There is more to a degree's value than the price tag. Here's how to evaluate the costs and benefits of different schools.
In some ways, choosing a college can be a lot like shopping for a car. There's a wide range of prices, cost doesn't necessarily match up with quality, and the sticker price isn't identical to what you end up paying. College costs can vary wildly based on where you go to school, but unlike a car, college is an investment in your future. You'll be spending lots of money, as well as years of your life, attaining a degree, so you want to know what kind of return you can expect from that investment before you accept.
Understanding the real price tag of your college degree
A lot of factors go into the final cost of your college education. When you're thinking about what a school will actually cost you, consider:
- In general, public schools are less expensive than private ones. Additionally, attending your own state's public college or university is generally less expensive than going to a public school in another state. But that's just the sticker price.
- Financial aid and scholarships can make a big difference. These will greatly influence what you'll end up paying, making the math different for everyone. Once you get in, compare your award letters and determine what you'll be left to cover at each school.
- College location matters. Where your school is will impact non-tuition costs like housing, food, and transportation. Going far away from home—especially to somewhere that you need to fly—will increase costs, too.
- Do the math. Each school should have a net price calculator that can help you estimate your true cost of attending; the US Department of Education can direct you to these tools.
Figuring out the value of a college degree
The other major factor to consider, besides the price tag, is what you'll get in return.
- A better shot at a high-paying job. Will graduating from a particular school and program help you earn more after graduation? You can look at average salaries of graduates and compare them from school to school.
- Intangible career benefits. Some aspects of ROI (return on investment) are less measurable. For example, certain schools' reputations may open doors for you in the future, and that kind of prestige matters more in some professional fields than others. You can also consider a school's alumni network, and how active they are in helping current students and recent graduates get internships and jobs.
- A positive college experience. Going to college isn't all about career prep. You want to look for a place that you'll enjoy being for four years, with the type of campus and student body culture and broader experience you're looking for.
Comparing colleges to find the right one for you
Ultimately, you want to figure out which school is the best value for you. There's a lot to take into consideration, and evaluating schools can feel overwhelming. My College Plan is a tool that helps you take your future for a test drive. You can use it to compare different schools, majors, and careers. It shows you what different schools cost and how that might affect your student loan debt down the road, and even helps you see how the choices you make might affect your potential salaries post-graduation.
Making the choice
Gathering all the necessary info, and truly understanding the costs and benefits of each school, is the first step in making your college decision. Tools like My College Plan can help you fully understand all of your options, and the possible returns they could help you get on your investment in your education.