Frugal Friday: Is a 4 Year Diploma Still Worth it?

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Happy Friday everyone! It’s been quite the week, but a good week nonetheless. Several months ago I wrote a somewhat contentious post which asked, Is A College Degree Worth it. I tend to fall on the side that a college degree, in general, is worth it for many students…assuming they go into it making an informed decision and not looking to take on massive student loan debt for a degree in underwater basket weaving.

That’s why this article on Yahoo Finance stood out to me this week. It asked the question “does it really matter where students go to college?” It argued that unless you’re going to one of the select “name” schools like Harvard or Yale, then the school on your piece of paper really does not mean a whole lot when it comes to securing that nice paying job upon graduation. I mean, is it really worth taking on student loan debt with all of the headwinds that graduates face today if it simply means they’ll be able to get a job at their local coffee shop or string together a few part-time jobs in order to make ends meet? Then there’s the issue of student loan payments. With the rising student loan debt currently cresting at a cumulative $1 Trillion, higher education is understandably on many people’s minds. From parents not wanting to send their kids into potentially tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to people like me who just paid off their student loans last year, the topic is one battled by many.

The most interesting part of the article, as far as I’m concerned, was its mention of a website that compares colleges and degree programs for students, showing expected first-year salaries of in-state graduates. This website only covers five or six states as they’ve just recently started, but I think it has the potential to be a great tool for prospective students as they decide whether or not a four-year school is for them. Having something like this should allow them to see in close to real numbers what they can expect to make if they are able to land a job in their chosen field and combine that with the assumed student loans they might need to take out.

As the article pointed out though, expected salary should not be the determining factor of what major to choose as it’ll potentially increase the likelihood of not completing the schooling because they’re lacking the passion needed to see it through to completion. In my opinion, this begs the question of ‘is a degree from a four-year university necessarily the only option for students?’ I wound tend to say it’s not, as the article pointed out, as many overlook the community college or technical school route. I know those options are not as glamorous, but glamour should not always be the driving factor.

I would argue that the driving factor should be the passion you have for your chosen field, the kind of pay you can expect to receive and the amount of student loan debt you’ll come out of school with. The article went on to point out numerous students who either went the community college route, or transferred into them from a four-year school and ended up graduating to make more money while accruing considerably less debt. My analytical mind sees this and wonders why more are not considering this. True, you might be able to earn more over a lifetime with a four-year degree, but if saddled with a lot of student loan debt is that still attainable – or do some get more value for their dollar going the two-year school route?

This can certainly be a contentious debate, and won’t be solved today, but it does give food for thought. Meanwhile, it has been another great week in the blogosphere. If you have the time this weekend then check out some of my favorite blog posts from this past week.

Blog Post of the Week


Investing is War on Brick By Brick Investing

Marvin wins the award for my favorite new saying this week – “View your money as soldiers.” This means that you should be viewing your hard earned dollars going out and working for you as “prisoners to bring home” as Marvin puts it. I love this analogy as it’s one that I think is great to implement as you endeavor to grow your wealth and save for retirement. Learning how to invest is not necessarily an easy task, but it is one that can be accomplished by many…especially considering the amount of resources available today. The post was meant to kick off Marvin’s investing series based off of the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu. If you’re wanting to learn more about some of the vital principles related to investing then I encourage you to check out this post and Marvin’s ongoing series.

Other Blog Posts That Ruled


Ways to Find Customers for Your Service Business on Young Adult Money

Churning Credit Cards: Starwood Preferred Guest Card on Club Thrifty

The Experts Can’t Pick Stocks. Can You? on Mom and Dad Money

My Love/Hate Relationship With the iPod Nano on Are You Gonna Eat That?

Religion, Politics and Debt on Money Counselor

How Much Do You Need to Retire 1 Day Early? on Sweating the Big Stuff

Odd Search Terms


How to become rich with no money…robbery (I kid, I kid)

Frugal will rule the world…is that before or after the zombie apocalypse?

