4 Questions to See If an Expensive College Is Worth It

 April 6, 2020
How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

Student Loan Hero is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). Student Loan Hero does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero is an advertising-supported comparison service. The site features products from our partners as well as institutions which are not advertising partners. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

columbia university

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

As you’re weighing where to attend college, you may wonder: Is going to an expensive college worth it? The class of 2019 graduated with an average debt of $29,900 is already daunting, so the prospect of an even higher price tag deserves careful consideration.

Depending on your situation, an expensive college, such as an Ivy League, could give you access to powerful alumni networks and end up boosting your earning power. On the flipside, you may be saddled with an even heavier debt burden.

Is going to an expensive college worth it? 4 questions to ask
Are there any benefits of going to a prestigious university?
How to choose a college
6 tips: How to make college less expensive

Is going to an expensive college worth it? 4 questions to ask

If you’re considering a relatively pricey school, here are four things to consider before making a decision:

1. How much more will my total costs be?
2. Will my job prospects be better?
3. Will it improve my future earning potential?
4. What does this college offer that other schools don’t?

1. How much more will my total costs be?

The first step in deciding whether an expensive college is worth it is to take a look at your total costs. In addition to college tuition, you’ll need to look at other costs associated with college, including books, living expenses and transportation.

According to the College Board, private, nonprofit four-year schools cost $36,880 per year on average for 2019-2020 — and that’s just tuition and fees. Compare that to a public four-year college with in-state tuition, where the average cost is $10,440.

2. Will my job prospects be better?

Even with a high sticker price, it might still be worth going to an Ivy League school. In some ways, the value of college education also depends on what you do with it.

“Ivy Leagues are very proud of their alumni networks,” said Lindsey Conger, a college counselor at Moon Prep. “Students can tap into this network to find a job or internship.”

It’s fairly common for graduates of Ivy League schools to help each other, and this could lead to a better job out of the gate. Plus, many prestigious schools have name recognition that companies might be impressed by when looking for candidates, Conger pointed out.

“Graduating from a prestigious school gets your resume looked at a second time in many cases,” Conger said. “Some companies, like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, recruit heavily from [the University of Pennsylvania] to help fill entry-level positions.”

3. Will it improve my future earning potential?

There is the possibility that your future earning potential could be impacted by attending a top school. When deciding if it’s worth going to an Ivy League school, you might be surprised at the reports.

For example, Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) offers a handy ranking that looks at your return on investment depending on the school you attend. Harvard, for example, ranks eighth when it comes to 20-year return on value for attendance.

However, the school you attend might impact your earning power based on specialty. The two schools that offer the best return on investment 20 years down the road, according to CEW, are the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in Missouri and the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in New York.

The top five schools in CEW’s rankings at the 20-year return level are all private schools. If you want a better return within 10 years though, the top four schools are all public — and three of them are focused on nursing programs.

If you end up needing to refinance your student loans, a higher earning potential can make a difference later.

4. What does this college offer that other schools don’t?

You should also ask yourself what the more expensive college offers that other schools you’re considering don’t. Will you get access to world-class research facilities? Is there a certain program that you’re looking at that isn’t available elsewhere?

When weighing whether it’s worth going into debt for college — particularly if private colleges are worth it — you need to consider if there’s something extra that makes the cost a price worth paying. This is particularly true if you decide you need private student loans to close the funding gap.

School choice seems to matter more for some majors than others, said Conger, citing research from Brigham Young University and San Diego State University.

“Business majors who attended prestigious schools earned 12% more than their counterparts at lower-ranked schools,” said Conger. “However, the same study found that for science majors graduating from top schools don’t see a statistically significant earning difference compared to middle-of-the-pack schools.”

Basically, unless your school has some sort of secret sauce for your major, or there’s some other compelling reason to attend, the value of a college education at an expensive school might not be worth enough to justify the cost difference.

Are there any benefits of going to a prestigious university?

There are benefits of attending a top university, especially if you have a certain major. In addition to networking opportunities and potential career path benefits, Conger pointed out that, on average, prestigious universities spend more on each student. She also noted that students at top universities often have access to top researchers and education, as well as state-of-the-art facilities.

However, even though there are potential benefits of attending a top university, there might be other factors to consider before you borrow a large amount of money to attend.

“If the extra cost to attend a more prestigious school is going to require a student to take on a heavy debt burden, it might not be worth it,” said Debbie Schwartz, a college preparation expert and founder of the website Road2College. “Studies have shown that getting accepted to a prestigious school is the more important factor in success, not necessarily attending and graduating from that school.”

If you decide an expensive college is worth it, it’s important to make sure that you take full advantage of the opportunity. “Build relationships with professors and students throughout and reach out to alumni,” Schwartz said. “Participate in clubs and activities. If you’re paying more for the prestige, you should take advantage of it.”

How to choose a college

The right way to choose a college for you is to consider multiple factors, rather than just relying on whether the school is prestigious. Some factors to consider include:

  • Graduation rate
  • Job placement
  • Alumni network
  • Educational opportunities
  • Program rankings

Don’t forget to consider your major as well. According to research from economist Doug Webber at Temple University, your chosen major actually matters more than the school you attend. While you might see a bit of a premium by attending a more expensive college, ultimately it might make more sense to pay attention to whether the college you choose has a good program in a major likely to offer a higher return.

Webber’s research indicates that a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is likely to provide about $1 million more in lifetime earnings than a bachelor’s degree in advertising. From that perspective, deciding on a college is less about the name on the administration building and more about the major you choose.

However, finding the perfect college for you is also about the location and feel of the campus. Think about things like where you might live, the amenities of the area and the overall experience in addition to the cost and how much you might have to borrow. There’s no one right way to choose a college, and how you go about it depends on your own priorities.

6 tips: How to make college less expensive

No matter what choice you make, college is expensive. As a result, it’s important to consider ways to make college less expensive for you, regardless of where you go to school. Here are some tips to cut your college costs:

  1. Consider less expensive colleges: First of all, consider attending one of the least expensive colleges. If you choose the right major, even attendance at a less expensive college can lead to a good career — without breaking the bank.
  2. Make sure you fill out the FAFSA: This is how you qualify for need-based financial aid with most schools. You can also see if you qualify for federal financial aid in the form of grants, work-study and federal loans. Some prestigious schools, like Harvard, have programs that make attending school very affordable for those who get in and qualify for need-based aid.
  3. Apply for scholarships: If you qualify for scholarships, you might be surprised at how much you can save on college. Search for scholarships, large and small, from a variety of sources, including local and national opportunities.
  4. Ask about merit-based aid: Some schools offer merit-based aid based solely on your test scores, grades or other factors, according to Schwartz. Find out what’s available and you might be surprised at how much you can reduce your college costs.
  5. Consider working during school: If you have a job, you might be able to reduce how much you have to borrow for school. Consider federal work-study programs on top of more traditional work.
  6. Start at community college: Rather than spending a lot on a four-year school to start, consider going to a community college first. It costs less, and you can transfer to a four-year school later.

Christy Rakoczy contributed to this report.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
2.49% – 13.85%1Undergraduate

Visit College Ave

2.55% – 11.44%2Undergraduate

Visit Earnest

3.25% – 13.59%3Undergraduate

Visit SallieMae

0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

Visit Edly

3.25% – 9.69%6Undergraduate



Visit FundingU

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  3. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

3 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.
  • Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
  • Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

    Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.58%-11.72% (6.58% – 11.62% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.82% APR). 

    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.