Is a College Degree Worth It?

College GraduateI sat by a 25 year old woman on a flight from Washington DC recently. We had a very interesting conversation, part of which was around the question, “is a college degree worth it?” She told me about her friend in New York City that started a restaurant in 2009. The restaurant has a niche in that it serves Eastern Mediterranean style food. They also do catering and provide delivery to your home or work. It has been doing so well, that he decided to open a second one! What is cool about this entrepreneur’s story is that he doesn’t have a college degree!  In fact he is an immigrant.  I love this story! It’s a story of hard work, saving, and starting something unique. Would he do better with a degree? I am not so sure.

She also told the story of another friend that recently graduated from college with a great deal of debt, yet is not able to find meaningful employment in her field. Stories like this one make you wonder if college is worth the price you pay for it. College is no longer a guarantee of future success. It may never have been, but it is becoming less of a guarantee every year.

In this post, I am not encouraging young people to avoid college.  I am suggesting that you give your college education a lot of thought, and have a plan, BEFORE signing up. I know many people who have earned a degree but have no idea how to use it, or make a living with it. This is a tragedy! If you are going to invest this much time, energy and money, it’s better to have a plan. You need to be willing to consider a non-traditional path for getting a degree. It may seem weird to do things a different way, but being free of college debt is also weird these days. If I could do things over, I know what path I would choose!

If you are considering college for yourself or your child, I would ask yourself a couple of questions, very soon.

  •  How are you planning to pay for College? If you don’t have a plan yet, you are normal. While this may come as a comfort, it is not a good idea to continue this way. When parents don’t have a college savings set aside for their student, this is what normally happens.  The student picks a college that looks cool based on advertisements, a college visit and a potential college degree path that may or may not be a good fit. They listen to advisors that are still telling students that a degree makes all the difference, no matter the cost. So students willingly visit the finance office and sign up for every available loan program to pay for the next four years, assuming they can finish in four.  If they make changes to their major, they may not finish at all or they may have 5 or 6 years invested in a traditional bachelors program
  • Do you know what you are looking for in college? If you don’t have a clear direction, I would definitely consider a less expensive college option, until you can clarify a good path. It is just too expensive to go to a private or large state college and not have a definite plan for your education.  It is rare that college freshman know exactly what they want to do after college, but we need to start getting a better idea sooner.  College is too expensive to make multiple changes along the way.
  • Do you need a 4-year degree for what you want to do, or will a 2-year degree be enough? There are many trades that are being neglected today. They are promising large starting salaries for people with industrial degrees, and these options are often overlooked, especially by guidance counselors. If this is a desirable path for you or your student, you should definitely consider it. There is value in a 4 year liberal arts education, but sometimes the cost may not be worth it. Please at least give thought to a trade school option. It may end up paying you many times over. When you can afford it, you can always choose to finish a 4 year degree.
  •  Is your choice in college based on a mature decision? Many times parents go along with a teen’s plans for college, without challenging those ideas. The teen’s decision could be based on factors that are not relevant to his or her future. For example, when choosing a college, I have heard teens list factors like, “there are so many cool people there”, or “my friends are going to that college”. Parents, you will need to work on that kind of thinking. The long term impact of an education vs. the cost is where you need to focus.
  •  Have you considered the military as an option to get training, serve your country and pay for college? Your school district may or may not promote military training, so it is possible that you do not have a good idea of what is available. My oldest son chose the US Air Force. He has nearly completed his training and is having an incredible experience. He absolutely loves what he is doing, and wants to continue. It took us some time to understand the process. We did a lot of reading and we ended up talking to 4 different recruiters. Eventually we settled on a path, and it is turning out to be a great thing. This could be a perfect way to get your son or daughter started on a great career path and you should definitely give it some thought.

 So when I hear a student ask the question, “is a college degree worth it?”,  I say yes, as long as you have a way to pay for it, and you have a need for what you are studying! Here are some good resources for you to consider as you make plans for your education:


  Community College – blog post about the option of a community college education

  Debt Free U – a great book detailing the costs of college and how to get through without debt.

  Is College Worth It? – a new book by Bill Bennett that addresses the long-term cost and impact of a college education.

  Credits Before College – A way to earn college credits in High School.

  Thousand Dollar Hour – A new book by Hannah Rivard.  She paid for 100% of her private college education with scholarships.

  United States Air Force – Yes, you should check it out!







About The Author

Duane Rockensock

Duane (Rocky) Rockensock is a husband, a dad, and the National Reconditioning Manager for AmeriGas Propane. Since he was a teenager, Duane has loved hearing the stories of how people have started creative businesses or found ways to use their talents to accomplish amazing things. For that reason he started this blog to encourage teens and adults to find their purpose and to provide the tools and resources to make that happen!