban centers)
- Get your start at a community college
- Explore fast-track degree programs
- Consider getting an online education
Finding a more affordable college lowers the financial burden and can make your investment more worthwhile.
Alternatives to College
Rather than going to college, some people choose to enter the workforce upon graduating from high school. While this means no student loan debt, the jobs available to those without college degrees could be limited. That being said, you can work your way up quickly in your job and earn a decent living.
Apprenticeships are another common alternative to college. These programs involve on-the-job training in a variety of fields and take around one to five years to complete. Manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and hospitality are just a few of the industries offering apprenticeships, where the pay scale isn’t too bad.
Many people also choose to join the military service, which offers training programs for jobs as a civilians and career-transferable experience. Also, you usually have the option to go back to school after returning from your deployment.
The Value of College
By weighing your goals with going to college and how your financial situation fits in with expected costs, you’ll be able to make a more intellectual decision about applying to college.
Though, if you’d like additional help with that decision, you can use a calculator designed to determine the value of a college degree. This calculator helps you look at the mathematical side, which is great for people who need solid facts and figures to make an educated assessment.
When using this calculator, input information such as your age, the cost of tuition, and your estimated loan amounts, and the calculator will generate the marginal value of your chosen education, along with your projected revenue with and without that education.
Using all of these tools, you can decide if college is worth the investment.
Cindy is a freelance writer and editor with previous experience in marketing as well as book publishing. Along with her content writing for a diverse portfolio of clients, Cindy’s work has been featured in Thrillist, The Points Guy, Forbes, and more.