Growing up, many of us were encouraged, and often expected to get a degree at a four-year college or university.
Parents who went to college might expect their children to follow in their footsteps. Parents who were not able to get a degree might want something better for their children.
But is a four-year degree really worth it?
According to College Board, private four-year institutions cost an average of $37,650 per year during the 2020-21 school year. In-state four-year public institutions averaged $10,560 per year, and out-of-state averaged $27,020 per year.
The same report details the average student debt situation. In 2018-19, 56% of people with a bachelor degree from both public and private schools of higher education graduated with debt. The debt average of that demographic is around $28,800.
If a person has unsubsidized loans with high interest rates, the debt will increase and they will owe much more than their degree cost in the first place.
An article in Forbes reports that on average, those student loans take around 18.5 years to pay off.
There are other options for furthering one’s education beyond high school- options that don’t involve spending so much money. Two-year colleges cost an average of $3,770 per year, according to College Board, making it significantly more affordable than a four-year college or university.
Recipients of an associate degree on average make $46,124 per year, while recipients of a bachelor degree make an average of $64,896 per year, according to an article by Northeastern University.
The person with the undergraduate degree will often end up making more money, however, they usually have to spend large amounts of money to get that degree in the first place.
Trade schools are another option, and more affordable when compared to a four-year college or university, costing around $33,000 total.
On top of that, trade school skills translate directly into money-making jobs. The average salaries of trade school jobs vary greatly, so it is important to do research to make sure you get your money’s worth.
For people who are unsure of what they want to do, it could be beneficial to put off college, or at least a four-year school, so no money is wasted while they experiment with classes that cost hundreds of dollars per credit.
On the other hand, there are people who are passionate about a subject and are excited to further their education through a trade school, two-year school, or four-year college or university. At least they can be sure that they are invested in the degree they are paying for.
Ultimately, finances are the most important aspect of a person’s decision to further their education. It is not worth the financial burden to take on obscene amounts of debt for a degree that is not certain to pay off.
Medical school, for example, costs residents at a public university an average of $41,438 per year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This is approximately what UT students are spending on their undergraduate degrees.
However, Indeed reports that a general practitioner physician in Florida makes an average of $200,000 per year, whereas undergraduate degrees make considerably less. Paying for medical school in full is certain to pay off in the end.
Beyond technical school and community college, there are ways to make money without attending more school. With the internet at our fingertips, we can market skills we already possess into freelance or commissioned work, like tutoring, writing, photography, and other forms of art.
I know there are some hopefuls that would like to make money as a content creator, but that can be hard to break into. However, just like with any kind of job that may be considered out-of-the-ordinary, you can go for it. But be sure to have a job in the meantime that will pay the bills as you pursue something bigger.
As a student myself, I am excited about my degree and am passionate about the field I am in. I think that is what makes a person a good candidate to pursue a traditional four-year degree, especially considering the financial support that I, and others, were lucky enough to receive.
However, I recognize that is certainly not the most valuable path for everyone.
People should not feel forced to take on massive financial burdens, especially when they are so young, unsure, and unaware of what that decision could do in the long run. College can be worth it, but only if you want to go, and if you don’t pay too much doing so.