Is College Still Worth It: Which Degrees Are Still Worth the Investment?

Man counting college savings fund, tuition fee or student loan with calculator.
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There was a time when a college degree was the best chance you had to live a financially fruitful life. Over the last several decades, people have viewed a college education as a necessity and have passed that viewpoint on.

Recently, the amount of student loan debt in America has been heavily discussed, and it is clear that college comes with a heftier price tag each year. As most graduates are now having a hard time repaying their loans, it is understandable to be asking, “Is college worth it?”

The answer? It may be, depending on your priorities.

Cost of a College Education

The amount you pay for college depends on the college you attend and the degree program you choose. Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere from $26,820 to $54,880 per year.

Advantages To College

Having a college degree can provide several benefits to graduates that can make the investment well worth it.

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Graduates Typically Enjoy Higher Pay

A college degree can be very expensive, but in many cases, the investment is worthwhile. A bachelor’s degree holder typically makes an average of $32,000 a year more than someone with only a high school diploma. Over the course of a lifetime, bachelor’s degree recipients earn approximately $1 million more.

The Job Market Favors Degree Holders

While not always the case, most companies trying to fill high-paying jobs require a college education. Even companies that do not require a degree often favor college graduates over those with no college education.

For instance, as of November 2020, the unemployment rate of college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.2%. The unemployment rate for those with only a high school education was 7.8%.

Graduates Lead Healthier Lives

The higher your education level, the better your chance of being covered under your employer’s health plan. Good health insurance typically leads to greater overall health. Additionally, statistics show that 61% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher exercise regularly. Only 39% of high school graduates have a consistent daily routine.

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Students Get Access To College-Only Experiences

Attending college provides more than an education and a potential financial advantage. It also offers many experiences that most people only have access to through their college affiliation.

For example, college students can:

  • Find internships and gain on-the-job experience
  • Take advantage of volunteer and networking opportunities on-campus
  • Get access to career advisors, guidance counselors and more who can help guide you along your chosen path

Disadvantages To College

Like everything in life, there are downsides to going to college. When trying to decide if attending a university is worth the cost, it is important to understand and think through these disadvantages carefully.

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This four-letter word is enough to cause anyone to pause and reconsider going to college. The fact of the matter is that most people – more than half – who get a bachelor’s degree graduate with some level of student loan debt. As of 2020, the average student loan debt came to almost $40,000 per person, totaling nearly $1.6 trillion.

No Guarantees

While college graduates typically make more and enjoy more employee benefits, this is not always the case. A degree can certainly increase your chances of success, but it does not guarantee anything.

There are still plenty of graduates who are unemployed or have jobs below their skill level and pay. One study showed that only 27% of college graduates have a job related to their degree. If you decide college is the right move for you, you need to go into it understanding that it may not lead to anything positive.

Opportunity Costs

While you can earn more money with a degree than without one, college is expensive. And there are costs outside of student loans to consider – specifically, opportunity costs. These costs are what you might be losing out on while attending college.

While you are working toward a degree, there are things you will need to put to the side. At the very least, you will have to reduce the time you spend on those activities. In some cases, you might need to give them up altogether.

On the other hand, you could spend the time it would take to complete a degree program to:

  • Work your way up in your company
  • Take some certification courses or learn new skills to become more desirable to employers
  • Start and build your own business

In order to focus on completing your program, you may have to either work part-time or not at all. Working full-time has the potential to interfere with your studies, your rest and your health.

You are also incurring debt during this time. If you live alone and pay your own bills, you may have to do so without the advantage of a full-time income. You might also study part-time to open your schedule up more, but this will extend the amount of time it takes to complete your degree.

Furthermore, once you complete your degree, things will probably not work out immediately. Yes, you can earn more with the degree, but the payoff takes time. It might be a decade or more before you experience the full benefits of your degree, meaning your finances might be in disarray for some time.

Keep in Mind

Other opportunity costs include the time you have to give up with family, friends, hobbies and more. These costs do not mean you should not go to college, but that you should carefully weigh out each factor involved in the decision.

What To Consider When Deciding If College Is Still Worth It

If the pros and cons above have not yet helped you make a decision yet, consider the following:

Do You Need a Degree?

Not all jobs require a college degree. Many do, but there are also many that do not. Before you decide about going to college, do some research to determine if the job you want requires a degree or not.

If higher education is not required, you have the option to forgo a college degree. However, keep in mind that just because it is not necessary does not mean it is not useful.

For example, being a social media marketer does not always require a degree, especially if you work as a freelancer. However, gaining a marketing degree can be incredibly helpful. Marketing degrees typically provide education and training in communication skills, organization, content strategy, market research and other skills necessary to succeed in social media marketing.

How Committed Are You?

One of the biggest things you need to take into account is your commitment to attaining a college degree. Some people go to college just because:

  • It is expected. Maybe your family, teachers or guidance counselors have pushed you. In some families, the prospect of not going to college is unthinkable.
  • It’s what you “should” do. Sometimes people go to college simply because society has placed importance on higher education. The fear of being looked down on for not following societal rules pushes them to apply as soon as they can.
  • They believe they have to. Many people have had it drilled in their heads from an early age that the only way to succeed in life is to get a college degree.

While there is nothing wrong with others motivating you to go to college, it should be your decision whether or not you want to go. People who are not motivated to attend college may quit before graduating. This leads to a mountain of debt with nothing to show for it.

What’s the Best Degree To Choose?

While there are no guarantees that going to college will pay off, there are a few degrees that typically provide better chances than others. These include:

  • STEM. Jobs related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics tend to do well. STEM careers are available in many forms and in all industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand for STEM careers to grow by 8% by 2029, which is more than double the expected growth for other fields.
  • Medical, nursing and pharmaceuticals. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical support staff are needed all of the time and all over the world. More than 2 million new jobs in the medical field are expected to be available by 2026.

Final Take

Getting a college degree is a big decision – one that can impact the rest of your life. It should not be taken lightly. Make sure to conduct the necessary research and ask for advice if necessary.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

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About the Author

Brandy Woodfolk is an entrepreneur, teacher, and freelance writer. She received my Bachelor of Business Administration from Everest College, Digital Marketing Certification from Shaw Academy, Certificate in Personal and Family Financial Planning from the University of Florida Through Coursera, and she is completing her Master’s of Project Management from Northcentral University. She has dedicated her freelance writing career to creating content related to digital marketing and SEO, business, personal finance, family, and health and wellness.
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