Is College a Worthwhile Investment?



Hi, I’m Sumaiya Olatunde, educational consultant and advocate for H2D Counseling. You may be wondering, is college a worthwhile investment?

You have probably heard this before, that someone with a college degree will earn on average $20,000 more per year than someone with a high school diploma. (1) This is an important factor when deciding to go to college and it comes from the Pew Research Center, a credible source. The Pew Research Center reported that most respondents from a 2011 survey value a college education and feel that they benefit from having a college degree. Overwhelmingly, survey respondents feel that college is too expensive. The main barrier to attending a 4-year college for most people is financial. (2)

There’s been a lot of discussion recently devaluing the importance of a college education. For example, George Leef who writes for argues against obtaining a college degree. Mr. Leef says that the cost of college has gone up but the value of a college education has gone down. In addition, there are too many college graduates flooding the job market. Leef attributes negative shifts in the job market to a boost in federal student aid that began in 1960s and ’70s in order to increase access to education. (3)

Both the Pew Research Center and Mr. Leef offer important things to consider when deciding if college is a good investment for you. In any case, the issue of whether or not college is a good investment is complicated.

As an educator, I believe that increased access to education is inherently good. Everyone who is capable of pursuing higher education should be able to do so if they choose. These days, with the skyrocketing costs of tuition, many people would be priced out of receiving a college education without federal student aid. While the cost of living has increased threefold over the past 30 or so years, the cost of tuition has increased tenfold. (4, 5) Federal student aid is more necessary for people at all income levels now than ever before.

Investing in college is worth it, but affordability is key to staying in school and graduating with minimal debt. How affordable college is comes down to comparing the financial award letters offered by various schools before making a decision. A common mistake that people make is applying to college based on tuition rates. Tuition is an important factor in your college decision, but it does not accurately predict your final out-of-pocket cost. The reason being, it does not take into account scholarships and grants that you may receive.

For example, if College A costs $40,000 per year and offers you $35,000 per year in scholarships and federal grants, you are only responsible for paying $5,000 per year. On the other hand, if College B costs $13,000 per year and offers you $2,000 per year, you are responsible for paying $11,000 per year. That’s a huge difference. The total cost to you after 4 years would be $20,000 for College A which has a higher tuition rate versus $44,000 for College B which has lower tuition. Your goal should be to get a quality education from an accredited institution while minimizing your out-of-pocket costs. Remember that, you generally don’t have to pay back scholarships and grants, whereas student loans you do have to pay back.

So, when deciding if college is a worthwhile investment, you need to be concerned with the cost of college to you, and not with the cost of college in general. To achieve this, your first step is to make a college list based on what will be a good fit academically. The next step is to apply to all of them by the deadline. When the acceptance letters start arriving, hold off on responding until after you receive all of the financial award packages from each college.

To make the most informed and financially sound decision on which college to attend, base it on what each college is offering academically and financially. The key is to submit an exceptional application to help increase your chances of receiving more grant aid and minimizing your student loan debt.

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