Here's a piece from MSN Money that asks . The author goes out of his way to show that it's not worth it in some cases, especially when:
- The student goes to a very expensive college.
- The student borrows a ton of money to pay for it.
- Upon graduation, the student takes a job that doesn't pay much in relation to the debt he just incurred.
Well, duh. Of course it's a bad deal in this example. But I'd consider this the worst-case scenario.
As you all know by now, I'm a big fan of going to college. Studies show what a great deal it can be for you financially and education's made a huge difference in my finances. That said, you can't simply go to whatever college you like, borrow whatever you like, and take whatever job you like and expect that to be a series of good financial moves.
Here's what I would recommend to those people looking to make the best possible investment out of college:
1. Try and decide what type of work you'd like to do before you apply to any colleges. I know this can be difficult to do -- for a 16-year-old to decide his life's work -- but at least give it some thought. Narrow the list to a few careers and look at colleges that cover most (if not all) of those. And in the first year or two of college, take as many "general" classes as possible. This will give you a bit more time to decide what you really want to do.
2. Go to the least expensive school (or at least an inexpensive one) that will get you where you want to go. For instance, if you want to be an engineer at company XYZ and you know that XYZ recruits from both college 123 and college 456, but college 123 costs $10,000 a year and college 456 costs $15,000 a year, consider the cost difference before picking a college. You may still go with college 456, but really, really, really consider if it's worth the extra $20,000 to attend.
3. Get as many scholarships and free money as possible. Some of this is not dependent on you (such as whether or not you qualify for need-based scholarships) but many do. This is why it's important for you to rack up extracurricular experiences, community service, and good grades starting in 9th grade. The work done here will pay off in all sorts of various scholarships and aid given to those who excel in various activities. For more thoughts on this, see 11 Ways to Get Your Share of College Money.
4. Apply the various ways available to save money on college. Here are just a few I've written about:
- College for Half-Price
- How to Save on College Textbooks
- Save 50% on Education Expenses
- Save Big Money by Getting Good Grades in College
- Save on College Courses
- Save on College by Studying Abroad
You can find more ideas by going to my college category and reading all the articles.
Now whether or not college is a good deal even if you apply these principles still depends on what you make leaving college versus what you could have made with just a high school degree. But generally, a college educated person will make substantially more over his career than a high school educated person, so as long as the debt load leaving college is reasonable, it's a no-brainer -- college is a better deal by far.
Can you find circumstances where this isn't true? Of course. But in the vast number of cases, a college degree obtained at a reasonable cost (and with reasonable levels of borrowing) is a great deal. The key is to think ahead and plan what you're doing all the way through starting when you/your child starts 9th grade. If you do this and do it correctly, college will not only be a great, life-changing experience, but it will also be a very lucrative decision.