Real Cost of a College Education (Part 2)

In our last post, we discussed how many families, especially low-income families, tend to overestimate the cost of college. Fearing the sticker price of most standard universities or fearing a mountain of student loan debt, some families and individuals make the choice to forego college altogether due to its cost. As we shall see in this post, that’s a very unfortunate decision, since the financial benefits of college far outweigh the financial cons.<!–more–>

In this second part of our series on the real cost of a college education, we’ll examine four strategies for reducing the cost of college and we’ll start to think about paying down student loan debts.

<strong>Strategy #1: Don’t Get a Four-Year Degree</strong> recently published an infographic that showed the median income for adults over the age of 25 based upon their education levels. The graph clearly shows that people who earn a bachelor’s degree, which is the typical four-year degree, earn a median weekly income of $1,053, whereas people with only an associate degree, which is usually a two-year degree, earn a median weekly income of $768. Understanding this discrepancy, why would anyone get just an associate degree from an online university or a traditional university?

The reasoning behind this first strategy is simple: Depending upon what kind of an associate degree you earn, you have a chance to make more money than someone your same age with a bachelor’s degree.

In February 2013, CNNMoney reported that in some states, new grads with <a href=””>associate degrees were earning more money</a>, on average, than new grads with bachelor’s degrees. The CNNMoney article tells the story of Berevan Omer, who earned a two-year information technology degree and immediately landed a job making $50,000 per year for a television station. Omer told CNNMoney that he was making more than twice the amount of money a friend of his who held a four-year degree in accounting was making.

Which associate degrees are worth the most money? Take a look at these incredible numbers:
<li>An air traffic controller with a two-year degree can earn up to $113,000 per year</li>
<li>A radiation therapist with a two-year degree can earn up to $76,000 per year</li>
<li>Various types of nuclear technicians with an associate degree can earn up to $69,000 per year</li>
Keep in mind that not all associate degrees are created equally. Associate degrees that are technical in nature are far more likely to land a high-paying job than other two-year degrees.

Furthermore, if you earn an associate degree through an online university, community college or trade school, you will probably cut the cost and the time of your education by at least half.

<strong>Strategy #2: Earn Free College Credits Online</strong>

Did you know that some online college courses are both free <em>and</em> eligible for actual college credit? If you’re already a college student, do some research to find out two things: First, will your school give you credit for free online courses? Second, if they do, which courses from which institutions will they accept?

You will be amazed at the quality of certain online classes currently available. Schools like Stanford, MIT, Harvard and others are starting to experiment with making particular courses open to everyone on the Internet. Students can watch video recordings of the lectures and follow along in textbooks just as they would for a “real” class. To earn college credit for their work, they usually pay a fee to take an exam that proves they have learned the material presented by the class. Other classes require a portfolio of completed work to be submitted for college credit.

Even though students have to pay for the exam to earn the credit, the final cost of the course will almost certainly be less than what it would have cost to take it at the students’ school.

<strong>Strategy #3: Choose a Major to Land a Job</strong>

As mentioned in the first strategy, not all college majors are created equally. English, sociology, drama and liberal arts may be fun classes to take, but trying to get a job right out of school with a sociology degree or a liberal arts degree isn’t nearly as fun. According to an economist at, your degree is the first thing potential employers look at when they are considering you for a position.

If you want to make sure that you can get a job when you graduate college, choose a major that leads to a definite career path. Here are a few suggestions for degrees that will almost certainly get you a job:
<li><a href=””>Nursing degrees</a></li>
<li>Almost any engineering degree</li>
<li>Almost any computer science, information technology or networking degree</li>
<li>Finance degrees</li>
In addition to nursing degrees, keep in mind that almost any position in the healthcare industry is growing rapidly. While many healthcare jobs, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistants and so forth, require graduate degrees, physical therapy assistants and occupational assistants only require two-year degrees.

<strong>Strategy #4: Pay More Than the Minimum on Your Student Loan Debt </strong>

As soon as you land a job after college, start paying down your student loan debts. We’ll look at specific ways to get rid of student loan debt in the next post, but for now, just start by arranging your budget so that you’re paying more than the required minimum monthly payment each month.

<strong>Next: Pay Off That Debt</strong>

The first three strategies above will help you to reduce the cost of a college education and to find a job that will pay you well once you graduate. The fourth strategy starts to tackle the question of how to pay off your student loan debt quickly. In the final part of this three-part series on the real cost of a college education, we’ll give you proven strategies for paying off that debt as quickly as possible.