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Are College Degrees Worth It?

April 30, 2018

Should you go to college? Find out whether a college degree is worth your time and money.


Are college degrees worth it? With 2018 tuition averaging $34,470 at private colleges and $9,970 at public colleges, getting a degree is an expensive proposition. How can you tell if a college degree is worth the price? The answer for each student will be personal, based on the schools you’re considering, your resources, and what’s important to you.


Ideally, going to college will result in a bachelor’s degree, increased earning power, personal growth, lifelong friends, and a strong alumni network. But it could also come with crushing student loan debt and no guarantee of career success. To ensure a good return on investment, it’s essential to approach the college decision as an informed consumer.


So, is a college degree worth it? Let’s look at a few key factors to help you find out. Here’s how to determine the worth of your particular college, major, and degree--and whether you’ll get a good return on your college investment.


Know Your Net Price

Yes, college costs a lot of money--but it’s important to look at the net price (what you’ll actually pay), rather than the listed sticker price. A college’s net price, based on your expected family contribution, financial need, test scores, and academic profile, can often be thousands less than the sticker price.


Start with the College Scorecard to benchmark average college net prices. Based on your initial research, you can narrow down your list of schools to those that have affordable net prices. The goal is to find schools that want students like you, and will give you free money to enroll you.


Once your applications are turned in and your acceptance and financial aid award letters have arrived, compare each school’s net price to understand which colleges will give you the best value for your money. (Edmit’s college cost comparison tool can also help with this.) You’ll want to minimize student loan debt, while also maximizing your outcomes (e.g., starting salary and mid-career earnings).


Know Outcomes for Your Major

Business, computer science, environmental engineering, nursing… based on where you want to live and the major employers in that region, some majors will prove to be more lucrative than others. If you want to get hired before or shortly after graduation, choosing a particular major can be a potential predictor of whether getting a degree is a worthwhile investment for you.


To take the guesswork out of specific majors, Edmit’s comparison tool can help you analyze the outcomes for different majors at a given school, or you can go one step further and compare outcomes for a specific degree across multiple colleges. So if you’re debating whether to study economics or organic chemistry, comparing a few options can give you greater clarity.


Let’s take a look at an example. Below, our hypothetical student is planning to study Computer Science (CS) at either Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State—Main Campus, or the University of Delaware. According to Edmit’s earning projections, a CS degree from Carnegie Mellon offers the highest earning potential, based on historical data:

Earnings Edmit

  

Regarding overall annual earnings for our CS major, Carnegie Mellon still stays ahead of the others:

 

Earnings Edmit 2-1Of course, these predictions are dependent upon our hypothetical student putting in the work--keeping up her grades, utilizing Career Services (and maybe even getting an internship), and graduating on time, among other factors. But based on past performance, these stats can help our potential CS student get a picture of long-term career prospects and ROI of a given degree.


Use the tool to test drive a few majors both at the individual college level and across your top-choice universities to get a sense of which degree programs align best with your goals.


Know the Trends

Recent studies have shown that attending a more selective school doesn’t necessarily guarantee future success, so when you’re determining the potential value of a given school, don’t be swayed by a ranking, brand name, or other prestigious designation. Again, look at net price, student loan debt, and outcomes for your possible major to determine value.  


Additionally, look at trends regarding enrollment and be willing to appeal your first financial aid offer. A college that may not have been a good value, at first offer, could potentially turn into a more affordable option with a follow-up discussion.  


Ultimately, the only person who can determine whether a college degree is worth it is you. But by taking an informed approach to the college decision, you’ll be well prepared to best shape your future.