December 8, 2011

Is College Worth It?

I just realized that apparently I haven't yet written an obligatory article questioning if college is worth it or not.   I jokingly asked if high school was worth it or not, but I didn't really discuss if college is worth it.  I'll now fulfill my obligation as a personal finance blogger by beating this dead horse of a topic.

Is college Worth it?


Probably, usually... but it depends.

I kind of think that this question is like asking if buying a car is worth it or asking if owning a house is worth it.   Clearly these things can certainly be 'worth' buying in the right situation and not worth buying in other situations.   

There is no blanket right or wrong answer.

Every students skills and desires are different, every college is different, every college major is different and everyones financial situation is different.  

I think that I can say in general that : 

If you're a decent student with an inclination to learn and you pick a fairly reasonably marketable degree and attend and graduate from reasonably affordable quality university then yes college is going to be worth it for you.  

I do think that you should be a reasonably decent student for college to be a good idea.  I've said before that I think that if you can't get at least B average grades in high school then pursuing college is likely not for you.  When I said that a few people took exception... called me narrow minded, ignorant, etc.   Of course theres always exceptions but generally if you aren't a good student in high school then you shouldn't expect to do well in college either.    My pointed is backed by data if you compare High School GPA versus College Success then people with poor high school grades do poorly in college the vast majority of the time. 

It is also very important that you actually graduate.    Too many students start college and fail to graduate nowadays.   Having 'some college' is actually beneficial and people who do attend some college but don't get degrees do tend to have higher paying jobs.  However I'm not entirely sure if thats cause and effect or just coincidental.

I also think that MOST students would benefit greatly from at least getting a two year degree or pursuing a skilled trade.     A high school diploma will not get you very far in the workplace nowadays.   Most students are going to do much better if they have at least an Associates degree or skilled training in a trade.

For roughly 30% of the population it makes a lot of sense to pursue a 4 year undergraduate bachelors degree or even advanced graduate studies or professional degree.  Around 30% of jobs require college so it makes good sense that 30% of people should be getting college degrees to fill those jobs.

There are situations when college is absolutely worth it.   Are you a good student that wants to become an engineer, doctor, accountant or nurse?   Then college is not only worth it, its pretty much mandatory.

There are situations when college is definitely NOT worth it.    Are you a budding entrepreneur who already has a thriving and successful business and who didn't learn well in a classroom environment?   I think anyone in that situation would be wasting their time and money more than not by attending college.    Are you a C student in high school who is really good at fixing things and have a particular desire to work with your hands and enjoy fixing cars?   Then getting a bachelors degree may not be your best career choice and you may be much better off pursuing a career as a car mechanic.

In between there are shades of gray where college can be more or less worth it.   For a student who got mostly B's in high school and who is vaguely interested in English the value of a college degree is less clear.   If this student starts college with a good attitude and studies and applies themselves, goes to a low cost public school or gets a fat grant from a private school and gets a reasonably flexible degree like English that isn't in an over saturated specialty then getting a four year degree may very well be worth the cost.   On the other hand if that student parties too much, goes to an obscure private school cause they are convinced they 'need' too, piles up the maximum in private student loans and then changes majors into communications because its close enough to English and then drops out after their 3rd year at sophomore status then in that case college is most certainly not worth it.

Bottom Line : It depends.

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