College

College degree is still worth it, despite soaring costs

Oct. 24, 2012 at 8:05 AM ET

The skyrocketing cost of a college education and frustratingly low job prospects have more young Americans questioning the value of a higher education.

Is saddling yourself with so much early in your career worth it?

The simple answer is yes.

A worker with a bachelor's degree will earn $2.3 million on average over a lifetime, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Someone with a high school degree can expect to earn $1.3 million over a lifetime. That's a huge discrepancy. And it isn't shrinking. What I would say is that we have to be smarter about how we go about getting those college degrees.

Here are three tips to help you get the most bang for your education buck:

1. Shop for the best value in education

A college degree is necessary, but spending $50,000 in private school may not be necessary. Shop for the best educational value that you can find. That means maximizing your quest for scholarships and grants, taking the time to fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms and looking long and hard at the sticker price. Look at less expensive alternatives like public and community colleges. Community colleges can be a fantastic deal, particularly if you get into a program where there are agreements in place with four-year schools to allow you to transfer in year three as long as you maintain a B average. You get the four-year degree at a much more affordable price. 

2. Look for the most employable majors

Go into college thinking about your job prospects when you come out.  Strongly consider choosing an employable major. Here are some areas of learning that may do well in the coming years:

  • Medical technician
  • Nursing
  • Education
  • Math & computer science
  • Engineering

That being said, it is important to study what you're passionate about.  But you should keep in mind the rule of thumb that you should try not to borrow more than you expect to earn in your first year out of college. So think about what you're likely to do with that history degree and how much you're likely to make. A website like salary.com can help you do a little research.  And if staying within those boundaries means choosing a less expensive school, that's at least something you will want to think about before you matriculate.

3. Make yourself the most marketable candidate

Employers want to see real work experience on the resume, of the sort that makes you valuable to them.  It's about showing that you're serious about this field as a career -- and about making the contacts that can help you get that first job.

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