How To Determine, “Is College Worth It?”

A young woman balancing an education with the costs.

With student loan debt totaling a whopping 1.5 trillion dollars, it’s understandable that many people might be asking the question, “Is college worth it?” After all, next to a home mortgage, paying for higher education is one of the most significant financial investments a person can make during their lifetime.

Studies show that college is worth it and, on average, a college graduate earns almost twice as much as an individual with a high school diploma. However, there are factors to consider. Each situation is unique, including the career field chosen and the amount of student loan debt acquired.

When analyzing the marketability of a college degree and salary potential, it is essential to make a thoughtful decision about choosing the best college for maximizing your return on investment. To help you answer, “Is college worth it?” I’m sharing a valuable tool to research career choices and make the most of your college education.

Steps To Determine: Is College Worth It?

To navigate the costs of obtaining a college degree, start with Payscale.com’s 2019-20 College Salary Report. The report includes pay information from over “3.5 million respondents, representing more than 4,000 colleges and universities across the U.S.”

With this information at your fingertips you can research college majors, the best universities for those fields of study, expected early and mid-career pay and the transferability of a major from one career to another.  

Image of majors from Payscale.com.

The report also narrows down the data by state, degree (bachelor’s and associate), major and careers that score high for sense of purpose such as cytotechnology, music therapy and physical therapy. There are more than 800 rankings and, not surprisingly, the sciences – especially engineering – dominate the top of the list.

Ultimately, Payscale.com will equip you with an in-depth understanding of career choices and potential lifetime pay, including how to answer, “Is college worth it?” based on those factors.

Methodology: Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2.5 years of experience; mid-career have 20 years. See full method for more information.

If you click through to Payscale.com, you can see that elementary education, social work and culinary arts are near the bottom of the list with starting and mid-career salaries 40-70 percent lower than the top-paying careers.

How To Make College Worth It

To help you and your student answer the question, “Is college worth it?” start by talking about career choices early. For each area of interest, have them research information about that major on Payscale.com, including potential income, colleges and costs, and if that degree is transferable. If a career doesn’t pay quite what they expected, help them determine if that major could have a broader career application. If your student is leaning toward a degree that is not as practical, urge him or her to consider it as a minor instead.

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During high school also encourage your teen to volunteer, job shadow or find a part-time job in an area that interests them. As an example, if your teen is interested in politics, volunteering with a local political campaign will give them a preview of political career options. If they are interested in becoming an elementary school teacher, working with a local youth group or summer camp will help them determine how to focus their studies.

If they change their mind and decide they want to pursue another interest, that is okay. Any experiences they have will give them the ability to make the best career choice for them and choose a major for their higher education goals. The result of researching and exploring career options early is to provide them with a means to answer, “Is college worth it?” with a resounding “Yes!”

Need Help With College Planning?                      

At Westface College Planning, we help parents determine the best college for their student and navigate the costs of college planning. If you have questions about how to pay for college or want insights from a college funding coach, contact us today with your questions!