This article originally appeared on Western Governors University Night Owl Blog.
By: Nick Rothacher, WGU Scholarship Program Manager
MYTH: Where you attend college matters more than your major.
REALITY: Your degree field is the major indicator of your future earning potential.
While public perception is that you will make way more money when you graduate from a prestigious school (think Ivy league or small liberal arts college), the data tell a different story. Your degree field will dictate your future earnings much more than your alma mater. While there are exceptions to the rule, an education degree from Harvard is going to land you a teaching job with a salary comparable to that of a graduate from a state school.
MYTH: It doesn’t matter where you go to school, as long as you get a degree.
REALITY: Actually, your school matters more than you think.
The previous myth just convinced you that it doesn’t matter where you go to school. But future earning potential is only part of the picture. Your choice of institutions will determine how much your degree will cost you—and how long you’ll be paying the bill. Tuition and fees can range from a few thousand dollars a year to nearly $50,000 per year, depending on the college or university. With current tuition costs, more and more students are using loans to help pay for school, which can take years to pay back. Attending a high-cost institution for a low-paying degree could actually be worse than not getting a degree in the first place; attending an affordable university is a critical component to maximizing the return on your investment.
MYTH: You have to go into debt to finish a degree.
REALITY: There are still ways to get a debt-free education.
Just because the average student graduates with nearly $30,000 in debt doesn’t mean you should follow the herd. For those of us who aren’t millionaires (at least not yet) or able to land a full-ride scholarship for athletic or academic talent (good for you if you can), here are three ways you could still get that degree without a single loan:
- Choose an affordable institution and work while you earn your degree. Consider your local community college or research some of the online, non-profit schools. Most students can also offset the costs by using financial aid, which all starts by completing the FAFSA. If you qualify, there will be grant money available that you don’t have to pay back.
- Make your employer pay. Many companies now offer tuition assistance as part of your employee benefits. If you really want to save, try to land a job at a college or university—it’s not uncommon to see tuition discounts of 50% or more for full-time employees.
- Use a competency-based education program to finish a degree in less than 4 years. Western Governors University and StraighterLine both offer high-quality online programs that let you “prove what you know” and move forward at your own pace without quitting your day job.