There have been a rash of articles recently questioning the value of a college degree. And for good reason. Some 60% of recent college graduates haven’t been able to find jobs related to their fields of study or, worse yet, they are what’s call under-employed. Plus, jobs still tend to be hard to get. So is it really worth spending the $70,000 to $130,000 to get a degree from an in-state college? The short answer to this question is “it all depends.”
The cost, the major, the school
If you’re a parent and want to make sure that your child is launched into a good job that will lead to financial security, it’s important to consider the cost of the school, your child’s major or field of study and the school itself.
First, consider the cost. Going to school in state is always cheaper than going to school out of state and going to a public college will always be cheaper than going to a private school. In fact, if your child were to choose to go to a private college it will probably cost between $120,000 and $250,000 to get a four-year degree. So unless you’re in that upper 1% or 2%, you might encourage your child to go to school in state. It will also be better or at least cheaper to attend a smaller college than your state’s university. As an example of this where we live the cost to attend our state university is currently $26,933 a year while the cost to attend Mesa State University is just $18,743.
Why the major is critical
The problem with many college students is that their objective is to pursue their passion. Unfortunately, if their passion is teaching preschoolers, anthropology or archeology, they can’t look forward to much of a career. In fact, according to one study these are among the 10 worst or least valuable college majors. As you might guess the most valuable ones are in the area of STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Among this group, the most valuable major is now biomedical engineering followed by biochemistry, computer science and software engineering. While we recognize the fact that it’s hard to steer an 18-year old that’s fascinated with archaeology into a major such as software engineering it would certainly be well worth the try. Also, believe it or not, a liberal arts degree would not be a bad investment as it can be the pathway to a rewarding and remunerative career. Here’s something that will probably surprise you but according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in the year 2010 med schools accepted 47% of physical science majors that applied, 43% of biological science majors, 51% of humanities majors and 45% of social science majors.
Choosing the right school
As you just read, if money is the most important factor in choosing a college, your child would be best off attending an in state school. But another factor that should be considered is the quality of education offered. One study done recently identified the top 50 schools in terms of not just affordability but also the quality of the education they offer. A school you’ve probably never heard of that ranked number one was Babson College. It’s located in suburban Boston and specializes in entrepreneurship and business. Babson not only offers a well-rounded education in sciences and liberal arts but also a lot of opportunities for hands-on project-based learning. The big financial payoff is that Babson graduates go on to earn big salaries, and a list of ventures they started is very impressive including Zumba Fitness and Home Depot. However, if the idea of Babson College intrigues your child, get ready for sticker shock as the estimated cost to get a degree there is $198,900.
On the more affordable side is Brigham Young University with an estimated net cost to get a degree of just $82,000. If you live in Virginia, your child could go to the University of Virginia for a total net cost of $94,100. On the other hand, even some state schools can be expensive. The University of California-Berkeley now has an estimated net cost to get a degree of $126,800 and the University of Washington-Bothell’s estimated net cost to get a degree is $125,700.
What many families are choosing to do
While it is clearly better to get a degree from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology or a University of Pennsylvania than a school such as Mesa State University, it is not absolutely necessary to go to one of these schools for all four years. What many families are choosing to do is to send their kids to a community college or a less prestigious state school for the first two years and then have them transfer to a University of California-Berkeley or a Dartmouth College. Whether your child attends the University of Pennsylvania or Mesa State University for the first two years, he or she will most likely take the same core courses as if they were at Dartmouth. If they then transfer to a more prestigious school, they will have a “prestigious” diploma but for much less than if they had gone there for all four years.
Regardless of where your child decides to go to school, there are ways to cut down his or her costs. One of the best is to buy used textbooks. A brand-new chemistry textbook can cost as much as $300. If he or she can find the equivalent textbook used it should be heavily discounted. It’s also important to use the Internet. Even if you factor in the shipping cost, buying a textbook from an online store can be much cheaper than buying it at your college’s bookstore.
Second, it’s not necessary to have a car to go to college. Most college towns offer good public transportation, which in some cases is even free. If your child’s school doesn’t offer public transportation, encourage him or her to carpool with a friend or roommate. Alternately, he or she might be able to bike or even walk to class. Any of these alternatives would be much cheaper than buying gas and paying to maintain an automobile.
Find a free checking account
Banks often offer students free savings or checking accounts. This eliminates the need to pay for withdrawals or fund transfers. Online banking is also a good option because this could allow you to keep an eye on your child’s spending and help make sure that he or she does not overdraft. Also, if you put a set amount of money every month into an account that comes with a debit card, it’s easier for him or her to access the money when necessary. Plus, when the money’s gone, that’s it. If your child runs out of money before he or she runs out of month, a valuable lesson could be learned.
A part-time job
You might encourage your child to get a part-time job – assuming it will fit his or her class schedule. This is probably the number one way to cut the cost of going to college. Restaurants in college towns are almost always looking for wait staff, and delivering food or waiting on tables can translate into good tips. As an example of this, we know of one young woman who has been working part-time as a cocktail waitress and earns almost $200 a night in tips. Another great way to earn money while getting some studying done at the same time is to work in your school’s library. This is usually not a very demanding job and is pretty quiet offering the opportunity to study for class and get paid at the same time.
Be smart about renting an apartment
Finally, most students will want to leave their dorms and get apartments after their freshman years. If your child decides to do this, encourage him or her to get some roommates to split the rent. Also, consider whether or not the apartment includes a washer and dryer, refrigerator, a microwave and other handy accessories. If so, this would be much cheaper than having to go out to a Laundromat or eating out often. Utilities can cost a lot so emphasize with your child the importance of conserving water and electricity. It shouldn’t be that difficult to remember to turn out the lights or to take shorter showers.