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Is college worth it?

Yes, college costs a lot … but it usually pays off big.

The benefits of a college degree

Research shows that college grads can expect a head start on their peers in several areas, including:

  • Lower unemployment.
  • Higher salary.
  • More opportunity for advancement.
  • Greater job flexibility.

Average annual salaries tend to rise with each level of education. Over a lifetime, the difference can be huge—hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So even if you have to stretch financially to pay for college, it's worth finding ways to make it happen.

Average yearly earnings by education level

A series of bars depicting income levels based on education level.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2013.

But what if there are no jobs?

In December 2014, the unemployment rate was 80% higher for high school graduates (5.3%) as it was for people with at least a 4-year degree (2.9%). So while it might take a little time to find a job after graduation, you can be pretty sure opportunities are out there.

During an economic downturn, education becomes even more critical. At the height of the Great Recession, those with only a high school education had an unemployment rate 2.4 times that of people with at least a 4-year degree.*

College is an investment in the future

When it comes to your family's decision about college, there's more to consider than simply your return on investment. But you can rest assured that as far as lifetime earnings, a degree will pay dividends for years to come.


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REFERENCE CONTENT

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Average yearly earnings by education level

This chart shows the average yearly earnings someone could expect to make based on level of education. As of 2013, the average yearly income of a high school graduate is $33,852. The average yearly income of a high school graduate with some college background (and no degree) is $37,804. The average yearly income of someone with an associate's degree is $40,404. The average yearly income of someone with a bachelor's degree is $57,616. The average yearly income of someone with a master's degree is $69,108. The average yearly income of someone with a doctoral degree is $84,396.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2013.

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Return on investment

A measure of how profitable an investment or a decision is. If you spend less on something than you eventually earn as a result, your return on investment is positive. If the reverse is true, your return on investment is negative.