Regional College Access Center

How college pays you back

Nadir says: I've had to take on some student loans to attend college. One of the loans is unsubsidized, so I'm already paying interest on it while I'm in school. I don't like being in debt, but I believe that my degree will help me to find a better job after graduation.

To me, a "better" job means a better-paying job, but also something that's interesting. I don't want to have to take a job that I won't enjoy. The power to choose my own future is important to me.

"Why college?"

Getting a college degree is expensive in ways that go beyond the obvious. In addition to money, college costs you time and energy. Even applying to school can be a challenge, as you may be discovering.

Many people who don't go to college spend the years they would have been in school working and learning in other ways. So when students want to know why they should devote thousands of dollars and years of their lives to earning a degree, it's a fair question.

More than a piece of paper

The answer to the question "Why should I do this?" begins with recognizing that earning a degree is about much more than a piece of paper. College is an experience that changes students, allowing them an opportunity to learn about themselves and acquire skills and knowledge that they will put to use over the rest of their lives.

Research performed by The College Board (the organization that administers the SAT and AP tests) shows some of the ways that attending college makes a lifelong difference for students:

  1. Individuals with higher levels of education earn more and are more likely than others to be employed.
  2. The financial return associated with additional years of schooling beyond high school and the gaps in earnings by education level have increased over time.
  3. Federal, state, and local governments enjoy increased tax revenues from college graduates and spend less on income support programs for them, providing a direct financial return from investments in postsecondary education.
  4. College-educated adults are more likely than others to receive health insurance and pension benefits from their employers and to be satisfied with their jobs.
  5. Adults with higher levels of education are more engaged citizens than others.
  6. College education leads to healthier lifestyles, reducing health care costs for individuals and for society.
  7. College-educated parents engage in more educational activities with their children, who are better-prepared for school than other children.

Source: Baum, S., Ma, J. & Payea, K. (2010). Education Pays 2010: In Brief. College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.

What the numbers show

The chart below shows the relationship between education and earnings in the United States from 2001-2010. The earnings numbers represent the median annual income for people within the U.S. who were employed full-time. As you can see, every increase in level of education corresponded to an earnings increase.

The chart's data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.