Is College Worth It?

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Student loans can turn what should be a blessing—an education—into a burden.

Our financial coaches have seen far too many families struggle to repay educational debts while their marriages, mortgages and careers hang in the balance. One family owed an unbelievable $800,000 in student loans! It’s a familiar problem that’s plaguing the nation, as total student loan debt is over $1.34 trillion!(1)

So, is college worth it these days?

Let’s take a look:


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Is college really worth it?

Some go to college out of obligation or out of expectation, but many people go to college embracing the promise that it will give them a better life. But with the Federal Reserve of New York reporting that 43% of college grads are working a job that doesn’t require a degree,(2) is college worth it? You decide.

What are the alternatives?

Contrary to popular belief, there are alternatives to college that don’t include working minimum wage. Becoming a real estate agent, medical assistant or web developer won’t require a college degree, but will require some training. You can also enlist in the military without having a college degree. And if you do decide to go to college later, you may be eligible to have it covered through the GI Bill. Is college worth it in that case? It’s something to think about.

Are you ready to be the CEO of your own company? Start your own business. Nowadays, you don’t need a degree in business to be in business. You can embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and start your own business in just a few minutes thanks to places like eBay, Etsy and Amazon.

And if you want more of a traditional learning structure, you can always look into taking free online classes, learning a skill at a trade school, or getting your associate degree at a community college.

Myths About College

Myth: I need a college degree to find a job.

Truth: A bachelor’s (or master’s) degree can open doors, but hard work keeps those doors open. Some of the world’s wealthiest businesspeople didn’t even finish college—think technology tycoons Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Michael Dell. They’re proof the traditional route isn’t the only path to success. Don’t count out the alternatives like trade schools, community colleges, apprenticeships and good old-fashioned entrepreneurial drive.

Myth: I need to go out of state for the degree I want.

Truth: Enrolling in an out-of-state public university can increase your costs significantly. As in, "$10,000—$20,000 more per year" significantly. That’s not even considering the flights to get there or the long car rides home. Plus, many students change majors at least once during their academic careers—if not more. So think twice before heading across the state border.

Myth: All degrees make money after college.

Truth: That depends on what your definition of "making money" is. Sure, they’ll all help you bring home a paycheck—but not all degrees are created equal. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average salary for a history major right after college is $35,000. But, if you have a degree in mechanical engineering, you’d be making $60,000 right out of the gate.(3)

Myth: My future employer will care where I went to school.

Truth: Most employers don’t look at your GPA, and they don’t care about your alma mater. In fact, you may be surprised what business leaders consider when looking at potential hires. A Gallup survey found only 9% place importance on where a student graduated from, while 84% considered the amount of knowledge a candidate has in the field as very important.(4)

Myth: The cost of college is so high, you have to get a student loan.

Truth: Believe it or not—you can go to college without taking out a student loan! You have a lot of options. Don’t think scholarships aren’t worth your time—apply for as many as possible. Then choose an in-state university or local community college. Find a part-time job while you go to school (even a work-study program will help). And look for non-traditional options too, like joining the military or taking a few semesters off to save up before you go. Don’t buy the lie. There are plenty of ways to pay for college without taking out student loans.

Myths About Student Loans

Myth: Student loans are good debt.

Truth: Debt means you owe someone money. Period. That paycheck after you graduate? Yep, you’ll have to give a big chunk of it to the government or a private lender after your grace period ends. Instead of saving money to get married, travel, buy a house, or start a family, you get to make interest payments—and lots of them. Doesn’t that take a lot of the fun out of life?

Myth: I’ll just get all my loans forgiven.

Truth: Loan forgiveness programs exist to attract smart grads to low-paying government jobs (usually the kind no one else wants). And they come with a laundry list of stipulations. For example, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program applies to specific not-for-profit employees who’ve already made 120 payments on their Direct Loans. So you’ll still be paying back most of your debt while simultaneously limiting your income.

Myth: I’ll make enough to pay back my loans after I graduate.

Truth: Will you? If you’re part of the 43% working a job that doesn’t require a college degree, you probably didn’t expect that after four long years of studying. Look, there are no guarantees you’ll find your dream job right away—it could take years. Remove a ton of post-grad pressure by refusing loans from the get-go.

Myth: If I lose my job, I’ll just go back to school.

Truth: Sometimes going back to school makes sense. But not when you’re unemployed with a family to support. If you already have a degree and years of experience in your field, find something temporary while you search for a lasting career. Don’t accrue debt for another set of letters when you already have plenty of money-earning potential.

Myth: If I get into a serious financial scrape, I’ll file for bankruptcy.

Truth: Student loans are nearly impossible to get rid of, even in bankruptcy. Unless you can prove undue hardship—which is difficult to do—lenders can garnish your wages or take away your driver’s license upon default. How’s that for a reality check? If you’ve already found yourself in student loan debt, the best thing to do is get rid of it as quickly as possible.

So is college worth it in the long run? We’ll leave the ball in your court. If you think college is right for you, then make sure you are prepared. But remember no debt is good debt—no matter how many letters it puts behind your name. Still have questions? The Graduate Survival Guide is the playbook you need as you prepare to enter the collegiate world.

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