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Education ROI: Is College Worth It?

advice for students
career planning
By Kate Sitarz
Published on April 12, 2023

With the costs of college rising, you may be asking is college worth it? The short answer is yes, the return on investment for colleges is still worth it — if you know how to maximize your ROI.

Several international students graduating together

Coming to the US to study is a great way to earn a prestigious degree from a top program. Students gain transferable skills and have access to internship opportunities that open up more career pathways than if they did not earn a college degree or chose to earn a college degree somewhere besides the US.

But the rising costs of college are making many question whether the return on investment is worth it or not. The data show that college is still very much worth it. But there are numerous factors to consider when weighing the value of earning a US university degree. Your starting salary and earning potential are just two factors to consider.

Best College Majors for Return on Investment

When it comes to determining the ROI of college, you may be tempted to look at the best colleges for ROI. However, you need to consider your specific major— not the college itself.

Many colleges report ROI data in terms of the average earnings 20 years after graduation. However, these numbers typically include all of the college’s majors, and not all college majors offer the same ROI. That is because the typical jobs and careers associated with one major may not be as in demand or pay as much as another major.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the top college majors based on salary projections are as follows:

Computer Science

Salary projections for Class of 2022



Salary projections for Class of 2022


Math & Natural Sciences

Salary projections for Class of 2022


Social Sciences

Salary projections for Class of 2022



Salary projections for Class of 2022


Agriculture & Natural Resources

Salary projections for Class of 2022



Salary projections for Class of 2022



Salary projections for Class of 2022


While these salary projections can give you an idea of what to expect from your major, remember that these starting salaries are averages and have considerable variety based on location and specific job role. 

For example, within computer science, there are numerous types of jobs graduates can pursue after graduation. Using data from, an entry-level software developer in the United States has median earnings of $75,690, while in Brazil median earnings are R$61,795. A computer support operations specialist in the United States has median earnings of $47,040. 

One of the perks of studying in the US is that you often have the flexibility to major in more than one area. This is called a double major, which allows you to gain more skills and could lead to additional job opportunities. For example, you may combine communications and business or political science and philosophy, to name just two of many possible combinations.

Some unique combinations may also allow you to carve out your own path — one that is in-demand because you have a unique set of skills to offer that no one else does. Think of combining pre-med with international relations, for example, to pursue a career in global public health, or studio art with business, if you wanted to open your own gallery. 

There is also the option to minor, which lets you expand your skill set while still leaving room in your schedule to take elective courses. Elective courses also help expand your skills and let you explore areas that interest you — or discover new areas of interest. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that salaries are just one metric to consider when determining the return on investment for college. For a better sense of the return on investment potential for your college major, take a look at specific job roles you think may interest you long term. This can give you a better sense of not only earning projections, but also which skills you may need to fill those roles and how a particular college degree can help you gain those skills.

A Bachelor’s Degree Equips You with Job Preparation Skills

Hard skills are those that are easily measured based on your output. For example, if you want to become a software engineer, hard skills would include computer programming and coding. Your choice of major will determine the hard skills you learn. 

Though soft skills— skills related to behavior, thinking, and personal traits — are harder to measure, they are often more important than hard skills when it comes to long-term success.

In fact, according to a LinkedIn report, “hard skills can help you get a recruiter’s attention, but soft skills can help you land the job.”

These skills are also highly transferable, meaning you need these skills regardless of which job or career path you pursue. Hard skills are often easier to teach and, as technology continually evolves, you will continue learning hard skills on the job.

Soft skills are a key component of learning outcomes for a bachelor’s degree. Attending college gives you multiple opportunities to sharpen your soft skills. You can develop leadership and communication skills by serving as president of a club. You can hone problem solving and time management skills by putting together a student event. And you can build teamwork skills by playing a varsity, club, or intramural sport.

These are just a few of the opportunities you get to practice and grow your soft skills. By not attending college, you miss out on these valuable chances to learn these skills in a safe environment. Professors, advisors, and other mentors can help pinpoint areas you need to work on and provide feedback on how you are doing, as well as additional ways to strengthen your skills.

This may be why the ROI of liberal arts colleges is comparable to the ROI of engineering and technology-related schools, as well as business and management schools. According to a 2020 report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, liberal arts colleges’ median ROI 40 years after enrollment is $918,000, compared with $917,000 for four-year engineering and technology schools and $913,000 for four-year business and management schools.

Of course, there is still variability from college to college and from major to major. But the data shows that liberal arts programs offer another path to long-term success. These programs equip you with a broad range of knowledge and skills that are appealing to many employers because you have a great sense of the world and how everything is interconnected. This gives you the flexibility to pursue multiple career paths.

A liberal arts education also builds soft skills like critical thinking, communication, creativity, problem-solving, research, writing, and interpersonal skills, among others.

Studying Abroad Develops Grit

Leaving your home or comfort zone to study abroad requires grit. And, it turns out, grit is a key indicator of long-term success.

Grit, or the ability to continuously pursue the things that are important to you, while also learning from and bouncing back from failure, is key to success. Leaving home and studying abroad, while challenging, gives you the opportunity to develop and practice grit on a daily basis. 

Everything from trying new foods to meeting people from different backgrounds to exploring a new location gives you the chance to strengthen your grit. 

Studying in the US gives you the chance to really hone your decision-making skills and develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset means you see challenges as opportunities and are excited at the chance to step outside your comfort zone. It also means seeing failure as an opportunity to learn.

Learning abroad is the ultimate chance to continually step outside your comfort zone. By doing this on a regular basis, it may not become easy, but you become equipped with the skills needed to navigate these situations rather than freezing and potentially even shying away from growth opportunities.

Part of developing grit also involves discovering what you are most passionate about so that you can get specific and clear about your goals. Student clubs and organizations are a great way to try new activities, as well as pursue existing passions that help you grow even further.

Maximize Your College ROI by Finding the Right School for You 

You may hear people say, “college is what you make of it” or “you get out of college what you put in.” 

They say this because there are many opportunities at college that can help you further increase your return on investment, but only if you take advantage of them.

That starts by finding the right school for your specific career goals. Schools with the major you want to study are a good place to start. Which schools are best for your specific career path?

But finding a school that is a good fit for you also involves feeling like you are a part of the community, one where you can see yourself living on campus and participating in extracurricular activities. 

These elements of the college experience can impact the elements of ROI that you cannot measure — the benefits that lifetime salary alone cannot capture.

Part of the ROI of attending a school in the US is building a network of peers, professors, and other professional connections who can offer support for the rest of your career. You will, of course, develop friendships. Many of these friendships could lead to job or business opportunities and other professional support now or years from now.

No matter which school or program you choose, the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree far outweigh not earning a bachelor’s degree, particularly over the course of a lifetime. Those with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make 84% more annually compared to those whose highest degree is a high school diploma or equivalent. This amounts to earning, on average, nearly a million dollars more over the course of a lifetime.

The data also shows that people who have a bachelor’s degree are less likely to be unemployed.

The lifetime median return on investment for a bachelor’s degree — or the ROI over the course of 40 years — is 287.7%. 

There is a US school that will have everything you are looking for: quality academics, access to amazing resources and internships, and ongoing support to get you on track toward your goals. And that degree will pay off in the long run.

Shorelight advisors help you find your best-fit school