Note: This story is sponsored by College Avenue Student Loans
College isn’t cheap, and can easily set families back tens of thousands of dollars. That’s for a public school. Expect to pay more than double that if you plan on attending a private university. It’s no wonder then that 94% of parents agree that paying for college is stressful, and 78% said the cost of college influenced their decision on school choice, according to a national College Ave Student Loans survey of college parents conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights.
But despite the cost to earn a four-year degree, it turns out that a college education is still worth it. How worth it? To the tune of a 14% return on your investment.
The New York Federal Reserve found the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree earned around $78,000 a year. That compares to $45,000 for someone with only a high school diploma. Even in a strong labor market when wages for all workers are rising, the increases for college graduates far outpaced their high school counterparts.
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The data is clear: A college degree can position you to earn more over your lifetime — that makes a college education worth it, right? But it often means taking on student loans. This can feel like a scary proposition to be sure, but one that’s manageable if you’re realistic about your aspirations.
Picking Right School Is What Makes College Worth It … Or Not
“The biggest thing I hear is my child went to a wonderful university and came out with a film degree,” says Jacqui Kearns, chief brand officer at Affinity Federal Credit Union. “You have to know which universities to go to for technical skills versus arts.”
To ensure you’re choosing an affordable college that offers ROI, experts say you need to have some idea of what degree you want to pursue. Long gone are the days when college was a rite of passage, or perhaps a time to find yourself.
Today, college is just too expensive to view it as merely a life experience rather than a life path. This doesn’t mean you need to have a five-year plan laid out, but you should know if you want to pursue a career in liberal arts or math and science.
“The first question is whether a student has identified their career goals and what type of higher education would put them in the best position to achieve those goals,” says Margaret Poster, a member of the American Institute of CPAs’ Financial Literacy Commission. “Is it starting at a two-year college, with the option of continuing at a 4-year school? Is it a large university, state or private, that offers a wide array of majors and specialties? Or is it a smaller school that focuses on liberal arts or a particular area of concentration like the arts or technology?”
CONSIDER LIFE AFTER COLLEGE
Your college education can’t be viewed purely through the return on investment lens. There’s no guarantee that even if you went to the most prestigious school, you’ll be a success in your chosen field. But you can use ROI to steer you toward an affordable college. That’s critical given how many will likely be paying student loans back for several years, and plays a huge role in tipping the “is college worth it?” scale in your favor.
Let’s say you’re interested in pursuing a teaching degree and have always dreamed of attending a prestigious private institution. What does your financial aid package look like? How will you cover the college funding gap? Do you need to take out student loans to help cover the costs? And, if so, how will the monthly student loan repayment affect you financially upon graduation? Do you feel you will be ill-prepared to pay it back? These are questions to ask for any university, whether private or public, that you are heavily considering.
Knowing yourself couldn’t be more important than when it comes to choosing the type of higher education you pursue. The last thing you want to do is drop out after taking on student loans. Paying back debt you have nothing to show for would be a frustrating situation, to say the least.
Think about it carefully — there are so many higher education options out there to pursue. if you bristle at the idea of spending your days in lecture halls and internships for the next four years, then a traditional college or university setting may not be for you. A certificate program or boot camp course could be more appealing. That lowers the cost of higher education and means you’ll start earning sooner than with a traditional degree. The same goes for earning an associate’s degree at a community college and transferring to a four-year university to complete your studies. A community college costs about $3,000 a year, compared to the roughly $9,000 at a public university, saving you a sizable amount of money.
EYES WIDE OPEN
“To help minimize the amount you pay for college, the first thing you should look into is financial aid. Even if you don’t think you will qualify, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA,’ says Porter. “Apply early to make sure you’re considered for as many aid opportunities as possible, including merit-based aid.” Porter says to also explore tuition discounts and payment plans for colleges you’re considering are offering. They won’t lower the price of tuition but they let you spread the payments over time, making the bill more manageable.
Of course, you should also explore student loans, and know what’s out there for both federal student loans and private student loans, even if you think you won’t need them. Sites like College Ave Student Loans allow you to compare student loan costs with their student loan calculator so that you can find a student loan that fits your budget.
The last thing you want to do is choose a college without fully understanding how much debt you’ll be taking on. That number is critical to help you calculate if college is worth it. Sticker shock shouldn’t be in the equation when it comes time to pay back your student loans. “Make sure you have a plan, not just an aspiration,” says Kearns. “Know how much the loans add up to. You don’t want to have uncertainty about debt.”
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