Is a Bachelor’s Degree Worth It?

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Key Takeaways 

  • A bachelor’s degree opens doors to higher-paying jobs but comes with significant costs and time commitments.
  • The value of a bachelor’s degree varies greatly by field of study, career goals, and individual circumstances.
  • Alternative education paths and the evolving job market may influence the decision to pursue a traditional four-year degree.

    The Role and Value of a Bachelor’s Degree in Today’s Economy

    Since World War II, the popularity of college degrees has steadily increased. The number of Americans earning college degrees has risen to 37.7% of the population in 2022. Indeed, the United States has among the best-educated populations in the world. 

    But the perception of the bachelor’s degree value has waxed and waned over the years. In 2023, only 35% of Americans said that a bachelor’s degree is “a great deal”. This was a decrease from 57% in 2015 and 48% in 2018.

    The changes in perception are due to traditional social and economic factors. 

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    • Social status and prestige 

    Upper-middle-class people are most likely to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees. Lower middle-class people earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Earning a bachelor’s degree becomes associated with social status and prestige.

    In American society, there’s widespread acceptance of the high school-to-college progression, too. Society expects it, parents promote it, and students expect it.

    • Parental and peer influence 

    The parents’ educational attainments influence their children’s academic careers. Parents with college degrees spend effort and money on their children’s education. The intergenerational value placed on a college degree strengthens its value in society. 

    Peer influence and pressure are also significant factors. Undecided high school seniors can decide to enter college thanks to peer pressure.  

    • Employment opportunities and income potential 

    Most well-paying occupations have a bachelor’s degree as a must-have credential. Employers use it as a basic screening tool among applicants. A bachelor’s degree demonstrates comprehensive knowledge and skills in a specific field. There’s less on-the-job training necessary for entry-level new hires because of it. 

    The higher income potential means faster college ROI (return on investment). Bachelor’s degree holders earn $1,493 in median weekly wages. Associate degree holders earn less at $1,058, while high school graduates earn $899 per week, on average. Over a lifetime, there’s a significant difference in earnings. 

    Bachelor’s degree holders are also less at risk of unemployment. Job security isn’t guaranteed with a bachelor’s degree, but it’s a competitive edge. 

    So, is an online bachelor’s degree worth it? Yes, it is, considering the economic mobility opportunities it can open. 

    • Government support 

    The federal and state governments acknowledge the crucial importance of an educated population. Government programs are in place to enable better access to higher education. These include federal and state student aid and support for public colleges. 

    Of course, there are stories of successful people without college degrees. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Madden are oft-cited examples. But they are the exceptions, not the norm.

    The majority of successful business personalities have bachelor’s degrees, at least. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett are prime examples. The stories of millions of successful college-educated individuals are inspirations on their own.  

    Emerging issues also influence the relevance of bachelor’s degrees in modern society. Technological advancements, including automation and AI, increase the demand for skilled professionals. The gig economy and remote work put more value on diverse skills. The emergence of skills-based education complements college education, not undermines it. 

    The bottom line: The value of a bachelor’s degree remains high and will remain so for a long time. 

    Understanding the Different Bachelor’s Degree Options

    Colleges and universities offer every field of study known to man. Many even offer weird majors, such as foresight and fermentation sciences. Name your specific interest, and there’s a college that offers it. Many colleges also offer dual interdisciplinary degree programs.  

    The popular fields of study, nonetheless, are:  

    • Liberal arts and humanities 

    The majors include history, English, languages, and music, and more. Students in these majors pursue careers as journalists, researchers, and educators, among others. 

    • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) 

    Biology, physics, engineering, and computer science are a few examples of majors. STEM majors have the most challenging coursework. Graduates become engineers and scientists, among others. 

    • Business, finance, and economics 

    Business degrees are the most popular bachelor’s degrees in the United States. The diversity of career opportunities makes it so. Graduates pursue careers as managers, consultants, and entrepreneurs. 

    • Fine arts

    Theater, music, dance, studio arts, and film and television production are common majors. These are for creative individuals with a passion for the arts. Popular careers include actors and performance artists, filmmakers, and visual artists. 

