Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here.

As I peer at my Navient student loan balance, I wonder about the return on investment on our pricey college educations. Student loan debt is rapidly reaching a crisis level, with the average individual carrying over $30,000 of debt.

I signed away my life when I was 18 years old, not realizing that, uh, that’s a lot of money. I was ultra-stupid and attended a pricey private university that charged $25,000 a semester.

Ouch.

We plan to be free of both our student loans by the end of 2018. After doing all the hard work to pay them off, I can’t help but wonder. Is college really worth it?

I’m sure I’m not the only person wondering this, so I reached out to money pros to get their take on it. Add your opinion in the comments!

Steven Wiedman

I dropped out of college at the end of my sophomore year to become the general manager of a restaurant (where I’d previously been the night manager while paying for my classes).  The general manager position was a wonderful opportunity to further develop my leadership and entrepreneurial abilities, and I made pretty good money in an industry that didn’t really require a college degree.

But after several years, I realized that my abbreviated education would eventually limit my opportunities; so I began saving money like crazy, eventually resigned my position, went back to school full-time, and ultimately completed graduate school.  

My early business experience was extremely valuable and paid quite well; but without my college education, my career path would have been limited in many ways — and I believe that my life would have been much less fulfilling.

These days, some professions (e.g., skilled trades) provide challenging work, pay well, and don’t require a college degree.  So young folks who enjoy working with their hands should seek out apprenticeship opportunities in one of those fields.  However, many more careers require a college degree — just to get one’s foot in the door (so to speak).  Then, further career progress might well require an advanced degree of some sort later on.  

So is college worth the rising cost?  For a great many folks, the answer is a resounding yes.  The rising costs can often be significantly reduced by starting out at a local community college in a 2-year transfer program and finishing at a (regional) public university.  

Finishing in 4 years (something not done by the overwhelming majority of college students these days) will reduce the ultimate cost of a degree even more.  So with some careful planning, students don’t have to graduate with a significant debt-load.  And summer jobs and internships can further trim student loan debt while providing work experience that will help a recent graduate stand out in a crowded job market.     

Sure, spending four years at a private, residential college can be extremely expensive.  But there are reasonably-priced alternatives, and some excellent schools (such as the U.S. service academies) don’t charge anything for tuition at all!  To some extent, whether to choose to go to college depends on one’s goals in life.  

Reaching some goals will likely require a college degree, but others may not!

Alexander from iTestCash

In 2017 and beyond, I think college is only necessary if you are going for a career that requires it, such as for a medical or law degree.

We are in an age where you can build a brand or name for yourself without any college degrees, whether it is as a journalist (which you can now market for free on YouTube), starting a business (which you can learn about online or from mentors), or entering the world of acting (which again can be marketed with YouTube), as just a few examples.

Whether college is right for you can vary depending on what career you are aiming for. But you certainly don’t need it as much as you used to in order to get your foot in the door.

Shaun Walker

I understand the dire straits college loan debt can put students in. I, for one, would have doubled my student loan debt if I had not received a simple out-of-state waiver.

Ridiculous, right?

We need schools to focus on actually providing their students with specific marketable skills, beyond the vague degree description that so often accompany them, and at a price that doesn’t need to cover the constant upgrades to gyms, swimming pools and football stadiums.

Sadly, you can actually graduate college without demonstrating any ability to think critically. Schools are pricing out their students or saddling them with so much debt that, once they graduate they feel that it is eternally inescapable, which in the long run hurts our nation’s consumer spending and grows long-term debt even more. Sadly, we’re rewarding our nation’s brightest with mountains of debt.

When hiring people, we’ve always said that a college degree is not the most important part of the process. If a potential employee tells us they did not finish college or did not go because they could not afford it, we will not penalize them.

If their work is quality grade and they show an ability to work hard, we will look at that. If they are constantly learning and trying to better themselves, we believe that is a better quality than someone who was just able to pay for the degree and not really learn.

I recommend jumping into the business world by starting a business, no matter how small, to get that incredibly valuable real-world experience that school can’t teach and you won’t learn any other way.

A few websites/apps that we like and could go along way in continuing your education (some for free) are: Khan Academy (Web, App) KhanAcademy.com, Udemy (Web) udemy.com, Coursera (Web) Coursera.org, Skillshare (Web) skillshare.com and Snapguide (Web, App) snapguide.com




Derek from Fireside Financial

I believe too many high school graduates are going on to college.

The 4-year graduation rate is less than 45% and the 6-year graduation rate is less than 60%. So there are too many people who start and don’t finish. This is one way people get into trouble with student loans. That and shopping for schools that are out of their budget.

So for some, college is not worth the cost.

I will add that I hope that the stigma around attending community colleges and technical schools goes away. Many people would be well-served by entering a trade. Many trades pay very good salaries and don’t require a 4-year college degree. Further, they get to start working and making money a couple years before their peers who go to college.

Charles from College Bound Coaching

Let me answer this in several different ways.

As a college graduate – It was in college that I learned how to think though a concept or idea, clearly organize my thoughts, and present those thoughts in writing or a presentation. So more than anything else, I learned how to present myself and my ideas to others.

As a college funding advisor – I see families and students look at schools for the wrong reasons. They often value the name of the college and the “college experience” over the actual value of the degree.

Maybe the student is considering schools simply because of the football team. Sometimes, the amount of money paid for the specific degree or school is the problem. A nurse from a $10k per year school is no different than a nurse from a $65k per year school, yet some students will only pay $10k per year to go to that $65k school.

As an adjunct college instructor – If you’re in college just for the girls, or because your parents require it, or because you think it’s what you should be doing, then you are probably wasting your money.  Too many of my students have no clue why they’re even in college or what they hope to get out of it.

My advice is this: Know why you’re going to college. Know what you want to get out of it.Then, find the cheapest way to get what you want. Do the planning and the workup front and you won’t overpay.

The bottom line

What say you, Picky people? Do you think college is worth it?


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