How can eating eagle make you sick…I hear the beak is the real killer

It’s hard not to shop at Wal-Mart…And actually shopping there is any easier?!

Sounds weird when people scratch their head…Sounds to me like YOU’RE a little weird

So unhappy I pull my hair outI heard liquid courage does the trick too

Is it crazy to pay off my optometry loan within 10 years…I don’t know you’ll have to ask Kim on that one!

Can I scratch my head before dying it…No, that’ll just ruin it


What are your thoughts? Is a two-year school worth looking into if it offers a program you would like and the potential of a good salary, or is a four-year school the way to go? What fun things do you have planned for the weekend?


Photo courtesy of: Tobyotter

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.

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  • Matt Becker says:

    Thanks for the shout out! I think your opinions on college are spot-on. My youngest brother just decided on his college, and while I fully support him, I really think that spending some time in the workforce before going to school is a good idea. It’s just so hard to know what you want to do and know how to take advantage of the resources a college offers without some experience.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Matt! I think your idea is a good one. I think too many are being funneled into college with the idea that it’s where you should “figure out” life. It works for many, but it’s an expensive time of discovery.

  • I just don’t like how the “system” is pushing people to college. Yes I think for many, college is a great choice, but there are many people out there that college isn’t right for. They would be better suited by learning a skill, like plumber, welder, electrician, etc. These jobs pay decent, but high schools are shunning “trades” for more math and science. Maybe some people just aren’t good at or interested in these fields.

    • John says:

      I completely agree Jon. I think it’s still good for many, but we have given up on many of the trades and the thing is for some of them you can make very decent money.

  • Thank you so much for mentioning my post! I don’t get many mentions since getting rid of my Saturday roundup post, but I do get more sleep on Friday nights 😉

    I think a four-year degree is typically worth it unless you know you want to go into a job that does not require one. Unfortunately today there are countless jobs that “technically” you could do without a degree, but they still want grads who have gone through the college experience. I don’t see this changing.

    • John says:

      Not a problem DC! I can relate as my mention count has gone down since I do not do a big link dump anymore, but that is ok. 🙂

      I think it is still worth it for many, though the thing I do not like is that we have gotten to a place to where many are forced down that route when it probably is not the best for them.

  • It seems that so many people get a degree because that’s what they’re told is the right thing to do. I think lots of times, the motives are wrong. We’re working with our kids to create their own income streams now, at their young ages, so that college for them will be a choice and not a requirement. We want them to go to college not for the sake of earning more money, but for the sake of learning to do something that they love to do. We figure if we can teach them to creative passive or other income streams before they become adults, they’ll have the freedom to do what they really want to do, college or no college. Happy Friday, John!

    • John says:

      That’s basically where we’re at Laurie. We want to raise them to be prepared and find something in life they can enjoy, be fulfilled in and help society with so they can support themselves and their families. That may mean college, but we want to help them make an informed decision.

  • Thanks for the mention!

    I am honestly starting to question whether a 4 year degree is worth it. It seems like It may not be, unless you are pursuing an advanced degree in a high paying field.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Holly! I think I’ve finally been won over…now I just need to find a card to start out with. 🙂

      I would tend to agree Holly. I think it comes down to what you want to pursue in life and what’ll make you happy and that may not be a four year school.

  • Depends on the degree. I know some civil engineers who are doing really well and some communications majors who are waiting tables or like my one friend, opened a nail salon. The nail salon is a pretty good business but the degree did not contribute to that endeavor one bit. And yes, you usually can pay off the optometry degree in 10 years unless you have to buy the Beemer first!

    • John says:

      Lol, somehow I knew you’d be buying that Beemer first. 😉

      I agree Kim, I think a lot of it depends on the degree and if you have something specialized you want to pursue. This is also assuming there is good demand for the chosen field.

  • We don`t have 2 year degrees in the Norwegian educational system, only 3 year Bachelor degrees (we stay one year longer in high-school than you guys). Honestly, I feel like there`s a educational inflation going on over here.. education is free, so there`s a lot of people with fancy degrees, but not enough jobs suitable for the degrees.. In the “good old days” you could often work your way up, nowadays a masters degree is often the standard just to get a decent job..

