Is It Worth Going Into Debt to Earn a College Degree? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Is It Worth Going Into Debt to Earn a College Degree?

College debt is a topic of heated debate in recent years; while no one will question the importance of education, the dilemma that’s often presented is simply, “does a college degree make up for the debt incurred while earning it?”

Even on its face, however, the question is a bit misleading. Not all college degrees are created equal, after all, and the earning potential of some degrees is far greater than others. There are also the varying costs of different colleges to factor into the equation—is it worth it to go into debt for a degree from a prestigious school like Johns Hopkins, even if you could get a degree without going into debt elsewhere? While these are ultimately questions that only an individual can decide for themselves, we can take a look at some hard numbers to help make that decision easier.

The first thing to consider is your intended major. There’s certainly value in degree programs that don’t have much-earning potential, but for those without access to scholarships or college funds, they can be a risky choice. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does support the conclusion that any college degree is better than none: 2018 charts showed those holding any bachelor’s degree earned $1,173 per week on average, while those with only a high school diploma averaged $712 per week.

If you’ve gone into debt to earn the degree, however, that added income could be covering loan payments for years afterward. Students who choose majors with higher earning potential will naturally be less affected by this, as they’re more likely to be above that $1,173 average than below it. If you’re dead set on a major that the data says won’t pay well, do everything in your power to obtain the financial aid to cover the costs.

But what are these degrees that can help you to earn the big bucks after graduation? Looking at BLS data gathered in the Baltimore metropolitan area from 2018, many of the highest paying jobs are in career fields that require advanced degrees—medicine and law, for example, requires 7-10 years of schooling.

A substantial amount of debt can be built up over that time, certainly, but with six-figure average salaries, a doctor or lawyer will be able to cover the costs. After those, the highest paying jobs are largely business careers, such as marketing managers and financial analysts. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers are also mixed in here, with engineering careers standing out.

If you’re looking at incurring minimal debt while still ending up in a top-paying career, business degrees seem to be the clear winner. While a Master’s of Business Administration degree can increase earning potential further, the majority of business, finance, and managerial positions are seeking applicants with bachelor’s degrees, meaning less time in school than medical or legal careers.

You won’t have to look far to find a quality business program, either, as the University of Baltimore has been offering business degrees since it first opened its doors. Business positions also have the added benefit of availability, as major occupational groups such as business and financial operations occupations and management occupations were some of the largest employment fields in the area.

So, is it worth it to go into debt to earn a degree? The answer is that it can be, depending on what degree you plan to earn. Baltimore’s numbers are pretty typical of the nation as a whole, so degrees in medicine, law, STEM fields, and business are all solid choices, depending on your personal preferences and interests, as well as the amount of time and money you are willing to invest in education.

Still, it’s recommended to do what you can to minimize that debt, by seeking out scholarships, awards, and financial aid whenever possible, as well as considering public universities with more affordable in-state tuition options. Consider these points carefully, and you will be able to start your life as an adult off right.

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