Is going to a four-year university worth it?

By Matt Tulli

For seniors, this is the time of your educational career that you’ve been preparing for since kindergarten: college applications. Since 9th grade, you’ve been getting nagged by administrators to research colleges, majors, and careers, fill out résumés, complete graduation projects and everything else that comes with those repetitive class meetings. You are now entering into one of the most important, memorable and expensive times of your live.

With so many different post-secondary opportunities students are given, like technical schools and community colleges, it seems as if university is getting less and less necessary to obtain the skills that are needed for a career. Many jobs are available to people with just two-year degrees, and the student loan debt is just a fraction of what it would be at a four-year school. So, is college actually worth it?

Well, that’s a tough question to answer. It all depends on where you go to college and under what circumstances. Some students are lucky enough to have their parents pay for college, some are good enough athletes to get scholarships, some get financial aid, you name it. But let’s assume that a student is paying for his or herself and going to a four-year university.

A student going to a public, four-year, in-state college is looking at paying about $9,139 tuition per year, on top of about $9,804 for room-and-board and other fees, bringing the total to $18,943, according to And for four years, this total is $75,772. This student will have to take out a student loan of about $45,000, and this will build interest, to let’s say $55,000. So, in total, this student will be paying $85,772 for college.

So while the fun of college is happening to this guy, he could actually have been working in a career that he could have gotten right out of high-school, or at a career that he could have gotten after just two years of college. This is called opportunity cost.

Let’s estimate here and say that this student has to make $160,000 dollars more than he would have if he wouldn’t have gone to college (factoring in cost for college, opportunity cost, and inflation).

So let’s do the math: this student has to make up $160,000 of earnings in about 50 years to have college pay for itself. An average work year consists of 2,000 hours. In fifty years, this is 100,000 hours. $160,000 divided by 100,000 is $1.60. So, this guy needs to make $1.60 more per hour than he would have had he decided not to go to a four-year university.

On average, a person who doesn’t go to college makes an average of $35,030 ($17.52/hour). A college graduate makes an average of $57,655 ($28.83/hour). In these cases, college has paid for itself plus about $9.70 per hour. 
Now, I realize that these are rough estimates and that this is based on averages. There are plenty of cases where these statistics would not apply. But, for all intents and purposes, this says that college is well worth it. Also, I realize that the career field you would like to go in to requires or doesn’t require college. I’m not saying you must go to college to enjoy your career; I’m just showing that based on median tuitions, salaries, and work hours, college does indeed pay for itself.