Is Going to College Worth It? How to Decide

·16 min read

With education costs steadily rising, you might wonder if going to college is still worth it. Ultimately, there’s no clear answer to this question — it depends on your individual circumstances as well as the degree you choose and your job prospects after graduation.

Here’s how to decide if college is worth it:

  • Benefits and disadvantages of going to college

  • Why college could be worth it

  • Why college may not be worth it

  • How to cover the cost of college

  • Alternatives to getting a college degree

Benefits and disadvantages of going to college

If you’re trying to decide whether college is worth it for you, here are a few pros and cons to keep in mind:

Pros

Cons

Why college could be worth it

Here are four potential benefits that could make college worth it:

Might need a degree for your career field

While some career paths don’t have specific education requirements, others do. For example, you’ll generally need a degree to work in medicine, engineering, physical therapy, or other regimented fields.

If you plan to work in a profession that has these requirements, then attending college will likely be a necessity.

Will likely earn more money

College graduates generally earn more compared to people who don’t have a degree. For example, in 2020, workers with a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,305 while workers with a high school diploma earned just $781, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you want to earn a higher salary, then going to college could be worth it.

Less likely to be unemployed

In addition to earning higher wages, college graduates are also less likely to be unemployed compared to people with less education. For example, in March 2021, the unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 3.7% compared to 6.7% for high school graduates with no college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tip: The connections that you make in college with peers, mentors, and professors could also help you find job opportunities once you enter the workforce.

If you hope to have steady employment, then attending college might be a good idea.

Learn More: College ROI: 6 Tools to Gauge the Return on Your Degree

Why college may not be worth it

There are also a few reasons why college might not be worth it, including:

Can be expensive and might require student loans

The cost of attending college has steadily risen over time, making it harder to pay for without taking out student loans. The average student loan debt for college students in 2021 was $39,351.

Keep in mind that this debt can end up being much higher for more expensive programs, such as law or medicine.

A good job isn’t guaranteed

While earning a college degree can help you find employment, getting a good job after you graduate isn’t guaranteed.

Additionally, some professions don’t require a traditional four-year degree. If you’re interested in one of these jobs, then going to college likely isn’t worth the time or money.

Here are several jobs that might not require a bachelor’s degree:

  • Dental assistant

  • Electrician

  • Plumber

  • Programmer

  • Website designer

You might not like your school or degree

Even if you attend school tours and learn as much as you can about a program before enrolling, there’s always a chance that the school or degree might not be a good fit for you. If this happens, you might end up dropping out of school.

Keep in mind: The dropout rate for undergraduate students is 40%, and 30% of them drop out before reaching their sophomore year, according to EducationData.org.

Additionally, 57% of student loan borrowers don’t end up graduating, according to OneClass — so if you drop out, you could still have student loan debt to pay off, which could be difficult if you don’t have the education to qualify for higher-paying jobs.

Check Out: Ranking: Return on Investment by University

How to cover the cost of college

If you decide that earning a degree is right for you but aren’t sure how to pay for college, follow these five steps:

1. Fill out the FAFSA

Your first step in paying for college should be completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school will use your FAFSA results to determine what federal student loans and other federal aid you qualify for.

Tip: Even if you think you might not be eligible for federal aid, be sure to fill out the FAFSA anyway. You might be surprised to find out you qualify after all.

Learn More: How to Apply to College and When You Should Apply

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Unlike student loans, college scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid — which makes them a great way to pay for college. There’s no limit to how many scholarships and grants you can get, so it’s a good idea to apply for as many as you can.

Some organizations that might offer these awards include:

  • Nonprofit organizations

  • Local and national businesses

  • Professional associations in your field

You might also be eligible for school-based scholarships depending on your FAFSA information.

Tip: You can use sites like Fastweb and Scholarships.com to easily search for scholarships that you might qualify for.

Check Out: 5 Steps to Take If You Can’t Afford College

3. Get a job or apply for a work-study program

You could also consider getting a job while you’re in school to help cover your expenses. Or you might participate in the federal work-study program, which provides part-time employment to undergraduate and graduate students with financial need.

Tip: If you decide to work while going to school, be sure to leave yourself enough time to study, too.

