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Is college worth it?

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At what point does the price of a college education exceed its value? Are some college degrees more valuable than others? Our experts answer these pressing questions in this week's blog post.

Considering Cost

Frank Palmasani

Paying for college expert Frank Palmasani

With tuition costs on the rise, families are asking themselves an important question:

Is a college education worth the price?

On average, families borrow $60,000 to finance their child’s college education. Students are borrowing more than $25,000 and parents are borrowing slightly less than $35,000. When planning for how to pay for college, the important thing families must keep in mind is the point at which borrowing becomes excessive, placing the family in financial jeopardy. Families don’t have to borrow excessively—they just need a better college search method. I’ve established the Financial Fit program to help families match the net price of colleges with their affordability. By starting the college search with cost in mind, families can narrow their list of colleges to affordable options and ensure that their child chooses a school that is worth the price.

Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz

College admissions expert Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz

There are many statistics to prove that college is absolutely worth the investment. The International Youth Foundation’s Opportunity for Action report identified that the most important factor in economic mobility for people between the ages of 15 and 24 is education1.

Why is that true? According to the College Board, education can have a significant impact on your earnings2:

  • Median earnings of people with bachelor’s degrees working full time were $55,700 compared to $21,900 for high school graduates.
  • People with some college coursework but no degree earned 17% more than high school graduates.
  • College graduates have significantly lower unemployment rates.
  • College educated people are more likely to receive health insurance coverage and pension benefits from their employers and be happier with their jobs.
  • A study from the Hamilton Project says that if you were to invest $100,000 at age 18 into gold, corporate bonds, U.S. government debt, hot company stocks, or four years of college, the best investment would be college.3

Perhaps this comment in the Chronicle of Higher Education says it best, “The days of workers graduating from high school and working their way from the mailroom to a corner office at a large company are gone. Today’s economy puts a premium on education, training, and flexibility.”4


Depending on Major

Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella

college life expert Marcia Cantarella

The real value of a college education derives from the skills that students develop throughout their college career: communication, interaction with others, critical reasoning and problem solving, a varying degree of quantitative skills, and the ability to research and solve problems. Any major will give you these key skills, yet far too many people are making the link between college and career way more linear than it needs to be.

Your major in college does not need to directly align with your career in order for your education to be considered valuable. In fact, those following purely vocational tracks as undergraduates do not fare as well economically in the long term as those who take the seemingly riskier “liberal arts” path. Most of our leaders in politics and business have degrees in things ranging from history to religion and psychology. Most medical students have degrees in philosophy and history or English.

The trick to ensuring that your college education is worthwhile is to be at the top of the pack through hard work and passion—you need to like what you are studying. Forcing yourself to be a math major because there are jobs in it does not make sense if you hate it. It will bite you sooner or later. You must also use every aspect of your college experience—internships, career offices, networking opportunities, leadership roles—to build a resume that affirms the excellence that you will develop.


Your Quality of Life

Edward Fiske

47 fiske-blog

We hear a lot of talk these days questioning the value of a college education. It is certainly true that, in the midst of the current economic downturn, there are a lot of unemployed and, perhaps more to the point, underemployed, college graduates. But the fact remains that, to the extent that jobs are available, college graduates have the edge. Going into the job market with a BA to your name may not guarantee that you will get any particular job, but doing so with only a high school diploma will certainly guarantee that you will not get it.

We must consider that economic payoff is only one reason to seek a college education. In one of his annual reports as president of Yale, the late Kingman Brewster talked about the benefits of higher education:

“The most fundamental value of a liberal education is that it makes life more interesting. It allows you to see things which the undereducated do not see. It allows you to understand things that the untutored find incomprehensible. It allows you to think things which do not occur to the less learned. In short, it makes it less likely that you will be bored with life. It also makes it less likely that you will be a crashing bore to those whose company you keep.”


To find expert tools and resources for navigating the college process, visit the College Countdown bookstore.


1 See Derek Thompson, "What's More Expensive Than College? Not Going to College," The Atlantic Magazine, March 27, 2012,

2 College Board. Education Pays 2010, The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,

3 Derek Thompson, "What's the Best Investment: Stocks, Bonds, Homes...or College?," The Atlantic Magazine. June 27, 2011,

4 Jennifer Gonzalez, "Bachelor's Degree Is Still Best Path to Middle-Class Jobs and Earnings, Report Says," The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 14, 2011,


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