Factoring Earning Power Into the College Decision

How Much Should Money Affect Your College Choice?


Making the decision about which college to attend involves many choices. There are the intangible factors of whether a student wants to be near home or go away to college, the size and location of the campus, and the compatibility with other students and faculty members. Those are all important, but money also plays a huge role in the final decision as well. High school students and their parents must look at the cost of attendance for every college on the list, estimate the amount of financial aid they might receive, and look for scholarships to help pay out-of-pocket expenses, but one factor they must also consider is the student’s earning power after graduating from a particular college.

This might lead to a bit of a discussion about whether the point of attending college is to broaden one’s horizons and engage in a personal growth experience, or if it is solely for the purpose of finding a high-paying job. Those are appropriate points to discuss, but if it will be necessary to repay student loans after graduation, the money issue must be considered. The U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard is an excellent tool to assist in this research process. Further insights on how to use this tool were recently provided by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce as it looked at various ways users could interpret the data provided. Some insights include:

  • When looked at solely in terms of earnings power, it was not surprising to find that those with degrees in science, technology and engineering were able to command some of the highest salaries. A surprising number of maritime academies were on this list. Students from MIT were able to earn over $90,000 per year within ten years after enrollment.
  • Another way of looking at these figures is to try to assess whether the earning power is based solely on the quality of education or the job itself. Students who tend to earn more in their chosen profession were more likely to graduate from Harvard, Georgetown, University of Colorado - Denver, and MIT; however, some more unlikely schools such as Bentley University, Molloy College, and Providence College also made the list.
  • In an even more rigorous comparison, the study also looks at academic preparation and the potential for earning a graduate degree. In this comparison, the surprising University of Colorado - Denver came out on top, besting Georgetown, University of the Pacific and even Harvard. Earning a graduate degree can also lead to a significant increase in earning potential.

Further analysis from the Department of Education revealed that the University of Colorado information was actually attributable to the Anschutz Medical Campus. All this is extremely valuable information to have when trying to determine an appropriate amount of student loan debt to acquire. It is well worth spending the time both on the College Scorecard website and the Georgetown site to glean as much information as possible.

Should earning potential really affect your college choice? In this day and age, the answer is leaning more toward the “yes” side of the equation, but that is not to say that students should not pursue lower-paying professions for which they might have a passion. It is necessary in those cases, however, to closely analyze the cost of attendance with expected financial aid, and anticipated earnings, in order to make college selection decisions that will not burden the student with student loan debt that will be difficult to repay after graduation.