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College -- Is it worth it?

By Sarah Becker
web posted September 22, 2014

"College is so expensive! I don't know what major I want! Maybe I'll go to a community college for a few years to finish my generals! This whole decision involves too much stress! If you want to be a psychology major, you'd better get used to saying 'Would you like fries with that?'! But college is an EXPERIENCE!"

Chances are, if you know any high schooled upperclassmen, their parents, their friends, or really anybody, you've heard some of these statements. As a high school currently trying to save on college costs, I'm currently studying for the AP Macroeconomics exam. Gaining a high score can result in free college credit further down the road. Based on numbers from the College Board reported through CollegeData, four years of private college can cost $120,376 and four years of in-state fees and tuition at a public college can cost $35,572. Add in $10,000 for room and board, and your figures are around $124,000 and $36,000. These two costs differ tremendously, but adding in room & board costs brings this sum to more than a recent high-school grad probably has in their wallet.

What's the point of the whole college venture? Speaking strictly in the terms of monetary opportunity costs, college is supposed to be a profitable venture, one where you seek to exchange money for human capital. Is college worth it, though? If a high school grad decided not to go to college, they could work for 40 hours a week at a low wage ($7.50 an hour) and make $300 a week. At nine months of this, they would make $10,800--half or even less of what their college-attending-peers would be spending. Repeat for four years, and you'd make $43,200, although some portion of that will probably be spent and taxed.

After studying for four years, your college-attending friends are seeking to utilize their skills and snag a job at a corporation. According to Slate, approximately 44% of them will find jobs, but  jobs they didn't need to go to college for. A Pew Report, however, reveals something more important in our search for college's opportunity costs. Graduates with at least a 4-year degree make a median income of $45,000 a year, whereas those who haven't completed a 4-year degree make $30,000. Immediately out of the gates, the college graduate has an extra $15,000 in exchange for their four-year commitment. Although the college graduate is making more money, the opportunity cost of college continues to follow him or her. Even with scholarships, work-study, or several part-time jobs, debt may continue to loom.

In the end, the opportunity cost of college will vary for each individual person, especially when factors such as their school, cost of living, and financial situation are considered. Some basic principles, however, can apply to most college students. To reduce the opportunity cost of going to college, work hard in high school. Make continual choices at the margin to study and labor a little bit harder. Seek out academic scholarships, financial aid, and any ways you can reduce the cost of college. Do your best to maintain good grades while working to pay for college. Perhaps most importantly as we're strictly speaking about opportunity costs, make sure you study something in high demand. 29% of those surveyed by the Pew study mentioned earlier wish they would have picked a different major. Ultimately, be willing to face reality: you may be a part of the 84%, but then adulthood, employment realities, and the real corporate world with its need for profit might hit you. Grow up, learn to think ahead and recognize the consequences and opportunity costs of your decisions. Isn't that sort of what college is about, anyways? ESR

Sarah Becker is a high-school student who is planning on pursuing a nursing degree, a choice she believes will reduce her opportunity costs of going to college. Beyond that, however, she believes that college--above its educational and job-training benefits--is an important chance to form oneself and prepare for life in the real world.







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