College Planning

What is your Education Worth?

Looking for an investment that will return 200% or more percent a year for the rest of your working life? It’s the money you spend on your education.


What’s your Battle Plan?

During 1996-97, the average tuition and fees in the United States ranged from approximately $1,500 for a public, two-year college to more than $11,000 for a private, four-year college. Add another $6,000 to $12,000 per year for meals, accommodation, books and fees and you have a very rough idea of how much your education will cost. But before you panic, look at the payoff. The average annual wage of high school graduates is $26,000, while those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn an average of double that amount — about $48,000 a year. If you go to an expensive, private, four year university you may pay up to $25,000 per year for your education, but at an average of $48,000 per year return, your investment will soon pay off big. Furthermore, the cache that comes along a degree from a prestigious school often leads to one of the higher paying jobs — even at the entry level — so even that expensive school pays off.

How much return will you get on your investment in yourself? Well, that’s hard to estimate. It depends on the degree you acquire, where you went to school, and your choice of a career. More education doesn’t always equate to more money. The average salary of some college majors — such as in the social sciences — is often less than salaries of some jobs requiring only technical training, such as plumbers, electricians and mechanics of high-priced foreign cars. However, experts agree that some type of training, whether college or technical, is necessary to compete in the labor force.

Although an education definitely pays off financially, it pays off in other ways, as well. Average Americans change careers three to four times in their lives, and that number is going up with each new group of graduates entering the labor force. In your own lifetime, you may find yourself entering entirely new fields five to seven times. So beyond knowing how to do the job you’re training for now, it’s essential important to be good at problem-solving and communicating with others. Creativity, the ability to work with others and flexibility are also skills that will pay off throughout your work life.

How much will your education cost? Although the figures we’ve given you are estimates, the fact is, costs vary widely. The best way to begin developing a budget, it to know what school(s) you might life to attend. Then contact your school counselor or the financial aid office in the school you plan to attend. Or visit the college’s web site.

Costs include:

  • tuition — the amount of money a school charges for the cost of instruction and use of facilities on campus
  • fees — pay for other costs such as special activities or events and health care
  • room and board — your living expenses. This is determined by whether you live, stay at home and commute to classes, live in a dorm or have an apartment. Unless your university has strict rules about accommodation, it pays to compare the costs of each before choosing your living arrangements
  • books and materials — you’ll probably have one or more textbooks for every course, and depending on your major, you may need extra supplies such as computer disks, art supplies, etc. College textbooks are expensive — often $50 to $70 each — so check with your school to see how much they think you should budget for books and materials each term.

Saving Money On College Expenses

Yes, college is expensive, but there are ways you can control your costs. A lot depends on the type of school you attend (public or private school, two-year, four-year vocational/technical program, instate or out-of-state location). Your major, whether you are a full- or part-time student, and where you live also affect costs. Here are some ways to keep school expenses to a minimum:

  • Research the educational requirements for the field you plan to enter. Not every field requires a college degree. Remember, though, technical schools, while they give you the training you require, are not always the cheapest choice.
  • Public, state-owned or state-funded schools are usually cheaper than privately owned institutions.
  • In-state schools are usually cheaper than out-of-state schools.
  • Even for out-of-state students, the tuition and fees of the schools in some states, such as Nevada, are considerably less expensive than those in other states. Spend some time comparing tuition costs for out-of-state students around the country.
  • Some states, such as Florida, offer a cost-saving two-tier system in which you can spend your first two years commuting to a community college near home and then your last two years in residence at a four-year university away from home. You receive an associates degree for the first to years of your work and the credits are automatically transferred to the university towards your bachelors degree.
  • Some states, such as New York, offer easy-to-qualify-for scholarships for residents of that state planning to attend state-owned universities in their home states. Check out whether your state offers such a plan.
  • If you have a number of housing options, spend some time researching and comparing costs. Don’t forget “hidden” costs such as the price of phone and electricity, security deposit on an apartment, initiation and membership fees in a Greek letter fellowship, etc.
  • When buying textbooks and course materials, check out sources of second-hand books first. Many college bookstores buy back books at the end of the year and recycle them. Or there may be an off-campus source.

A little creativity coupled with taking the time to research your options can make education after high school a lot more affordable than your thought.