Should I Earn a College Degree
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Should I Earn a College Degree

So you’re thinking of adding a new or different college degree. Bottom line: Only you can decide. Like it or not, costs will play a big factor in your decision.

Ultimately, dreaming and finding happiness are paramount The “intangibles” of advancing educationally are huge. The farther you go, the more prestige and status you enjoy, plus there is that feeling of accomplishment, broadening horizons, better giving back, etc. But no matter how you cut it, financial considerations are relevant, as are the needs of others who depend on you, including young children.

So why not get the costs down and then decide?

First, Cut College Expenses

The fact that more people are going to college and that more are borrowing to pay for it means that getting any degree is expensive. A 2011 report by CNN showed the least expensive college tuition was at community colleges at $3,000 a year. Costs at public four-year schools (tuition, room/board, fees, books) are increasing more rapidly than inflation.

Many experts are saying “what goes up has to come down.” So maybe you could wait five years or so when market pressures make college-going more affordable. What isn’t known, however, is whether the experts are correct or whether you’ll still attempt college-going in five years.

Other things to consider:

• Waivers: Ranging from government (Medicaid, vocational) to private sector, these are definitely worth looking into.
• Grants/scholarships: Especially for female learners.
• Financial Aid: Because most schools offer something, calculate ahead of time.
• Loans (and can you pay back): The average borrower who graduated in 2011 had student loans of $26,600. How much in loans applies in your case and does the salary in your chosen field support your needs plus payback?
• Getting a Degree on Someone Else’s Dime: Is there a way to get someone else to pay in exchange for a work promise? There are opportunities – teaching, the military, others. Things to know include how long and where you have to work and can you be accepted?
• Earnings and job potential: In 2012, for American workers age 25 or above, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that unemployment rates fell below the national average when workers had an Associate’s Degree or higher, and that weekly wages were higher (sometimes much more so) for those with a Bachelor’s degree or above.
• Public versus Private: This is an intensely personal decision. Among the things to consider: What field you’re interested in, whether there is a job placement office, graduation rate(s), cost comparisons, scholarships, value of the source of education, and others. (An early-2012 report by the Government Accounting Office compared many of these factors in public versus private non-profits.)
• Online versus Traditional: An on-campus setting may be more appropriate for the older student if not as tech-savvy. However, those who need to be working will see more scheduling flexibility in online education. Also, location isn’t a factor. Costs? Any time a student isn’t visiting a campus (s)he is saving the costs of getting there.
• Prior Credit: can costs be cut by credit for advanced placement, or previous military and/or professional experience?

Whether to earn a college degree is an intensely personal decision. Since they’re a huge factor, try to decrease costs and then make a decision. While there are no guarantees, data suggests that earnings will increase and the value of achievement and other intangibles is immeasurable, in your eyes and others’.

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