The cost to obtain an undergraduate degree in the US is climbing every year. Most students are forced to take out loans in order to pay for their college expenses. This debt can be crippling and hurt your financial future and wealth potential. More and more, people are questioning if getting a degree is worth it.
Overall Cost of Your Degree
First – assess the actual cost to your education and find ways to lower that cost. My first tip is to choose your school very wisely. When I applied for schools, I only applied to in-state, public colleges. I knew I wouldn’t be getting a degree from a fancy Ivy league school with a great name, but I also wouldn’t be paying the $59,000 per year average price tag that private colleges have in the US. So many kids want to go to their “dream” school or they just “fall in love with the campus” when they visit. Im sorry, but those beautiful rose bushes lining the sidewalks will not be paying your $500 a month student loan bill after graduating. I also feel that parents do not properly educate their children on the true cost and burden of expensive colleges. Dont be afraid to be real with your kids!
Second, consider a 2-year community college and then transfer to the 4-year university. A community college costs a fraction of the 4-year universities. Most of the time, you spend the first two years of college taking general education classes anyways. Staying in your hometown for a couple extra years might not be ideal, but you can probably suck it up make it work. Don’t let the urge to “be free” cloud your ability to make the smartest financial decision.
Now, look at the tuition PLUS room & board for your school. There are ways to reduce your room & board cost such as becoming a resident assistant, living off ramen instead of the expensive meal plan, etc. Tuition can also be reduced with scholarships and work-study programs. Those are not guaranteed, so use the regular tuition plus room & board as your worst-case scenario for the cost of your degree.
Now that you have a rough idea for the overall cost of your degree, you need to calculate what your return on this investment will be. Will your degree qualify you for a job that pays enough to justify the cost of college? The job market right now is tough and sometimes the answer might be “no”.
I hold the unpopular opinion that the days of “following your heart” are gone. Low paying jobs will not sustain your life. I’m not saying to take a job you hate just because it pays well – but be realistic with yourself. A job is a job and you dont have to love every single second of it!
Find out how much you should earn from your future-job at the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics website. You can look up wages in your area for different jobs, along with an incredible amount of other statistics. Knowing how much you could earn is only one piece of the puzzle.
Next, you need to get an idea of how in-demand your potential skill set would be. Some jobs might make great money, but they aren’t hiring at a growing rate. One of my favorite tactics is to go searching on a job board for the area you want to live. Check Indeed or another similar site and browse what jobs are available. In my area, there is an obvious need for computer programmers. Hmm… I wonder if that had an influence on my choice to become a computer programmer? Answer: Yes
Get Real With Yourself
If you dont see many job listing for something you are interested in, you might have to move to a different area or city to pursue your preferred career path. If moving is not an option, or you cant seem to find many listings anywhere – then it might be time to reconsider if your degree is going to actually help you get the job you want.
Once you have total cost of the degree vs. your immediate post-graduation earning potential, you are in a much better place to evaluate if the degree is worth it. An “in-demand” skill set with have the single greatest impact on how much money you will earn after graduation.
The average student loan debt in 2016 was over $37,000. College graduates 25- 32 years old earned about $17,500 more per year than people the same age who didnt graduate college. For some low-earning careers, you might have been better off by starting to work at 18 instead.
Check out this extensive study done by PayScale that evaluates the return on investment (ROI) based on colleges and degrees.
Stay tuned for my list of tactics to drastically reduce the overall cost of college!