Is a College Degree Worth It?

College gives you a challenging but safe environment to practice these responsibilities and grow as a person

Top College Degrees in the US

While earning potential is an important consideration in deciding whether college is right for you, we also encourage you to pursue a subject that’s of interest to you, as passion can often be a significant driver of success.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently reported that post-college hiring is projected to rise 7.2% for the class of 2021 (compared to the class of 2020). This rebound suggests new-found optimism on the part of employers post COVID-19, as companies are desperate for qualified candidates and those eager to work.

2021 job outlook chart

5 Reasons Why a College Degree is Worth It

These are the key benefits we’ve identified after years of working with students, providing degrees for the most competitive of STEM fields, and helping college grads with job placement.

1. Higher Earning Potential

College graduates earn more, on average, than those who do not have a college degree. In fact, the median salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is more than twice as high as for someone with only a high school diploma or GED. It is also 45% higher compared to those with an associate degree.

2. Many Jobs REQUIRE a College Degree

Thirty-five percent of job openings require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30% require at least some college or an associate’s degree. If you are wanting to land a job in a competitive field, obtaining a college degree may be a necessity.

3. Open the Door to Networking and Job Opportunities

College is not simply a place for institutions to churn out diplomas. The great ones mold you into being a more well-rounded individual, prepare you to enter the workforce, and set you up with career skills and confidence. Most colleges provide career counseling, campus jobs, internships, job fairs, and more to help set you up for success.

4. Learn a Marketable Skill

Just like college is an investment, hiring managers are investing in YOU to generate a return for their company. That means having a marketable skill is especially attractive to today’s employers. A college degree could put you ahead of the pack while equipping you with a range of skills that make you appealing to top-tier companies.

5. Expand Your Interests

College also presents many opportunities to try new things, expand your horizons, and acquire diverse experience. You can try different electives, join clubs, drop into lectures, and more until you are super confident in what area you want to pursue. Plus, you will be learning from some of the brightest minds in the field!

The Averages

Here’s a detailed look from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at education levels in regard to median weekly earnings and unemployment statistics to give you a broad idea of how a degree can affect your income on the big whole. Keep in mind, these numbers cover all degree subjects and all areas of the U.S.; details on those two subjects will be covered later.

As you can see, the median income with a bachelor’s degree is almost double the income with only a high school diploma. Also, note the large difference between an associate degree and a bachelor’s; this is the primary reason a four-year degree is recommended over a two-year degree. The same trend continues with unemployment. If you hold a bachelor’s degree, your chance of being unemployed is almost half of that of a high school graduate.

The Opinions

There are a lot of news articles and polls about college degrees and cost; it’s easy to get confused when you’re making a major financial decision. While the majority (77%) of college graduates agree that their education was worth the cost, that still leaves almost a quarter of Americans who disagree. Why?

For the most part, those who feel their degree wasn’t worth it fall into one of two categories: they are either in debt over $50,000, or they chose a degree that isn’t very marketable. There’s also a discrepancy between recent graduates and those who have been working in their field of choice for several years, most likely because many new graduates expect to be immediately hired into a high paying position, only to find they need to gain experience to qualify for higher-paying positions.

A college degree has substantial financial value, both on average and for the vast majority of graduates. This is true even after making several “adjustments” to lifetime earnings which provide a much more accurate view of the value afforded by attending college. Attending college is not without risk, however. The financial and time investments will not pay off for everyone, especially if we continue to see about half of those who enroll at the average 4-year college not holding a degree 6 years later.

The Variables

Graduating vs. Getting Your Feet Wet

College is expensive, and if you look back at the wage and unemployment charts, you’ll see that, while those with some college experience don’t earn much less than those with an associate degree, the unemployment is considerably higher with no degree. Since you have to pay for classes whether you graduate or not, dropping out means you have college debt and nothing to show for it.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and if you can only take a few classes a year, you’ll still earn a degree if you persevere. Although a bachelor’s is considered a four-year degree, the majority of students take at least five years to complete it. The key to financial stability is to make an education plan and stick to it until you hold your diploma.

Certain fields can be entered with a certificate or trade school education, so it’s important to understand that college isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ decision. However, you should look to the future and follow through once you enroll in order to make the best financial decision.

Loans vs. Scholarships and Grants

Because the majority of those who feel their degree wasn’t worth it hold over $50,000 in debt at graduation, you should look closely at costs before you enroll. Public schools cost much less than private schools, and if you need financial aid, you should understand the difference between loans, scholarships, and grants.

Student loans must be repaid whether you graduate or not. They should be your last recourse, and if you have to borrow, you should do so sparingly and not spend the money on anything but your education.

Scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid and are the best route to achieve financial freedom from student debt. You should set aside time each week to find and apply for scholarships and grants and continue to do so throughout your college years.

You can also decrease your overall student debt by attending a community college for the first two years and then transferring to a four-year school. If you choose this option, you should verify your credits are transferable to the four-year school and the degree program that is your ultimate goal.

If you’re already working, check with your employer to see if the company has an education program. Often larger companies offer college tuition reimbursement for employees, and you can earn your degree at little or no personal cost.

Highly Competitive vs. Less Competitive

Your choice of field also plays a part in your degree decision, as does where you live. If you plan to enter a highly competitive field, holding a bachelor’s degree will make you more employable than someone with the same experience and no degree. In some fields, the same holds for a master’s degree as opposed to a bachelor’s, so before you enroll in school, you should research your chosen field and get a clear picture of what the competition is. The same career may also be more competitive in one state than another due to the region’s unemployment or major industries.

The BLS details thousands of jobs and almost always has projections for employment prospects over the next decade. When you investigate your chosen profession, you should also look at the projected demographics for specific states and regions to get a clear understanding of your future job market.

Flexibility vs. Single Job Option

Varies by Industry/Region

When choosing a career, you should look into the demographics rather than the average income, because where you live is as important as what you plan to do. For example, a degree in urban planning might be lucrative if you live in a metropolitan area with a lot of expansion, but you may have a hard time finding employment if you live in Utah. Likewise, a career with an average annual income of $100,000 means the national average: if you live in West Virginia you probably won’t find a position offering that much, but if you live in New York City there may be plenty of jobs at that wage.

You should also look at the cost of living for the area where you plan to live and work. While that job in West Virginia may only offer half the salary of the one in New York City, the cost of living may be so much lower that you end up with more disposable income because of the difference in housing and other expenses.

Industry Standards/Requirements

You should also examine the industry standards and requirements for your chosen field before deciding on a degree path. For example, most states require a teacher to have at least a bachelor’s degree as well as state certification; a similar position at a college will most likely require a master’s degree. You can work as a nurse’s aide with an associate degree and become a registered nurse (RN) with a bachelor’s, but if you wish to enter administration, you’ll need a master’s.

Do you need a college degree to be successful?

If the answer to this question were a simple “yes,” then the decision to go to college would be easy. Many factors help make someone successful. But, for most successful people, college is one of those factors.

Is college necessary for a successful career?

Yes and no. College opens up opportunities both intellectually and socially that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You’re surrounded by a network of students and professionals from all walks of life. There’s a good chance one might be your connection to your future career.

Final Thoughts: Is college worth it?

Based on current evidence, trends, and statistics, yes, college is worth it. If you have a college degree, you should have an easier time finding, keeping, and enjoying your career. But, the ultimate decision is still up to you. If you’re still unsure if college is for you, consider contacting one of Crimson’s advisors. They can answer your questions, help you determine which college might be right for you, and guide you towards a path that will lead you to the career of your dreams.