For every pundit who assures us that college is not for everyone, there’s a study reminding us that employers often feel differently. But with college tuition costs skyrocketing — even at public schools, and with financial aid — we could be forgiven for wondering exactly what we’re getting out of our tuition dollars.
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“Yes, college is worth it, but not always,” writes Bridget Terry Long, Ph.D., Academic Dean and the Xander Professor of Education and Economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as part of PayScale’s report on College ROI. “We no longer think that all educations are financially good investments — the specifics matter. The answer for any student depends upon three important factors: the college attended, the field of study, and the cost or debt taken.”
In other words, purely from a career perspective, getting a college degree makes sense if that degree prepares you for a decently paying job. Note, also, that none of these factors Dr. Long mentions apply to the many other benefits of getting an education: becoming a well-rounded person, learning to think analytically, and figuring out how to get along with people who might be very different from you, your family, or your friends back home.
Those gains are harder to quantify. But for now, looking at your tuition bill as an investment, and doing everything in your power to make sure it pays off, will help you minimize the risk of actually losing financial ground by going to school.
Let’s look at each factor individually:
1. College Choice
Your future earnings can be affected by the school you attend. A degree from one institution might set you up for higher earnings than a degree from a competing school, because of factors like their alumni network, the skills the school teaches students, or real-world internship opportunities it offers. (You can compare schools or look up individual institutions here.)
2. Field of Study
Obviously, STEM majors will yield more earnings, on average, than Humanities majors, but if you have a few interests, it makes sense to research each before making a choice. Money isn’t everything, but it’s something — and it’s hard to be happy when you don’t have any of it.
3. Cost or Debt Taken
The College ROI report also lets you look at schools by comparing ROI with and without aid. So if you get some money from one school, but not from another, you’ll be able to figure out which is more likely to yield higher earnings in the future.
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