By Selvin Quire, CEO and Co-Founder of InQuire Higher
It is without a doubt that a college education can provide you with personal growth, cultural enrichment, and an increase in academic knowledge and potential salary earnings. As many view college as an investment, these are the benefits that are considered returns on their investments. In recent years, some students and families taken a consumer approach when choose a school. “How much bang can I get for my buck?” And tools like the Department of Education’s College Scorecard have acknowledged this perspective. Here are some ways you can compare the financial value of a degree between your top schools:
Cost of degree. Simply comparing the costs between your schools is a great start. Remember to review the school’s entire cost of attendance and not just tuition. Also, multiply the amount by four years of school to get a rough estimate of what you would pay for your degree.
Graduated student debt. Student debt has gotten plenty of attention in the past several years, especially with the current generation of college students. As the years progressed, the average amount of graduating student debt has increased. Keeping this amount to a minimum starts with keeping the net price of your yearly costs down. The lower your school bill, the less you have to borrow and eventually pay back.
Starting salary. This point goes hand-in-hand with student debt. To piggyback from that, it is often suggested that one should not borrow more in student loans than their anticipated starting salary. For example, social workers’ starting salary ranges up to $30,000, according to The Social Worker Career Center. Depending on their financial resources (grants and scholarships, 529 college savings plans, etc.), an aspiring social worker may find more value by attending an in-state, public school than an out-of-state, private institution. The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics is a great resource to evaluate careers and their average salaries.
When speaking of value, it’s also beneficial to think about other indirect impacts on college value:
Your city’s cost of living. During the time you’re choosing and applying for schools, you may not know where you will work after graduation. But keep in mind that the city you work in can impact the money you make. Think about this: the Apartment List reports that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, CA is $1,350 and $680 in Indianapolis, IN. The same salary between these cities may have a significant difference in your monthly budget.
Regional accreditation. An important, but infrequently discussed topic is a school’s regional accreditation. When a school is accredited, this means that it meets a set of standards that are expected from a quality college or university. This designation gives its degree programs meaning. This comes into play when you’re looking for a job after graduating. Many employers specify that they are seeking a candidate with a degree “from an accredited college or university.” If your school is not accredited by one of these agencies, then your degree will zero value.
Financial value of a college education is on everyone’s radar to some degree. But the bottom line is that value is defined different for every student. No matter how important these monetary benefits are to you, they can bring you one step closer to choosing the best school for you.
Selvin Quire is a financial aid administrator and CEO/Co-Founder of InQuire Higher, a Los Angeles-based college consulting company. He was a first-generation college student, and an advocate for the personal and professional benefits a college education has to offer. Find more college advice from InQuire Higher at http://inquirehigher.com/.