Is Going to College Worth It in 2024?

So, you heard that there are jobs available for people whose highest educational attainment is a high school diploma. And now you might be wondering if it’s a much better idea to create a job application than a college application. Is earning a bachelor’s degree still worth it in this day and age when skilled labor jobs come aplenty?

Going to college in 2024 is worth it for individuals who want access to more higher-paying jobs after graduating between 2027 and 2029. It’s ideal for those who want higher lifetime earnings, too. Although costly, scholarships and grants can help make earning a bachelor’s degree in 2024 affordable.

About to graduate from high school? Read on if you’re torn between attending college and getting a job.

In this article, you will come across some of the things that can help you decide whether or not investing in college is worth the time and money. By the time you get to the end, you will find it easier to make a choice.

college cost

2023 College Costs

It’s no secret that one of the many perks of going to college is access to higher-paying jobs.

Generally speaking, bachelor’s degree holders earn around $32,000 more every year than those whose highest educational attainment is a high school diploma.

But before you enjoy the said perk, you will have to earn an undergraduate degree first, which doesn’t come for free except, of course, if you get a free ride to college — but don’t bet on it because, according to a CBS News report, less than 2,000 college students in the US a year receive a full-ride scholarship.

Let’s take a look at the average annual tuition cost at US colleges and universities in 2023:

In-state colleges$9,349

The cost of going to college, unfortunately, does not begin and end with the tuition. There’s also student fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses — college-related expenses can quickly pile up!

The total cost of a bachelor’s degree awarded by public colleges and universities can amount to $101,948 (in-state) and $172,644 (out-of-state). Meanwhile, the total amount of a bachelor’s degree you can earn at a private institution is equivalent to a whopping $212,868.

Please bear in mind that the figures mentioned above apply to a four-year graduation rate. These days, it’s not uncommon for the majority of undergraduate students to complete their bachelor’s program in six years. If it would take you this long a time to graduate, the tuition and fees could cause the total cost of college to skyrocket.

The median lifetime earnings (the total accumulated earnings from ages 20 to 69) of those with a bachelor’s degree, based on a Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) report, amount to $2,268,000.

Doing the math, the total cost of a bachelor’s degree is just 4.50% to 9.40% of what you could be earning for a lifetime simply for going to and graduating from college.

Federal Financial Aid

According to the Federal Student Aid itself, the maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2023 to 2024 award year amounts to $7,395 ($500 increase over previous year).

Below are the factors that determine the amount of Pell Grant you could get:

  • Expected family contribution
  • Cost of attendance
  • Status (full-time or part-time student)
  • Attendance (full year or a single term only)

It’s apparent that the Pell Grant is often enough to make earning an associate degree at some community colleges more affordable to students from low-income backgrounds.

The average community college tuition costs $3,377, which brings the total cost of attendance to $15,748 for one year and $31,496 for two years.

The Pell Grant is the most common and the largest federal grant program offered to US undergraduates, designed in particular to assist students who are unable to fully shoulder the cost of college.

However, it’s not the only form of aid from the federal government.

Many other federal grants are in existence, each one of them awarded to low-income students who meet the basic eligibility requirements. These grant programs include:

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Designed for undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need, FSEOG awardees can get anywhere from $100 to $4,000 per year.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

An undergraduate student whose parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan and meets the Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements may be eligible for this particular grant. As of this writing, the maximum Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant award amounts to $6,124.79.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

What makes the TEACH Grant different from other types of federal grants is that it requires awardees to complete a teaching service obligation in exchange for receiving the award, which can amount to up to $4,000 per year. Failure to complete the obligation will convert the TEACH Grant into a loan that must be repaid with interest.

No matter which type of federal aid you wish to apply, it all starts with the same initial step: filling out the FAFSA form, which usually becomes available on October 1.

It’s true that some students, depending on their family’s annual income, the institution they would like to attend and the program they would like to take, may find that none of the federal financial aid packages would suffice.

Luckily, the federal government is not the only one that can help make college affordable.

Institutional and Private Scholarships

Second to the government, colleges and universities themselves give a lot of scholarships.

Just like when applying for federal financial aid, filling out the FAFSA form is usually the first step to applying for institutional scholarships, which can be either need-based or merit-based.

As the name suggests, need-based scholarships are awarded to undergraduate students with a demonstrated need. Alas, more often than not, being from a low-income background is not the only eligibility criteria. Commonly, you will also need to have the right high school GPA, SAT or ACT score, and extracurricular participation.

college worth it

Meanwhile, merit-based scholarships are given based on academic excellence, athletic achievement or distinction in certain talents. Not all colleges and universities offer merit-based scholarships, such as elite schools like the Ivy Leagues.

According to a Think Impact report, around 20% of college students receive institutional scholarships.

But the chance to make college affordable does not begin and end with filling out the FAFSA to apply for federal aid and/or institutional scholarships. Many non-profit organizations, companies, businesses, community groups and even individuals award what’s referred to as private scholarships, the vast majority of which are merit-based.

Private scholarships come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them involve large amounts, while others involve small amounts only. Some of them are awarded according to the program or faith, while others are awarded to the winners — literally because some private scholarships come in the form of contests and sweepstakes.

Here’s a table of some public schools with the most generous financial aid packages:

University of Virginia$29,983$24,776$5,207
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor$27,984$21,665$6,319
UNC – Chapel Hill$20,515$18,410$2,105
Florida State University$16,986$13,033$3,953
City University of New York$21,098$8,142$12,956

Meanwhile, here are some of the most generous private colleges and universities financial aid-wise:

Yale University$72,100$56,602$15,498
Pomona College$71,980$55,082$16,898
Princeton University$65,810$53,572$12,238
Vanderbilt University$68,980$52,242$16,738
Vassar College$68,110$49,190$18,920

Access to More Jobs

According to a UCLA report, up to 87.9% of incoming first-year college students say that the reason why they are going to college is to be able to get a better job.

No matter which chart or graph you check out, you can rest assured that the employment rates for bachelor’s degree holders will be so much higher than those with some college but no bachelor’s degree and, even more so, individuals whose highest educational attainment is a high school diploma.

True enough, according to the National Center for Education (NCES), the employment rate, or the percentage of people who have jobs, for college graduates and have a bachelor’s degree is 86%. Meanwhile, the employment rate for those with a high school diploma only is 69%.

The employment rate for individuals with some college but no bachelor’s degree is 78%.

Online, articles on the importance of a college degree in finding a job are clashing, which can make it hard for graduating high school students to decide whether or not they have to earn a bachelor’s degree just to get employed.

Let this CareerBuilder survey paint you a picture: Over 40% of employers are hiring college-educated workers for job positions that had been primarily held by those with high school diplomas only. And because many jobs are reserved for bachelor’s degree holders, it’s entirely safe to assume that college graduates have plenty of job opportunities.

When asked why employers prefer workers with a bachelor’s degree for job positions that would otherwise be perfect for high school graduates, the majority said that it’s because the skills required have evolved.

The following are some of the perks enjoyed by employers, according to themselves, for hiring college graduates:

Higher quality work61%
Employee retention33%
Customer loyalty24%

It goes without saying that having a bachelor’s degree can make your job market value rise steeply. This does not mean, however, that having a high school diploma only won’t be able to give you a good job — it’s just that being a bachelor’s degree holder can give you access to more jobs.

Besides, some industries only employ workers with a bachelor’s degree, which, in many instances, is a requirement for them to earn licenses necessary for them to be able to work legally in their respective fields.

Many careers where a bachelor’s degree is a must-have are in the following fields:

  • Building and design
  • Business
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Technology

So, in other words, if you would like to work in any of the industries given above, being a bachelor’s degree holder alone can help increase your chances of getting hired.

Three to six months — that’s how long it takes for the average college graduate to secure employment after graduation. Of course, bachelor’s degree holders can take a shorter or longer time to get a job after earning their degrees, depending on factors such as the major, location and availability of jobs in a related field.

Speaking of which, below are the projected annual job openings from 2020 to 2030 in occupations that require a bachelor’s degree, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

General and operations managers229,600
Registered nurses194,500
Software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers189,200
Accountants and auditors135,000
Elementary school teachers (excluding special education)110,800
Management analysts99,400
Market research analysts and marketing specialists96,000
Secondary school teachers (excluding career/technical education)77,400
Human resources specialists73,400
Financial managers64,200
Medical and health services managers51,800
Computer system analysts47,500
Coaches and scouts45,100
Securities, commodities and financial services sales agents42,500
Computer and information systems managers42,400
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors41,000
Child, family and school social workers36,700
Public relations specialists29,200
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians25,900
Civil engineers25,000
Network and computer systems administrators24,900
Industrial engineers23,300
Mechanical engineers20,200

Access to Higher-Paying Jobs

It’s not just any job that a bachelor’s degree can give you access to — it can increase your access to jobs that pay higher.

According to NCES, the higher the educational attainment, the higher the median earnings. It goes without saying that going to college can help prime you for a high-paying job in the future.

The median annual earnings of bachelor’s degree holders aged 25 to 34 amount to $55,700.

NCES adds that the fact that those with an undergraduate degree tend to make more money is consistent when a nine-year time period is considered.

Due to this, it’s safe to assume that you will earn more than those with a high school diploma or some college but no bachelor’s degree if you attend college in 2023 and graduate between 2027 and 2029.

Meanwhile, here are the median annual earnings of employed individuals from 25 to 34 years old whose educational attainment is lower than a bachelor’s degree.

Associate degree$40,000
Some college but no bachelor’s degree$39,700
High school diploma$35,000
Less than high school$29,300

Earlier, we checked out a table of occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree and the projected annual job openings from 2020 to 2030 for them. Now, let’s take a look at the annual median wage for each one:

Computer and information systems managers$151,150
Financial managers$134,180
Software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers$110,140
Medical and health services managers$104,280
General and operations managers$103,650
Computer system analysts$93,730
Mechanical engineers$90,160
Industrial engineers$88,950
Civil engineers$88,570
Management analysts$87,660
Network and computer systems administrators$84,810
Registered nurses$75,330
Accountants and auditors$73,560
Market research analysts and marketing specialists$65,810
Securities, commodities and financial services sales agents$64,770
Human resources specialists$63,490
Secondary school teachers (excluding career/technical education)$62,870
Public relations specialists$62,810
Elementary school teachers (excluding special education)$60,940
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians$54,180
Child, family and school social workers$48,430
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors$47,660
Coaches and scouts$36,330

The return on investment (ROI) of a college education is something that you should take into account when deciding whether or not you should head to college after high school or apply for a job. Simply put, it’s the amount of money you will make as a part of the workforce minus college-related costs.

And for this particular task, lifetime earnings have to step into the picture.

While we were discussing the cost of college, we briefly mentioned the lifetime earnings of bachelor’s degree holders — $2,268,000, according to CEW.

Needless to say, a bachelor’s degree can give you the opportunity to accumulate more money in your entire life than people with lower educational attainment.

Here’s a table demonstrating the median lifetime earnings of individuals whose educational attainment is lower than a bachelor’s degree, according to CEW, which, by the way, is a research facility at Georgetown University:

Associate degree$1,727,000
Some college but no bachelor’s degree$1,547,000
High school diploma$1,304,000
Less than high school$973,000

Just Before You Decide Whether or Not to Go to College

Refrain from assuming that you cannot succeed in life wielding a high school diploma only — you can still become big one day, such as some of the most successful entrepreneurs these days who didn’t go to or finish college.

Still, the fact remains that a bachelor’s degree can give you access to more jobs and higher pay.

Still on the fence as to whether or not you should go to college?

Make sure that you take your time weighing the pros and cons of both earning a bachelor’s degree and getting a job with a high school diploma as your highest educational attainment before you make a decision.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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