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Is College Still Worth the Cost in 2024?

Is College Still Worth the Cost in 2023?
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated January 26, 2023
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With the costs of tuition rising year after year, you might be wondering, “Is college worth it?” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, one way to think about it is to consider the projected salary of your intended major, as some fields of study are more lucrative than others. Let’s take a closer look at the cost of college today, along with some salary data on majors with the highest return on investment. 

How Much Does College Cost?

The increasing cost of college is undeniable: You’ll pay a lot more today than when your parents were growing up. According to College Board, the average annual cost of attendance at public colleges for in-state students is $27,330. For private universities, that cost of attendance goes up to $55,800 per year. Over four years, expect an average cost of attendance between $109,320 and $223,200, depending on which type of institution you choose. Given this high cost, the majority of students (70%) have debt when they graduate, according to the Urban Institute. Among students who took out loans, the average balance upon graduation was $28,950. Since repaying a student loan also means paying back interest charges, borrowing money for college means your total price tag is even higher than the number you see on your tuition bill. 

How Much Do the 5 Most Lucrative Majors Make?

Attending college has a variety of benefits, not all of which can be measured in dollars. But if you’re wondering if college is worth the cost, it’s useful to consider the expected return on investment of your major. Here are five of the most lucrative college majors that seem to be worth the cost. The information that follows is based on’s study of median base salaries for a variety of fields during the first five years after graduation vs. starting salaries. Also note that earnings will vary based on location, experience, and other factors. 

1. Computer Science

Median salary: $70,000 per yearComputer science majors study math, technology, and programming to prepare themselves for careers in software and systems design, information technology administration, web development, and other related jobs. Along with a higher-than-average salary, computer scientists can expect growing opportunities in their field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  

2. Engineering

Median salary: $64,381 – $68,438 per yearEngineering students might specialize in electrical, mechanical, chemical, or industrial engineering in college. Whatever their specialty, they focus on designing solutions to problems. If you study engineering, expect most of your classes to fall within the math and science departments. 

3. Information Technology (IT)

Median salary: $64,008 per yearIT is another growing field that’s predicted to have lots of job opportunities in the coming years. IT students tend to take classes in math, business, and communications. If you graduate with a major in IT, you might go on to work in software development, digital security, program management, or database administration.

4. Nursing

Median salary: $58,928 per yearNursing majors can go on to find plenty of job opportunities in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, or even patients’ homes. There are varied career paths one might pursue, including becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), which can earn almost $200,000 per year. Nursing students learn about anatomy, biology, and disease while taking classes in chemistry, biology, physiology, nutrition, and related subjects. 

5. Finance

Median salary: $54,900 per yearFinance majors study economics, math, accounting, and related subjects to prepare for a career in finance. They might go on to work at investment companies, as financial advisors, or as payroll department administrators after graduating. Becoming an accountant will lead to a career that averages a $54,000 annual salary, while pursuing jobs that lead to becoming a chief financial officer (CFO) can pull in almost $140,000 per year on average.Recommended: Risks and Benefits of Student Loan Refinancing

How Does Going to College Affect Lifetime Earnings?

While the salary you earn after college will depend on your major and other factors, earning a degree tends to be valuable overall. According to BLS, the median weekly earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $1,334, while the weekly earnings for someone with only a high school diploma are $809. This difference in earnings adds up over the course of a lifetime. A 2021 report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce shares that those with a bachelor’s degree earn a median of $2.8 million in their lifetime. That’s 75% more than the median lifetime earnings of those with just a high school diploma, which comes in at $1.6 million. Recommended: Is Becoming a Veterinarian Worth It?

Pros and Cons of Attending College

When making a big life decision, it can help to put together a pros and cons list. Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding if college is right for you. 


Among the upsides of a college education are:
  • Increase your income potential. Workers with a bachelor’s degree have a significantly higher median income than those who stopped their education after high school. 
  • More job opportunities. Georgetown University research suggests that 35% of current jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Lower unemployment. The unemployment rate among bachelor’s degree holders was 3.7% in 2021, nearly half the rate among those with only a high school diploma (6.7%), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics information. 
  • More likely to have health insurance. According to College Board, 64% of workers with bachelor’s degrees had employer-provided healthcare coverage compared to just 52% of high school graduates. 
  • Able to study a subject you’re passionate about. Outside of the facts and figures, going to college can be valuable because it gives you the opportunity to learn and expand your knowledge about one or more subjects that interest you. 
  • Grow your network. Going to college also gives you the chance to meet new people and make connections, which may help you advance your career after graduation. 
  • Study abroad opportunities. If you’re interested in living in another country, many colleges offer study abroad programs that help you build your cultural awareness and learn another language. 


 Now, for some of the disadvantages of attending college:
  • Tuition costs are high. One downside of attending college is the ever-increasing price tag. Your cost of attendance could be over $100,000 or even $200,000 over the course of four years.  
  • May need to take out student loans. The majority of students take out student loans to pay for college, which can be financially burdensome after graduation. 
  • Major might not lead to a high-paying job. Some majors are a lot less lucrative than others, but you’ll still have to pay the same amount for your education, regardless of whether it leads to a sufficient income. 
  • Might take longer than you expect to graduate. According to the Education Data Initiative, 23.5% of college students take more than four years to graduate. That means they are likely accruing higher expenses and a larger student loan balance over those additional terms of study. And, of course, there are plenty of students who drop out of college and still have those expenses to repay. 
When considering the pros and cons, remember: If you have to borrow student loans to pay for college, be careful not to borrow more than you can afford to pay back. And remember that college isn’t the only path to success. If going to college doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, you could consider alternatives, such as trade school, an apprenticeship program, a coding boot camp, or starting your own business. Some professions, furthermore, require only a two-year degree from a community college rather than a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

The Takeaway

If you’re wondering, “Is a college degree worth it?” many indicators point to an answer of “yes.” Those who earn their bachelor’s degree tend to have higher salaries, more job opportunities, and a higher rate of healthcare coverage than those who don’t. At the same time, some majors are more lucrative than others, so it’s worth considering your anticipated post-college salary before you enroll. It’s also a good idea to compare college costs and choose a school that won’t be a huge burden on your finances. In the end, the answer to “Is college worth it?” will be different for everyone. By thinking carefully about your individual interests and goals, you can make a decision that’s right for you.

3 Student Loan Tips

  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. Paying extra each month on your student loan can reduce the interest you pay and so lower your total loan cost over time. (The law prohibits prepayment penalties on federal or private student loans.)
  3. If you teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, you may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is college a waste of money in 2024?
Can you be successful without going to college?
Do you still make more money if you go to college?
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About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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