Is a College Degree Worth the Money?

It used to be that a college degree could take you places. College graduates were almost guaranteed a job that paid well enough to live on upon graduation. But nowadays, that no longer seems to be the case. Graduates are fighting with the unemployed and underemployed of the older generations for jobs – any jobs – even if it's not in their area of study. Does that mean that college is no longer worth the cash? Well, at the danger of over-using a favorite MomVesting phrase, let's go ahead and say it: It depends. Let's take a look at where college benefits graduates and where it becomes just another debt.

College by the Degree

An advanced degree can certainly be worth its weight in gold...if it's the right course of study. That doesn't necessarily mean that one diploma is worth more than another, but when graduates search for jobs, more specific courses of study can often produce better chances for landing a job in the field of choice. For example, there could be more job opportunities in computer science than in the English field.

The key to finding the right education path that can land a job is searching for the degrees that are most in demand. A simple Google search can tell you whether the degree you're interested in will offer jobs upon graduation, but to get started, here are a few of the high-demand fields: software engineer, pharmacist, registered nurse, physical therapist and accountant.

College as Life Experience

College doesn't always have to be the be-all-to-end-all. Instead of seeing college as the means to a degree, attending a university, four-year college or community college can be a means to obtaining much-needed life experience and social skills. Really, it's often the first time that young people are out on their own, and it can therefore be beneficial to youths preparing to handle bills, living with others and handling stresses on their own.

Here's where it gets tricky, though. How much is that life experience worth to parents? Or even to students? There may be a limit to how much time and money students and their parents are willing to put forth to learn about life. Maybe one year in a trade school or a few semesters at Job Corps could do the trick in lieu of the tens of thousands of dollars that it takes to obtain a four-year degree.

Whatever the case for your soon-to-be college student, it's important for both parents and students to weigh the potential degree and the need for life experience on a personal level. Not everyone wants or needs a four-year degree. But only you and your child can decide what's best in your young adult's life.

Good luck, parents! Weigh in below to help other parents decide if college is beneficial...or a bust.

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Anonymous's picture

femmefrugality wrote:

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 19:32 Comment #: 1

I'd recommend talking to professionals in the field before going into the field. Even after consulting google. A lot of those sites are good, but a lot of them post medians that aren't very representative of the average. Your location depends on the opportunities that will be out there, too, as different states have different licensures for different careers. Having a required license is usually a good thing as it standardizes the industry and pay and benefits are generally higher. But that doesn't guarantee that jobs will be abundant.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Fri, 11/16/2012 - 12:11 Comment #: 2

Great tip, Femme Frugality! I agree that the median salary isn't always accurate, even when pinpointed to a location.

Anonymous's picture

AverageJoe wrote:

Fri, 11/16/2012 - 17:01 Comment #: 3

Timely article at our house: I have twins headed to college next year. I want my children to enjoy what they're going to do, and I want them to understand that "enjoyment" includes a certain economic reality. You don't have to say "no" to low paying jobs after college...but you should know what you're getting into. My daughter was interested in writing (journalism) until she saw how low the pay was going to be. She's also interested in biology and neurology and has decided that her equal passion for science of the brain is a better professional route, while joining the writing club at school is great for her personal enjoyment.

Anonymous's picture

Mitchell Pauly wrote:

Sun, 11/18/2012 - 18:49 Comment #: 4

College... the place were kids go to learn to learn, and the place where they learn that a 5-Hour Energy and a 40oz equals a night you'll never remember (this is a real thing, since Four Lokos etc.. have largely been outlawed). Jokes aside, I would encourage all parents to do research about the schools their kids are interested in and, if they are paying for even a portion of the tuition, be willing to refuse payment if the school has no particular draw other than the party scene. The "life experience" people refer to when discussing college is not necessarily the life experience parents would hope for.

College can be a hugely beneficial experience and investment, however many of the aspects that once were held dear in the eyes of higher education proponents have gradually faded or become twisted. At potentially $40,000 / semester, it might be time to refresh our assumptions about college.

Anonymous's picture

Elizabeth wrote:

Sun, 11/18/2012 - 23:10 Comment #: 5

My college degree definitely falls more into the "life experiences" category - after all, there's not much you can do with a history major! I think that we shouldn't put as much pressure on high schoolers to go to college right after graduation; a gap year, or a year or two spent interning and really learning about different fields/industries can really help young adults make an educated decision about their career path.

Anonymous's picture

JayCeezy wrote:

Fri, 11/23/2012 - 17:42 Comment #: 6

One very strong consideration for getting a college degree: a lower unemployment rate than the general population. There has been a lot of talk about 'following your passion' in recent decades. But being unemployed, with poor chances for employment, is really crushing. The chart at the link says it better than I ever could.

http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

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