    • Social sciences

    The popular majors are political science, psychology, and anthropology. Many of these majors have clear college-to-career pathways. However, most majors are versatile, meaning graduates can pursue other occupations. Political science majors, for example, can become social media specialists. 

    • Health and medicine 

    Nursing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy are popular majors in this category. These majors also have clear college-to-career pathways. Students in nursing programs become registered nurses, for example. 

    • Education 

    Aspiring teachers, educators, and education professionals pursue education degrees. These include elementary, secondary, and special education for K-12 teachers. Educational administrators, instructional coordinators, and curriculum developers take different degrees. 

    Bachelor’s degree programs come in different types, too. 

    • Bachelor of Arts (BA) programs emphasize the liberal arts and humanities. Students focus more on their soft skills development. 
    • Bachelor of Science (BS) programs cover STEM, healthcare, and social sciences majors. While soft skills are also emphasized, hard skills take center stage. There’s more emphasis on math and science courses, too.
    • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs focus on creativity and technical skills. 

    Note that many of the majors are available in both BA and BS formats. Economics, psychology, and political science are good examples.

    Pros and Cons of Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree

    We’re in favor of earning a bachelor’s degree. But it’s also important to know the challenges that come with it. 

    Pros 

    The career benefits of college are evident as soon as you start your education. Your college education will also bring benefits for the rest of your life. 

    • Expand your horizons. Everything about college will likely be new for a freshman. New people, new experiences, and new places. Your ability to navigate college life will prepare you for real-world challenges. 
    • Improve your employment prospects. Enjoy higher earning potential. Enjoy more job security and quality of life. Access more health, education, and government services. 
    • Engage in lifelong learning and continuing education. Promote your personal and professional development on your terms. 
    • Enjoy a wide network of friends, peers, and colleagues. 

    While a bachelor’s degree isn’t a ticket to paradise, it’s an effective tool for a better life. 

    Cons 

    The drawbacks can give you second thoughts. But there are strategies to overcome them.

    • The higher education cost is a major concern. Financial planning, including budgeting and applying for financial aid, is crucial. 
    • The time commitment is a hindrance, too. Earning a bachelor’s degree can take four years, at least. Time management skills are a must. 
    • There’s no guaranteed job after graduation. But leveraging it will make a significant difference. 

    The pros outnumber the cons. But we understand if a bachelor’s degree isn’t in your cards right now. You can begin with an associate degree, for instance. 

    Comparing Degree Levels: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Beyond

    An associate degree takes two years. Since it’s offered in community colleges, it’s an affordable degree, too. Students complete general education courses before moving on to major-specific courses. Graduates find work in entry-level, non-supervisory positions and can proceed to a bachelor’s degree program.

    Earning a bachelor’s degree can take 2-5 years, depending on various factors. Students with an associate degree can earn it in two years. Accelerated programs also make it possible to earn it in less than four years. Part-time students take longer, usually five years. 

    Graduates qualify for entry-level positions on track for supervisory jobs. Work experience, professional certifications, and advanced education are necessary for promotions. 

    Students in master’s degree programs can spend 1-3 years for completion. Specialized or advanced studies characterize these academic programs. Many occupations require a master’s degree, too, for career advancement. Economists and school principals are typical examples. 

    The doctoral degree is a terminal degree, meaning it’s the last stop. Candidates can take 3-7 years to earn it. Graduates pursue leadership positions in colleges, think tanks, and government agencies. 

    Deciding If a Bachelor’s Degree Is Right for You

    This is a personal decision that you should discuss with your family, mentors, and friends. While a bachelor’s degree has many benefits, it isn’t for everybody either. 

    Here’s what you can do: 

    • Assess your interests and goals.
    • Determine if you can satisfy and achieve them with a bachelor’s degree. 
    • Consider the investments in time and cost.
    • Explore alternatives. Skills-based training can lead to employment opportunities in well-paying trade careers. Tech-voc and certificate programs are excellent in this regard. 

    In the end, not earning a bachelor’s degree won’t be the end of your world. But earning it can be the start of a new chapter in your life.