Dear Parents: It’s Time To Reconsider Whether College Is Worth It

Graduate from high school. Go to college. Earn a degree. Get a good job. Live happily ever after.

The conventional path to success in the U.S. has looked the same for many generations. There’s a good chance your parents expected you to pursue a traditional, four-year education to land a respectable career ― and if you have a child nearing adulthood, you probably expect the same.

But considering that Americans now collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, it’s time for families to take a step back and seriously rethink whether that’s the best option.

Is college worth it?

If you examine whether college is worth it from a purely statistical standpoint, the answer is yes.

A 2015 study by Georgetown University found that on average, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $1,000,000 more over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma. However, majors make a difference. Almost all of the highest-paying college majors are in engineering, with petroleum engineering ranking No. 1 at a median annual salary of $136,000. Education, arts and social work comprised many of the lowest-paying majors, with early childhood education coming in last, at a median annual salary of $39,000.

But lifetime earnings are just one piece of a pretty complicated puzzle. You should also take a step back and define what “worth it” means to you and your child.

For instance, the average Class of 2017 graduate who took out student loans graduated $39,400 in debt. Your child should consider whether getting into that level of debt in pursuit of a higher-paying job is worth putting off major life goals such as getting married or buying a home. According to a 2015 survey, 45 percent of Americans with student loan debt delayed these types of milestonesbecause of the added financial burden.

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