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Is College Really Worth It?

 college costs, financial aidActions You Can Take Now to Insure that Your Money is Well Spent.

It’s 8 a.m. on a rainy May afternoon. The tenth graders I’m teaching are sitting at their tables alert and puzzled. I’d just put a slide on the screen that showcased how much more money they will make in their lifetime should they go to college.

“Why do I have to go?” said one pimply-face teen. “Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made billions and they didn’t go to college. I want to work with computers,” another student chimed in.

“Yea, and besides those two guys, look at the money LeBron made with the NBA. He never went to college. If he can do it, so can I,” said others.

These are questions that not just teenagers are asking today. Parents, students, and even recent college graduates are asking the same thing.

Is college really worth it?

In this article, I will provide current statistics on the career outcomes of today’s college graduates, and share the troubling debt incurred by many.  Additionally, I will share an action plan for gathering the information you need to be confident that your money is well spent on a college education.

Many experts provide statistics on how much more money college graduates can make than their non-college educated peers:

“It is an irrefutable fact that college gives you significant economic and career advantagesCollege diploma, college costs, financial aid decade after decade,” said Mary Daly senior vice president and associate director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. Her research consistently indicates that college graduates earn an average of $20,300 a year more than those with just a high school diploma and that their rates of unemployment are significantly lower.

For every Mary Daly, there is another expert with a differing earning potential figure for graduates. I’ve read that the lifetime earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree can be $1.2 million higher; up to 65% higher; and $300,000 higher. I referenced the $1.2 million figure with the skeptical teens.

No matter which figures I shared with the students, the undisputed fact is that college graduates DO earn more than their peers who don’t possess a college diploma.

On the flip side, they also are carrying the debt of obtaining that degree. According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors, the total education debt, including federal and private education loans, will tally nearly $68 billion for 2015 graduates with a bachelor’s degree.

Staggering, isn’t it! And, to make matters even worse, according to Peter Cappelli, author of “Will College Pay Off? A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make,” “The typical costs of college have risen by about four times the rate of inflation over the last generation. So it’s much more expensive in a period where incomes are more or less flat.” And, this trend in rising college costs doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

So how can you and your child find a college that is a good fit with their interests, needs, and qualifications and that’s also affordable? And, is it possible to find free money, in the form of scholarships, for college that would minimize any debt? How prepared will your child be for a career after college?

These are all really good questions and ones that require two BIG steps: gathering information and having an honest family meeting. Jonathan Rothwell, economist at the Brookings Institute, gathered the below information to determine how well a college prepares its graduates:

  1. The value of the curriculum – Go to to gather College costs, financial aidinformation about the curriculum your student will be studying and the outlook for employment and income level. This government website is updated regularly.
  2. Graduation rates – Colleges are required to post this information which is the percentage of students who finish their degree within at least four or six years. Check out to also find annual costs and graduates’ salaries.
  3. Internship opportunities – In reviewing the college academic requirements online, check for any internship experiences that are built into the curriculum. Does the school place you in an internship or do you have to find these experiences yourself? Does the internship last a semester or only a few weeks? Most employers who hire college graduates are more inclined to hire a student who has had an internship than a student who never had that experience.
  4. Liberal arts rather than career-focused degree – Career-focused degrees, such as international tourism, are only as good as the job market. What if no one is hiring folks for international tourism the year you graduate? A liberal arts degree can prepare you for many different careers because it broadens you in ways that allow you to have more career choices.
  5. Flexibility in changing your major: More than 60 percent of students change their major before the end of their sophomore year, which can easily lead to a delay in graduation and increased debt. Check out the major’s requirements. Are there a lot of requirements or is there some flexibility in classes that can be taken to satisfy requirements? Flexibility is preferred.

Schools that score high marks in each of these factors, no matter what the tuition, simply do a better job of preparing their students for a career after college.

Once you’ve gathered all of this information, sit down as a family to determine the amount of money you have to pay for college. How much can you afford to borrow over the next four years? As much as possible, make your decision by comparing any loans to the student’s possible future earnings.

As you can see, there is much more to choosing a college than just visiting ivy-covered buildings and checking out the dorms. The preparation and planning that you do today can pay big dividends for you and your student in the future, while keeping more money in your pocket.

I have supported many students and their families in choosing colleges that meet their criteria of value and affordability. Need help with this process? Get in touch with me at: