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Can a College Degree Buy You a Better Future?

Is college worth it? This is the question countless high schoolers ask themselves each year — especially as they apply to college this time of year — and the answer may surprise them. The fact is, from a fiscal standpoint, college is almost always worth the cost. Studies continue to prove that those who hold degrees fare better than those who don’t. This applies not only to lifetime earning power but also to immediate economic security during young adulthood.

So, rather than asking whether they should pay for education, high school students should be thinking instead about how they’ll pay for it. Even for people who strive to achieve a college education, the matter of financing the expenses can put a hamper on plans for higher education.

Paying for College

The College Board stated the average cost of attending a private college in the 2012-13 school year was $29,056. Setting aside inflation, that’s $116,224 over four years (and that doesn’t include housing, supplies or personal expenses). Don’t have $116K to spare? Join the club.

Very few students and families can afford to pay for college out-of-pocket, and schools don’t expect you to do so. That’s why schools and other entities offer grants, scholarships and student loans, which can all be part of your student aid package.

If your aid isn’t enough or you don’t want to take on student loans, you can look at less expensive schools. Whereas private college costs an average of $29,000 per year, public schools are significantly less pricey. Out-of-state students can expect a bill of around $21,706 per year, while in-state residents pay an average of just $8,655 per year.

Still Not the Right Choice?

Traditional college isn’t for everybody. If you choose to sidestep college, you can still further your education by other means. Online courses, for example, have steadily gained popularity.

As proof, you need look no further than Coursera, a site launched in April of last year to offer free online classes. In a mere nine months of operation, the site has garnered more than 2 million enrollees and is still going strong, with around 70,000 new students signing up each week.

Similar websites and companies have the same idea. offers online courses for a variety of ages, from middle school to adulthood, with financial education being a focus.

Even just a library card and some free time can broaden your knowledge on any number of topics.

While these are valid ways to learn, know that they can’t replace a degree. A recent study found that, even in a tough economy, a diploma is still worth more than the paper it’s printed on. Through the recession, employment rates among bachelor’s degree holders declined 7 percent, compared to a decline of 11 percent for associate’s degree holders and 16 percent for those with only their high school diplomas.

When you’re making decisions about your educational future, keep all of this in mind. College may not be cheap, but it sure does help.

Katherine Pilnick is a writer for She educates readers about their various personal finance options. She is a graduate of New York University.

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