With stories all around us of the neighbor’s daughter and our friend’s third cousin twice removed driving a taxi after completing a bachelor’s degree, one might wonder whether the time and expense is all worthwhile. As a rising high school graduate considering college, you might just be feeling a bit worried about finding a job when you graduate, paying off the loans you might accrue earning your degree, and whether in fact you will even come out ahead of those who don’t bother with earning a bachelor’s degree at all.

Well, there are many who ask this question. (I was certainly one of those students myself – about 25 years ago.) Fortunately, at least for the time being, the current research and data seem to show that it is indeed worthwhile to earn a bachelor’s degree. Studies by the Pew Research Center, for example, analyzed data comparing salaries of graduates, and information regarding students’ major course of study while in university. According to their information, a college graduate from the Millenial generation now will earn on average $17,500 more each year than a high school graduate. And another study estimates that the financial advantages will forseeably outweigh the costs until the year 2086, at which point the projected cost of a year of college will outweigh the advantage in earnings a graduate can expect.
And what are the best majors in terms of economic value? Interestingly, while some professional degrees may earn their bearers bigger starting incomes and clearer paths to jobs, those salaries tend to level off, while liberal arts majors tend to earn greater salaries eventually. While liberal arts degrees may not point to specific career paths, studies show that the earnings potential of these degrees are just as strong – and even stronger at advanced levels in one’s career – as degrees in professions such as pharmacy, nursing, engineering.

hand shake degree

According to the Pew research survey that evaluated graduates’ feelings and impressions about their degrees, many graduates regret their decision to study a certain major. However, note that there was little disparity between them: about a quarter of science and engineering majors regretted their decision (24%), while 33% of those whose degree is in social science, liberal arts or education wished they had chosen differently and some 28% of business majors say they would have been better prepared for the job they wanted if they had chosen a different major. (Overall, the survey found that 29% say they should have chosen a different major to better prepare them for their ideal job.)  Far more importantly though, in my observation, is that 50% felt that, among their regrets was the fact that they wished they had gained more work experience while still in college, to better prepare them for finding a preferred position after graduating.

We have to remember also that the value of the bachelor’s degree goes well beyond just the financial benefit it seems to offer. The value of the relationships we make, the networks we gain, and the ability to think, problem solve, see from various perspectives, make rational arguments, etc., is beyond measure, and clearly opens up avenues for us that we very likely will not have had.