The cost of college: is it worth it?

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cost of college

cost of collegeThe rough economy the last few years has really taken a toll on job opportunities and salaries. That might leave high school students, recent graduates, and others wondering if a college education is worth the cost.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the average cost of tuition at a private four-year institution was just over $30,000, and almost $9,000 at a public four-year institution. Room and board at both types of institutions adds approximately $10,000 to the annual cost.

College students graduate with an average of nearly $30,000 in debt. Assuming a conservative interest rate of 4% and the standard ten-year repayment period, the total amount needed to repay the loan would be approximately $36,500. Assuming an interest rate of 4% and an extended repayment period of 25 years, the total amount needed to repay the loan would be approximately $47,500.

Experts have concluded that college graduates can expect to earn anywhere from $280,000 to $800,000 more during their lifetime than those who have only a high school diploma. That’s obviously a huge range, and that’s because there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether a college education is worth the cost.

Factors that prospective students should consider are the cost of the school they want to attend, and their job and salary prospects in their desired field upon graduation. Tuition costs, as well as other expenses, can vary dramatically from school to school. Thus, prospective students deciding whether the cost of college would be worth it to them should conduct extensive research to determine how they can maximize their return on investment. Sites like Payscale.com can help prospective students see how much they might expect to earn in a specific field of employment. Although some graduates with a degree in a specific field from certain schools can earn more than graduates with the same degree from other schools, keep in mind that your field of study is far more important to your earning potential than which college you attend.

Prospective students should also consider how much debt they may be carrying upon graduation. At least one study has found that higher student debt translates to a lower quality of life, even more than twenty years after graduation.

Finally, prospective students should consider whether there is a less expensive alternative than a four-year college education to get a good job in their desired field. For example, a two-year technical degree from a community college can lead to a higher entry-level salary than a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, and for a fraction of the cost of the four-year degree.

In summary, generally speaking, a college degree is usually worth the cost of the education. But individual results vary greatly, and you should carefully examine your goals and job prospects before committing to a college degree.

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Cathy is the founder of Chief Family Officer, where you can get daily updates on the hottest deals, and tips to achieve financial freedom and family bliss.