Guest Blog Post

Since 1985, college tuition rates have skyrocketed, rising 2.5 times faster than inflation, according to Forbes magazine. As a result, prospective college students are facing tough choices when it comes to choosing a school. Although the average college graduate still makes $15,000 more annually compared to someone holding a high school diploma, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the value of a college degree depends on career goals and other factors.

Assess Your Career Goals

While some students are undecided about their final career trajectory when entering college, it’s a good idea to have concrete plans or goals. Think carefully about what you want to do with your life and the type of salary you’ll command. For example, someone planning to become a public school teacher in Oregon will make an average starting salary of $33,617, according to the National Education Association. Choosing to attend a private college and take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt may not make sense. In contrast, a student who becomes a chemical engineer commands an average starting salary of $65,618. This makes a competitive private college with a strong engineering program an attractive choice.

Consider Financial Aid

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average private college costs $33,617, while the average four-year public institution costs $13,564. However, the full sticker price for each does not necessarily reflect the amount of debt that students actually take on. Many private institutions have large endowments that allow them to be generous with need-based and merit-based financial aid, lowering the effective cost of attendance. For example, 90 percent of students who attend Harvard University pay the same or less than they would at a four-year public school because the university provides large amounts of financial support. In many cases, it’s worth applying to a school to see what financial aid package it offers before making your final choice.

Examine the Opportunities

Certain universities have reputations that smooth the way for internships, job interviews or applications to professional schools. For example, if you’re planning to attend law school, inquire about the law school placement rates at your prospective college and make decisions accordingly. For many individuals, however, choice of school does not have a substantial impact on their ability to get a job or attend graduate school. Certain programs, like accounting and finance degrees online, require taking a certification or licensing examination upon completion of the coursework that evens the playing field. For those programs, shelling out for an expensive private school may not make sense compared to an online degree program with high CPA exam pass rates.

Look at Graduation Rates

Examining graduation rates is an important part of making a college decision. A private school may costs more but has a larger percentage of students graduating in four years. In contrast, students attending a less expensive public university may take longer to graduate. In New York, for example, only 58 percent of students entering public institutions graduated within six years, compared to 69 percent in private schools. Even at a public school with relatively low tuition rates, taking more than four years to graduate can cause dramatic increases in debt.

Karen Smith
Karen was interested in so many subjects in college, it took her seven years to graduate. She is putting her varied interests to work as a freelance writer, covering a number of topics. She doesn’t like to be pinned down to any one thing.

Originally posted 2015-03-17 00:52:15.