Learn More: When You Should Apply for a Student Loan

4. Take out federal student loans

If you need to borrow for school, it’s usually best to start with federal student loans. This is mainly because these loans come with federal benefits and protections — such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs.

After you fill out the FAFSA, your school will send you a financial aid award letter detailing the federal loans and financial aid you qualify for. You can then choose which aid and loans to accept.

Tip: There are several student loan forgiveness programs available to federal student loan borrowers, which can help reduce the amount you’ll have to repay. To qualify for one of these programs, you’ll typically need to work in a certain field and make qualifying payments for a specific amount of time.

For example, if you’re employed at a nonprofit or government agency and make qualifying payments for 10 years, you could be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Or if you’re a teacher, you might be able to have up to $17,500 of your federal loans forgiven through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program if you work in a low-income school full-time for five consecutive years.

Check Out: Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Student Loans: Know the Difference

5. Use private student loans to fill any gaps

After you’ve exhausted your scholarship, grant, and federal student loan options, private student loans could help fill any financial gaps left over. These loans are offered by private lenders, such as online lenders as well as traditional banks and credit unions.

If you’re considering federal vs. private student loans, keep in mind that private loans don’t come with federal protections. However, they do offer some benefits of their own. For example, you can apply at any time, and you might be able to borrow more than you would with a federal loan.

Tip: You’ll typically need good to excellent credit to get approved for a private student loan — a good credit score is usually considered to be 700 or higher. There are also some lenders that offer student loans for bad credit, but these loans usually come with higher interest rates compared to good credit loans.

If you’re struggling to get approved, consider applying with a creditworthy cosigner to improve your chances. Even if you don’t need a cosigner to qualify, having one could get you a lower interest rate than you’d get on your own.

Rates and terms can vary by lender — so if you decide to take out a private loan, be sure to shop around and consider as many lenders as possible. This way, you can find the right loan for your needs.

Credible makes this easy: You can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in just two minutes.

Lender

Fixed rates from (APR)

Variable rates from (APR)

Loan amounts

Loan terms (years)

Cosigners allowed



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.16%+

1.49%+

$2,001 to $200,000

7 to 15 years
(depending on loan type)

Yes



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.23%+1

N/A

$1,000 to $350,000
(depending on degree)

5, 10, 15

Yes



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

2.94%+2,3

0.94%+2,3

$1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

5, 8, 10, 15

Yes

custom choice



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.2%+

1.03%+

$1,000 to $99,999 annually
($180,000 aggregate limit)

7, 10, 15

Yes

edvestinu student loan refinance



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.02%+7

2.2%+7

$1,000 to $200,000

7, 10, 15

Yes



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.83%+8

1.69%+8

$1,001 up to 100% of school certified cost of attendance

5, 10, 15

Yes



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.75%+

N/A

$1,500 or $2,000 up to school’s certified cost of attendance
(depending on school type and minus other aid received)

15

Yes



Credible Rating
Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.5% - 12.6% APR9

1.13% - 11.23% APR9

Up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

10, 15

Yes

Compare rates without affecting
your credit score. 100% free!


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Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 7EDvestinU Disclosures | 8INvestEd Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures

Alternatives to getting a college degree

If you’re unsure whether getting a traditional four-year college degree is right for you (or if you aren’t quite ready for it), here are a few alternatives to consider:

  • Community college: Taking classes at a community college can be much less expensive compared to what you’d pay at a four-year university. This could make it easier to explore various interests at a much lower cost. You could also think about completing your general education courses at a community college before transferring to a four-year school to reduce your overall expenses.

  • Trade school: This type of school offers career-oriented programs in a shorter time frame than a traditional four-year degree — often at a lower cost, too. Some popular career programs provided by trade schools include auto body and maintenance, plumbing, welding, and more.

  • Coding bootcamp: If you’re interested in becoming a software developer or programmer, attending a coding bootcamp might be a good option. Coding bootcamps are intensive programs that generally take three to four months to complete. While these programs aren’t cheap, they’re typically less expensive than a four-year degree.

  • Gap year: If you’re not sure what you want to do career-wise, taking a gap year could be a good idea. You can use this time to explore your interests and enrich yourself before attending college.

If you decide that college is worth it for you and want to take out a private student loan, remember to consider as many lenders as you can to find the right loan for your needs. This is easy with Credible — you can compare your prequalified rates from multiple lenders in two minutes.

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