Is college really worth it?

Is college really worth it?

It is no surprise to anyone that college costs a lot of money. Some ways are obvious, while other costs are more subtle.  Knowing about the various costs that come along with college, as well as the financial benefits, can help a prospective student become prepared for their college years.   

First, let’s discuss the obvious ways that college costs money. Tuition, room, and board are the most well-known, and largest, expenses for a college student. Rent can also be a factor if you live outside of the dorms. The price of tuition can vary greatly, depending on factors such as financial aid packages, the location of the college, and the quality of education. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition and board at an in-state four-year public college is a little over $20,000 a year.  

Other known costs include supplies, such as textbooks and lab equipment. With textbooks reaching into the hundreds of dollars, it is a good idea to set aside a few hundred dollars before every semester. Entertainment and transportation are other categories that a college student should think about. You will need transportation to and from classes, and socializing is a big part of the college experience.  Many well-known costs can also be covered by scholarships and student loans, making their original costs harder to pinpoint.   

Now, let’s discuss the less obvious costs of college. One of the most substantial costs incurred is the money you lose from deferring full-time work. Most college students either don’t work or work part-time while attending classes. This can decrease your potential income for the next few years by a significant amount. With less time spent in the workforce, you may also miss out on possible opportunities within the workplace, such as promotions or special training. Another hidden cost to college is unpaid internships. Today, it is common for college students to work an unpaid internship at some point during their college career. On top of not offering compensation, these types of positions cost students time; time they might have otherwise used to work in a paid position or study for classes.  

There is a catch to these costs, however. It is true that, while going to college, an individual can miss out on some short-term income. However, having a college degree can also open many more doors to different and higher-paying work opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the more education you have, the higher your average pay is likely to be. For example, in 2018, a high school graduate made on average $36,000 a year. Someone with a bachelor’s degree would have made around $60,000 a year, and master’s degree graduates making $72,000 a year. Those who are highly educated are also less likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate in 2018 for high school graduates was a little less than 4%, in comparison to around 2% for bachelor’s and master’s degree holders.     

College can be expensive for a multitude of reasons. College also is not the right fit for every individual.  But for many others, the benefits of a college education outweigh the potential costs it incurs. It is up to each individual to weigh the costs and benefits and invest in the best way possible into their future.    

Written by Hannah Rose Budzynski, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Spring 2021. Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, University of Illinois Extension.

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