Key takeaways

  • In general, college can help you expand your earning potential and job prospects.
  • Choose whether a public or private school is the best fit for you. Public schools can be less expensive, but private schools tend to have smaller class sizes, for instance.
  • If you’re not sure about college, go on a campus tour, talk to admissions or financial counselors and talk to friends who have gone to college.

Going to college is a big investment. Students spend thousands of dollars between tuition and other costs. The average college student borrows $29,100 for their degree.

But despite this, going to college is still the best path to well-paid jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degree holders earn about 68 percent more per week than those with just a high school diploma. Also, unemployment among high school graduates is almost twice as high as that of those with a college degree.

If you’re on the fence about whether a college education is right for you, consider the following.

7 reasons to attend college

Attending college offers many benefits, including networking and broader career opportunities. Here’s what to consider if you’re wondering whether going to college is worth it.

1. Expand your potential earnings

Studies show that college graduates make more money on average than people without a college degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2022, people with a bachelor’s degree had an average weekly salary of $1,432. Meanwhile, those with just a high school diploma earned about $853 weekly — about a 68 percent increase between high school diploma and bachelor’s degree holders.

What’s more, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities found that the earnings gap between high school graduates and bachelor’s degree holders continues to widen.

2. Create long-lasting relationships and professional connections

The connections you’ll create in college with faculty, classmates and members of clubs or student organizations will help you start building your professional network.

Networking is important. It can help with job leads, lead to opportunities for personal improvement and open doors for various areas of career advancement. The connections you make can help you get a jump-start on your career, and those relationships can challenge your ideas and provide new insights.

3. Achieve job security

Statistically, students who have earned a college degree are more likely to land a job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2023, the unemployment rate for people 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree was 2.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college degree was 4 percent.

This is consistent with longer-term trends, where workers with at least a bachelor’s degree typically have about half the unemployment rate of those with just a high school diploma.

4. Explore different career options

If there’s a time to explore new interests, it’s college. Given the wide array of courses available in virtually any subject, you have the opportunity to take classes that aren’t even directly related to your major. Your college may even require a diverse course load.

College is the perfect time to join organizations, try out clubs and attend classes outside your comfort zone. You could choose to get a minor or certificate in another field, which can bolster your job prospects and diversify your skillset.

Having a college degree can also be helpful for future career changes. Even if you pursue a career unrelated to your degree, having a college degree in the first place may make you more flexible and qualified in an employer’s eyes.

5. Experience independence

College offers invaluable experiences that high school can’t deliver, including a level of academic and personal independence that can prepare you for the reality of post-college life. You’re responsible for managing your time, homework and course load — and, ultimately, your success.

College is also a great opportunity to expand your financial literacy. You’ll likely be dealing with things like student loans, credit cards and budgeting on your own. This, in turn, will teach you money management skills that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.

6. Learn valuable skills

College won’t only teach you how to become a good student; it can also teach you skills that will help you succeed in any career. Many schools have mandatory courses for first-year students that promote collaboration and group work, equipping you to share ideas and communicate with team members in any setting.

You can also sign up for courses or clubs in subjects that may not be your strength. For example, if you’re uncomfortable with public speaking, try signing up for a public speaking course or a Toastmasters chapter. You never know what professional or personal skills you may pick up that can help you later in life.

7. Access better job benefits

Besides securing better-paying jobs than those with just a high school diploma, college graduates also have access to more employer-sponsored benefits. According to a report by the College Board, in 2021, 38 percent of high school graduates working in the private sector were offered a retirement plan by their employer. By contrast, 45 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree got offered this benefit.

Likewise, just 53 percent of high school graduates working full-time had an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, compared to 66 percent of bachelor’s degree holders and 68 percent of advanced degree holders.

Factors to consider when deciding to go to college

Should you go to college now?

The best timing for attending college is different for every person, as it’s such a large investment of time and money. While these investments can certainly be worth it, everyone’s journey looks different. Consider these factors when deciding if you want to attend college:

  • Is it something you want to do? Do you feel obligated to attend college, or is this a decision you’ve made for yourself? The time and money it takes to attend college are not worth it if you aren’t committed to your studies. Many high school students feel pressure to attend college as soon as they graduate. Think about taking a gap year or two if you don’t feel ready to commit or if you’re unsure what you want to study.
  • Do you have a financial plan in place? College tuition can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your educational goals. There are ways to ease the financial burden of college, and having a plan for your finances is a great first step.
  • Do you have the time to start college? Whether you’re aiming for a degree path that takes two years or one that takes 12, college is a major time investment. Before applying, ensure you have the time to take the courses you’d like. Many colleges offer night, morning and weekend classes to accommodate busy schedules. One perk of higher education is that you can choose when to take your classes.

Your college education can begin at any age, so don’t assume you must enroll right out of high school. Thinking about the timing and cost of your college education will help you be a more successful student in the long run.

How do you decide between public and private school?

Both private and public schools can provide valuable benefits to their students. When making a decision, it’s all about what you want to get out of your collegiate experience. Here are a few differences to consider:

Public school Private school
University size Typically larger, with more students in each class Typically, a more intimate setting with smaller class sizes
Tuition Lower tuition rates Higher tuition rates, but may offer more scholarships and grants
On-campus opportunities Many clubs and organizations Potentially more limited extracurricular activities due to smaller size

How much does college cost?

Tuition varies by school, and there are other costs and fees associated with attendance. The total cost will also depend on whether you go to an in-state or out-of-state school.

Type of college Average yearly cost of attendance
Source: College Board
Public two-year (in-district) $19,860
Public four-year (in-state) $28,840
Public four-year (out-of-state) $46,730
Private four-year $60,420

You can lower the upfront costs of your education by applying for scholarships, grants or student loans.

When shouldn’t you go to college?

If you’re not sure what you want to study or what jobs you’re interested in, it may be best to skip going to college for now. Because a bachelor’s degree is such a large investment, many students take a gap year or two after high school to figure out what career they truly want to pursue or save money.

The career you’re interested in may not require a traditional bachelor’s degree. If this is true for you, you may opt for a less expensive option. Trade and vocational schools are great alternatives to a traditional four-year school, and software boot camps can teach coding, app building and other skills for as little as half the cost of a degree.

Is college worth it?

College grads generally earn more and have better employment opportunities than non-graduates. For many students, college is an opportunity to gain financial literacy, begin networking and broaden their horizons. The investment is worthwhile for many.

Ultimately, whether or not college is worth it is an individual decision. You may not get a return on your investment for many years, especially if you can’t get a job in your field right away, and student loans could be part of your life for a decade or more after you graduate.

If you’re on the fence about college, do a little research first. Financial advisors and admissions counselors can paint a better picture of the realities of college life, as can friends and family who have already graduated. You can also join a campus tour to get a sense of the culture and energy of a college campus.

Bottom line

In general, going to college can increase your earning potential, employment prospects, job benefits and professional network. You can also learn about different careers, gain skills and learn independence.

However, it’s important to assess whether it’s what you want to do, have time for and feel right about financially. Annual costs can run between $20,000 to over $60,000, depending on if you do private vs. public or in-state vs. out-of-state.

At the end of the day, going to college is a personal decision. It’s okay to assess if college is something that fits around your lifestyle and goals.