Is a college degree worth the cost?
It's a question that comes up over and over again in media coverage of the economy, job market, and rising tuition. Anxiety around college costs and value is evident in The Princeton Review's annual "College Hopes and Worries Survey": year over year, the biggest worry reported by respondents has been that they (or their child) will get into their first-choice school but will not be able to pay for it.
With average debt for 2013 graduates totaling close to $25,000, and over $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, these worries are warranted. But the benefits of a college education are real, and go far beyond labor and salary statistics.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates earn more money and experience lower unemployment rates than workers who only have high school diplomas. That might not be a surprise, but studies from the CDC, Harvard University, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have all found college grads live longer, too.
These same studies have shown that college grads and their offspring have fewer health problems (likely due to improved health care access). And this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle: healthier children learn better…increasing their own chances to get to college and perform well there.
These benefits are significant, but they don't mean that you should mortgage your future to pay for your bachelor's degree with high interest loans.
While many college applicants and their parents often experience sticker shock as they begin to research schools, the scary price tags of more than $40,000 annually for tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and related expenses are offset by grants and institutional funding at many excellent colleges (detailed cost, debt, and grant information is available in The Princeton Review's annual Best Value Colleges book).
Two-thirds of college students use financial aid packages to help cover their costs. Further, colleges are beginning to respond to that sticker shock: prices increased from the 2011-2012 school year to 2012-2013, but by a smaller percentage than in years past.
The rate of inflation was lower this year, but colleges are also reacting to negative feedback about rapidly rising tuition, and to how heavily college-bound students and their families are weighing costs in their search process.
At The Princeton Review, we tell college-bound students to never cross a school off their list due to price alone. We offer resources to help students do their college research, borrow wisely, and prep well for the SAT and ACT (these scores can play a significant role in scholarship eligibility).
Cost and financial aid are only one factor in finding the school that fits you best—academics and campus culture are equally important. Your course of study, and the professors who mentor you, will play a significant role in setting you on your career path.
As for campus culture, the friends you make, the clubs you join, even that randomly-assigned freshman roommate, can all form the backbone of the social and professional network that you will utilize for the rest of your life.
About the Author
Robert Franek oversees The Princeton Review's publishing program. As the company's chief expert on higher education issues, Franek visits more than 50 colleges a year, lectures on college admissions and has been sourced on education issues and trends by a wide range of media from Time to USA TODAY to The Chronicle of Higher Education. He appears regularly on "TODAY" (NBC), "Good Morning America" (ABC) and "This Morning" (CBS) as well as several CNN, FOX, and NPR programs.