So how much is your college degree really worth? Does it depend on the college you attended or how much effort you put into your studies?
There has actually been a dollar amount placed on degrees. “The actual monetary worth tossed around for a bachelor’s degree (as opposed to a high school diploma) is $1 million,” notes education expert and teacher Katie Schellenberg, CEO and founder of BeyondTutoring.com, an educational blog, and Learning Lab LA, a concierge and academic advocacy firm. “This takes into account what the average high school graduate earns over a lifetime versus what someone with a bachelor’s degree earns over a lifetime. Although this is the average, a college degree is worth exactly how much work you put into your career development, your passion and your vocation.”
Both the school you attend as well as your own effort counts a lot. “I would say it is a little bit of what school you go to, what they teach you, their alumni network and their placement to secure your first job or your graduate school,” explains Schellenberg. “But after your first job or your graduate school, future employers put a lot more stock into recommendations, performance and metrics as opposed to your undergraduate education.”
Alfred Poor, author of “7 Success Secrets That Every College Student Needs to Know!” breaks the value down in more detail. “The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco did a study and determined that the average college graduate with a 4-year degree will make about $863,000 more than they would without it over the course of their career. And that’s in today’s dollars,” he explains. “The average starting salary for a high school graduate is about $27,000. According to NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) the average starting salary for 4-year degree graduates of the Class of 2014 was more than $45,000.”
Degrees affect employability, obviously. “In 2013 when the economic recovery was just getting started, the national unemployment rate for all adult workers was 7.6 percent. The average rate for those aged 25 to 32 with only a high school diploma was 12.2 percent. By contrast, the average for the same age group with a 4-year degree was half the national average: 3.8 percent. And that’s less than a third of the rate for high school grads of the same age,” Poor points out.
“A college education is valuable for both, not only for what one learns, but also for the benefits derived from being associated with that school,” Kanika Vasudeva of EssaysApps, which provides tips for admission applications, notes. “The true worth of a college education can be measured on three counts – quality of education, alumni network, and brand name for future employers. All other factors being equal, an elite college will generally provide better education simply because these colleges have more money to spend on education and can attract top professors.” She adds, “Alumni, as we know, tend to favor their fellow alums. It is more likely that alumni from top colleges will be able to help their graduates. And education from an Ivy League is a powerful signal for future employers.”
But according to Poor, the school you attended might not carry as much weight as you’d think. “The college you attend is not that important. If you want to go on to a graduate program, your college may count for something, but if you’re going to enter the working world after graduation, it turns out that most managers don’t care where you got your degree. The sad fact is that most don’t even care about your GPA,” he says. “And even your choice of major matters much less than your internship and work experience. If you want to have the best chance of getting a job, go to the flagship state university in your state.”
However, Ben Feuer, an educational and career consultant with NY-based Forster-Thomas Inc., notes that having a degree in an in-demand field is a major plus. “Naturally, it does matter what you study. The ‘hot’ degrees change year by year, so it’s unwise for students to chase trends. A more effective strategy is to take a few skills you’re already pretty good at and try to find a major (and career) in college that takes advantage of their intersection,” he says. “For instance, if I like working with my hands and I’m good with numbers, perhaps I should consider engineering or pre-med. If I’m more verbally inclined and I like people, perhaps communications or business.”