College students need to think of their tuition expenses as an investment in their futures and, as a result, they must be centrally concerned with the return on investment (ROI) that they will get after they complete the degree program and begin to apply for professional positions. This is a key consideration for students in an era of rising tuition costs and unprecedented average student loan balances, and it’s one way to “beat the system” and get a great degree at a great overall price. The question that many students have, however, is how they actually assess both the cost and ROI of a school that may not have even accepted their admission application yet. There are a few things that can make this process easier.
Look at the Cost of Tuition
First and foremost, assess the raw cost of attendance associated with going to school full-time. This will require students to look at the cost per credit, the cost of full-time enrollment, and the cost of add-ons like a technology fee, on-campus dorm, meal plan, textbooks, and laboratory fees for certain classes. With a full understanding of the costs associated with attendance, students can make an educated guess about how much money they’ll need to borrow, how much they may get in state and federal grants, and how willing they are to incur this expense in pursuit of a conferred degree. If the cost is too high, resulting in sticker shock, it might be a good idea to consider more affordable, local, or in-state schools.
Next, Assess Quality and Satisfaction
The next thing to consider is whether other students have deemed the school’s costs and programs a good value using their own assessment. This is done in two key ways. First, students should look at the first-year student retention rate. If the school has good programs and is perceived as a good value, a significant majority of students will return for a second year on-campus. This is an indication that the cost of tuition is worth affording. Another measure to check is the percentage of students who graduate from the school within six years of their initial enrollment in one of its programs. If this percentage is high, it indicates a high-quality program that will deliver a high ROI for students. A low percentage might indicate that many students leave the school for other options or simply drop out. This is a major red flag.
Research Alumni Associations and Networking Strength
Finally, make sure to research the school’s alumni situation. Is the alumni association large and functional? Do students regularly network with each other, regardless of geographic location? Where do most alums work according to professional social networks, like LinkedIn? These insights will help students assess where they’ll end up with this school’s degree in their list of qualifications. Unimpressive results should be a warning sign that the school’s tuition poses a poor value. Conversely, strong alumni achievements and connections indicate that the school fosters engagement and nurtures its graduates in the “real world” to boost its ROI.
Three Great Ways to Determine a School’s Long-Term Value
From overall cost to the status of students who have already enrolled and chosen whether or not to return to the school, there are many key ways to determine whether a school is worth the investment. Careful research will determine whether the cost of tuition, room, board, fees, and textbooks will offer students a strong return on investment or leave them wanting a bit more for the high cost of a higher education.