No one gets any payment or premium simply for finishing college. There is no reward, no pot of gold awaiting you, just a piece of (very nice) paper with your name on it. It’s up to you to actually make something out of that piece of paper. You get what you worked for – a chance at higher wages and a better job than you would get without it.

But there’s another way of looking at it. George Leef, Director of Research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, says in a Forbes article , “College itself isn’t an investment, just one way of increasing your value.” Earning a degree in the right field, from the right institution is the smartest way to approach this conundrum.

And it’s true, to a degree. The degree itself makes no guarantees, and it’s not going to give you a return on investment like you would get on Wall Street. On the other hand, every investment poses risk. Stocks can plummet, mutual funds can change with the market highs and lows.

Instead, a college degree is betting on a single asset: yourself.

Can you afford it?

The College Board shows that average costs (including tuition and fees) to attend college for the 2013/14 school year are as follows:

  • Public 2-year school, in-state: $3,131 (2-year total: $6,262)
  • Public 4-year school, in-state: $8,655 (4-year total: $34,620)
  • Public 4-year school, out-of-state: $21,706 (4-year total: $86,824)
  • Private 4-year school: $29,056 (4-year total: $116,224)

Those costs include a lot of different factors, and of course, they’re only averages – you can go a lot higher or a lot lower. There are ways of cutting down on those costs as well, but often cutting down on costs (such as avoiding classes with lab fees) will come back to bite you in the end.

Can you afford not to go?

Now using U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (BLS), we find the average earnings of those with a:

  • High School Diploma: $651/week which translates to $33,852 annually
  • Associate’s degree: $777/week which translates to $40,404 annually
  • Bachelor’s degree: $1108/week which translates to $57,616 annually

Those are some big differences; the difference between a high school diploma and an associate’s degree alone can determine whether you need government aid or have enough to make ends meet, while the difference between a diploma and a bachelor’s degree can mean being able to make other investments, such as buying a house rather than renting.

Results may vary 

Of course these college cost figures do not take into account any possible scholarships or grants you may acquire; your actual cost of college will vary. Still, the figures seem to confirm conventional wisdom: the more money, time, and work you invest, the more you can make. Notice we said can: remember, no promises can be made here.

More questions you need to ask yourself are; which degrees have the best Return On Investment (ROI), what is the value of XYZ college, what are the non-monetary benefits that I may receive from going to college?


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