Undergraduate tuition, possible graduate degrees and room and board all add up — especially for students taking out loans. This can leave a potential student wondering, “Is this a wise investment?”Read on to find out if college is a good investment for you based on typical average education costs versus estimated annual salaries.
Estimated loan payments based on degree and occupation*
Minimum required years in college, graduate school and professional programs
Estimated annual salary
Estimated education costs
Monthly loan payments under 10-year repayment plan
Percentage of monthly income put toward loans
Advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations specialist
English language/literature teacher, postsecondary
Market research analyst
Marriage and family therapist
News analyst, reporter, correspondent
Physician: family/general practictioner
Political science teacher, postsecondary
Public relations specialist
Teacher (full time)
Zoologist, wildlife biologist
Sources: Occupational employment statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; average undergraduate tuition costs from the National Center for Education Statistics; average graduate school costs from the Urban Institute; average medical school costs from Shemmassian Academic Consulting; average pharmacy school costs from Vocational Training; average dentistry school costs and average law school costs from College Ave Student Loans; average veterinary school costs from Doctorly.
*Education costs are based on the tuition and fees for in-state, public schools with no scholarships. The chart above assumes 5 percent student loan interest on a standard 10-year repayment plan, with loan amounts for the full cost of education. These numbers will vary based on the individual and are to be used solely as an informational tool. To see how much you could pay per month based on your loan amount, interest rate and repayment terms, check out Bankrate’s student loan calculator.In-state vs. out-of-stateThe main consideration to make when deciding between an in-state and an out-of-state school is the cost. The total cost of tuition and fees varies widely based on whether you live in the state of your university or you attend an out-of-state or private school.
Type of college
Average published yearly tuition and fees
Public two-year (in-district)
Public four-year (in-state)
Public four-year (out-of-state)
Source: College Board
If you’re having a difficult time deciding between an in-state or an out-of-state institution, Miana Plesca, associate professor of economics at the University of Guelph, says that a college degree is beneficial regardless. “No matter if you go to a top college or an in-state institution, the benefits are tremendous.”
Not only is earning a degree beneficial for your future career, but you’ll also learn valuable skills, regardless of the university you attend, says Plesca. “You’ll gain experience with things like teamwork, discipline and sticking to deadlines. These are skills that yield rewards.”
These skills can be intentionally cultivated through mandatory undergraduate courses that encourage team building, communication and collaboration. These courses can occur at both in-state and out-of-state schools and may help students prepare for the responsibility of postcollegiate careers.
Does it matter if I attend a top college?
While attending any college or university can help you establish valuable skills, there are certainly benefits to attending a top school, like increased networking opportunities, says Plesca.
Attending a top school can also provide the opportunity for a higher salary. According to PayScale’s 2019-20 College Salary Report, the students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from top private schools or Ivy League schools earned higher salaries on average than those who attended state schools.
However, the investment that you get out of your collegiate experience doesn’t depend only on the college you attend. The major that you pursue and your general academic success while in college, whether at a top school or not, can have a major impact on the ROI of your college degree. And according to Plesca, simply attending a college can be beneficial for your future career.
Attending college, regardless if you choose a top school or not, can be a great investment in your future. On top of helping you learn valuable skills, your degree can open doors to future career opportunities.
When you’re considering which college to attend and what to major in, calculate your return on investment to determine if it’s a good financial fit for you. You can do this by searching the average salary of the career you’re going to school for and comparing that to the total cost of your student loans.
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