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Is College Worth It?

As a young adult, college is a super exciting time in your life. But making payments on your student loans long after you graduate? Not so exciting.This leads a lot of people to ask: Is college worth it?

With more and more students realizing that online college might be their only option in the fall, a lot of them are wondering if they should even bother spending the money if they won’t be able to get the in-person experience. The average tuition cost of just one year at college can range anywhere from about $9,580 for a public, in-state university to a whopping $37,200 for a private university.1 Multiply that by four years, and the total is crazy! If you’re taking out student loans to pay for college, you’ll be tens of thousands of dollars in debt before you even graduate. No thanks.

Think of the toll that debt takes on your goals and dreams. Depending on the loan repayment plan, it can take up to 30 years to pay off student loans.2 That’s a huge part of your life you can’t get back.

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Listen: It’s never a good idea to go into debt. But no matter what you might think, you can pay cash for school. It just takes some hustle. So, before you start wearing that certain school’s colors 24/7, ask yourself this question: Is the cost of college really worth it?

When Is Paying for College Worth It?

Let’s be real. I’m a big fan of college, but there are pros and cons to any major life decision. And it’s wise to look at them carefully. So right now, let’s weigh the pros of going to college.

College graduates tend to make more money.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median income for a high school graduate is $30,000, while those with a bachelor’s degree make around $45,000.3 As long as you graduate debt-free, that college diploma could help you build wealth a lot quicker than if you didn’t go to college. If you're looking to get ahead of college costs, an investing professional can help you figure out a college savings plan that won’t lead to debt. 

Many jobs require a college degree.

You can choose from plenty of exciting careers without a degree. But certain jobs like teaching, nursing, engineering and law all require at least a two-year degree. Graduating college can open doors to career paths that would be closed to you otherwise. Not to mention having a degree might put you ahead of your competition during the job hunt, even for jobs where a degree isn’t required.

You learn a lot inside and outside the classroom.

In college, you’re not just learning concepts and taking exams. Your classes help you build skills you’ll need in the workforce, like problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and organization. Yeah, you could gain this experience in other ways, but it’s part of what makes the college experience a good investment for a lot of people.

College is also a great opportunity to branch out and meet people from all walks of life. You never know what you might learn from someone with a different background than yours. And universities are usually melting pots of cultures, religions, political views and other beliefs. While your core values will probably remain the same, you’ll hopefully gain a better understanding of where others are coming from.

You’ll have access to more opportunities.

Internships are one of the best ways to gain on-the-job experience—and maybe even a job offer. But many internships are only available to current college students.

A typical college campus should also have guidance counselors, career centers, job fairs, clubs and volunteer opportunities to help you gain the experience you’ll need to make yourself stand out in the job market. Many colleges work hard to make sure that a high percentage of graduates move directly into the workforce in their fields of study. That’s a win for you and for them.

When Is Paying for College Not Worth It?

I say this all the time: College is not for everyone. And just like there are plenty of pros to getting a college degree, there are some cons too. Let’s talk about them.

You might not need a degree to do the job you want.

A college degree can open doors, but what keeps those doors open? Hard work! Some of the world’s wealthiest businesspeople didn’t even finish college—think technology trailblazers Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Michael Dell. They’re proof the traditional college route isn’t the only path to success.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that about 43% of college grads are working a job that doesn’t need a degree.4 Plus, as of 2018, the employment rate of 25- to 35-year-olds with no college education is 72%—not too shabby, considering the employment rate in the same age group with a college education is only 86%.5

Don’t look past alternatives like trade schools, community colleges, apprenticeships and entrepreneurship to get you the job you want. It’s hard to beat the price difference. For example, a typical two-year community college degree costs less than half as much as an in-state four-year college—and it's 80% cheaper per year than a private four-year university!6

Your degree might not land you a high-paying job.

Sure, they’ll all help you bring home a paycheck—but not all degrees are created equal. A history degree might earn a starting salary of $36K while a mechanical engineering degree, for instance, might earn twice that. You have to consider whether what you’d be making is worth what you’ll be paying for school. Seriously—graduating college with $100,000 in student loan debt to take a job making $36,000 just doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t take a college degree to figure that out.

You could regret the experience.

According to a Gallup survey, 51% of Americans who pursued education beyond high school would consider changing their degree type, institution or major.7 If you’re not 100% sure about what you want to do, you could end up making quick decisions about your college education that you’ll regret later. And quick, careless decisions can be expensive!

You might not even graduate.

You may really plan on graduating, but the pressure of balancing school, work, family and friends is tough for a lot of college students to handle. The National Center for Education Statistics found that only 62% of college students finish their degree within six years.8 And if you don’t finish your degree, that’s thousands of dollars down the drain!

Alternatives to a College Degree

A lot of people think that if you don’t get a degree from a four-year college, you can’t win.  I don’t buy that. There are alternatives to college that don’t include working for minimum wage. Becoming a real estate agent, medical assistant or web developer won’t require a college degree—but they will require some training. You can also enlist in the military. And if you do decide to go to college later, you may be able to have your college expenses covered through the GI Bill. Is college worth it in that case? It’s something to think about.

Are you ready to be the CEO of your own company? Start your own business. You don’t need a degree in business to be in business. You can embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and start your own business in just a few minutes, thanks to websites like eBay, Etsy and Amazon.

And don’t forget: You could also take free online classes, learn a skill at a trade school, or get your associate degree at a community college.

Is College Really Worth It?

Some people go to college because it’s the norm in today’s society, because their parents want them to, or because all their friends and family members did. But many people go to college with the hope that it will help them have a better future. This can be true as long as you combine that hope with hard work and pay for it without loans.

So, yes, college can be worth it if you can cash flow it! There are a lot of careers where a college education is required or will improve your chances for promotion. When you pursue a college degree, do just that. Get the degree but don’t worry about the pedigree. You don’t have to pay three times (or ten times) as much to go to a big-name school to get the same type of degree.

On the flip side, if you can’t afford to pay cash for college or if you don’t need a four-year degree for your desired job, paying all that money for a college degree is definitely not worth it. Just having a college degree for the sake of having one won’t solve your problems. It will only leave you with a pile of debt.

If you do decide that college is for you, the most important thing is to be sure you can pay for it. Consider using my Debt-Free Degree Scholarship Search to apply for scholarships, finding an easy part-time job, or even taking a few semesters off to save up before you go. Believe it or not—you can pay for college without taking out student loans!

Remember: The caliber of your future will be determined by the choices you make today, especially the financial choices you make about college.

Want to learn more about how to go to school without loans? Debt-Free Degree is the book all college-bound students—and their parents—need to prepare for this next step. Grab a copy today or start reading for free to get plenty of tips on going to college debt-free!

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Anthony ONeal

About the author

Anthony ONeal

Anthony ONeal is a #1 national bestselling author, financial expert and host of the popular online series “The Table” on his YouTube channel. He has appeared on Good Morning America, the Tamron Hall Show, the Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Rachael Ray Show, among others. Since 2015, Anthony has served at Ramsey Solutions, where he teaches young adults how to budget, live without debt, avoid student loans and build real wealth for their future. Learn More.

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