It feels like yesterday that I was preparing to graduate high school and the scary world of college admissions was looming over my head. There was never a time in my life when I ever thought that I would not attend college.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.1% of high school graduates in 2010 were enrolled in college by October 2010, a 2% drop from 2009. Sure, college is expensive, but is the return on such an expensive investment worth it?
Let’s do a little breakdown of expenses for a typical Penn State freshman taking the same path I have taken (and as a girl, I promise you there are plenty of extraneous costs). Entering University Park as an in-state freshman, majoring in public relations and taking the average course load of 15 credits is going to cost $7,206. Including the mandated Activity Fee, Information Technology Fee (love all the computer labs, PSU) and the Facility Fee, your grand total comes to $7,625. That’s it? Less than $8,000 per semester doesn’t seem too bad — but wait, there’s more.
Factor in dormitory housing and an average-appetite meal plan and you have added approximately $4,732. At this rate, our college freshman hasn’t purchased textbooks or any miscellaneous “going off to college” basics such as bed sets, shower caddies or personal items. Because books and personal items differ per person, I will use an approximation on what it has cost me. I have spent anywhere from $200 to $600 on books before any given semester begins, so $400 will be our average. As for “off to college” basics, we will say around $800. For me, it was closer to $1,500 by the time I factored in new clothes (and monogrammed towel sets!).
With all of this in mind, the grand total for the first semester for a communications student at Penn State is $13,557. Granted, students will not be spending $800 on back-to-school gear every year. Also, scholarship and grant money was not a factor, and some semesters you might get a break on books.
This being said, in May 2010, the standard college student was graduating $24,000 in debt with an average starting salary around $48,000. With many repayment plans starting as low as $50 a month, repayment is viable within 10 years.
But, enough with all these numbers. What is the return on the unseen college investment? What does college give you besides the best unemployment insurance?
Students that attend college benefit from understanding time management, developing money management tactics and expanding their social and cultural interests. Social networking in college is among the top ways to achieve success in life by reaching out to individuals whom you may have met as a result of a Greek organization or student leadership position that could lead to job opportunities.
Aside from these factors, collegiate life fosters a sense of “growing up.” As I reflect back on my time as a freshman and fast-forward to my life as a senior, I see how much I have grown and matured as a person. Moving away to college allowed me to realize that being an adult isn’t always easy, but it’s all a part of growing up — something I certainly would not have realized in the nurturing care of my parents at home.
So, as many high school juniors and seniors are trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, I would like to offer a small piece of advice. Go to college and at least try it out. Like I said before, college life is not for everyone, but I promise one thing — you will get more than your money’s worth if you do attend.
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