Money Health

Is a College Education Worth It?

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If you’re a parent of teen, you’re probably painfully aware of how expensive the cost of college has become. Despite the fact that the average college graduate earns over $30,000 more a year than an average worker with only a high school diploma, more and more parents are asking themselves if a college education (and all the debt that can come with it), is even worth it.

Every person and situation is unique, so there is no one hard “yes” or “no” answer to that question. You have to figure out the right answer together.

Here are some things to talk about with your teen to understand if college is worth it for them:

Your Child’s Career Path

If your child knows what type of career they want to pursue, do some research and find out whether a degree is required or simply a nice-to-have. If they want to be a nurse, for example, a degree is a must. However, if their goal is to work in web design or development, a degree may not be a necessity.

The Importance of the Institution

Some colleges are more prestigious than others and come with a hefty price tag as a result. If you determine that your child’s career path requires a degree, you may want to talk to some professionals in the industry. Ask them if the quality of the institution matters or if an appropriate degree from any college will suffice.

Certifications or Trade Schools

Sometimes, a trade school or certification is a wiser choice than college. For instance, if your child wants to become a welder, they probably don’t have to go to college. In fact, they may be better off enrolling in a trade school and gaining valuable hands-on experience that allows them to enter the workforce faster.

Whether Your Child Has a Career in Mind

While some children know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, many have no idea. If your child has made it clear they don’t have a career path in mind, investing in a general purpose degree may not be worth it. It may be more beneficial for them to gain a few years of work experience. Work experience can give them some clarity and allow them to save money for college.

Your Child’s Motivation and Responsibility

One third of students drop out of college before they begin their sophomore year. This is mainly because some are simply not ready for college immediately after they graduate from high school. College success depends on motivation and responsibility, so if you don’t believe your child has high levels of these traits, you may want to put the brakes on college for a bit.

Your Ability to Pay for More Than Just Tuition

Unfortunately, college comes with other costs than tuition. To attend college, your child will likely have living expenses and miscellaneous expenses for things like books and supplies. Vanderbilt University, for example, charges $50,800 for tuition per year. But in addition, students have to pay the following:

  • Residence Hall: $11,044
  • Meals: $5,866
  • Books and Supplies: $1,294
  • Student Activities and Recreation Fees: $1,270
  • Personal Expenses: $2,874

All of these other expenses add up to $22,348, making the grand total to attend Vanderbilt as a full-time undergraduate student $73,148—per year.

Remember that the goal is to get just-right education: Not too much, not too little. Figure out what is really important, don’t base decisions on what everyone else is doing (or not doing).  Your goal should be to create a plan that will enable them to get the level of education they need at a price you can both afford without being saddled with life-long debt.

Anna Baluch is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about all personal finance topics. She’s particularly interested in mortgages, retirement, insurance, and investing.