    • John says:

      Interesting to see the differences. I think we’re starting to see some of the same things here in the States. It used to be that a high school diploma would generally be fine and now it’s moving to where more fields are wanting advanced degrees.

  • My Financial Independence Journey says:

    I think a college degree is worth it. Both from an individual earnings point of view (you will earn more over the course of your life) and a national interest point of view (the economy is shifting towards knowledge and away from grunt work that can be automated or outsourced).

    But you have to be a bit smart about where you choose to go and what you choose to study. And being lucky enough to graduate in a good economy helps too.

    College, like anything else, is a consumer good and you have to think about it a little bit. So if you decide to go to an overpriced tiny liberal arts college to study “Women’s studies”, it should not come as a surprise to anyone (including the student) that you are having trouble finding a job and have a ton of debt. Just like buying a 90″ 3D TV on credit – nothing about this purchase is a surprise if you bothered to think about it for maybe 30 seconds.

    If you’re passion isn’t employable, consider a double major or a minoring in it. It may take a little more work on your part, but you’ll wind up studying your passion and getting an employable degree. Intellectual fulfillment and a job – not bad.

    • John says:

      Great points MFIJ. I think a lot of it comes back that we’re pushing more into college and they’re not making an informed decision. Thus they come out with debt and you add on top of that being a crappy economic/job climate.

  • Michelle says:

    I think it all depends. I think experience trumps formal education most of the time, and this is coming from me and I have three degrees haha

    • John says:

      That’s a great point Michelle. I think experience almost always trumps education. If you have a nice piece of paper and no experience it’ll be much more difficult to advance.

  • Thanks for mentioning my Religion, Politics, & Debt post.

    I think prospective students should first resolve to apply themselves and get the absolute most from their education. Then whether they choose a 2-year or 4-year or whatever program, they’ll succeed. Once you’re on the job, your background is forgotten. All that matters is performance, attitude, and integrity. Do well in those areas and no one will care where or if you went to college.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Kurt!

      You bring up a great point and one that I would tend to agree with. From what I have seen employers want to see what you can do for them and not what is/is not on your piece of paper.

  • @debtblag says:

    A “four-year diploma” can mean so many things. I think that as a practical matter, there are a lot of jobs out there that can be done just fine by someone who hasn’t spend four years in college, but degree inflation means that you woudn’t be able to get those jobs without a bachelors. Therefore, I think it’s good for the downside risk averse and for those 18-year-olds who aren’t completely sure what they want to spend the next fifty years of their life doing.

    Of course, the most cost-effective way to go about it would be to know exactly which job you wanted to have after graduation, then backwards plan from there to pick the right school, the right major, the right internships, and so forth. But that’s not always possible at such a young age. Two ways to alleviate that are:

    1. Take a gap year and see the real world while you figure this out
    2. Pay community college prices for the first two years to knock out general requirements while you figure out what it is you want to do and then transfer to a fancier school that is more in line with what the field you’ve decided you want to get into.

    And when it comes time to transfer to that fancier school, people too often discount the quality education they can get at a public state school, paying in-state tuition. Look into these.

    • John says:

      You bring up a great point. I think many would benefit from that gap year or going to a community college. I went to a community college for my first two years and it saved me a massive chunk of money.

  • anna says:

    Thanks so much for the mention! I tend to still think a four year degree is worth it, since I’m in a field that values it. From my own personal experience, it helped me think more analytically and globally, plus it’s when I found my niche socially. This being said, I do regret not understanding the ramifications of the debt I was to take on for going – I might have favored a less expensive school with a more practical degree (since I don’t really use mine currently), or maybe attended community college for my basic requirements. But, hindsight is 20/20. I’m not very entrepreneurial, but I’ve noticed the people who do have this drive don’t necessarily need to attend four-year schools.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Anna! You touched on exactly what I was thinking about as I wrote this…debt. We push so many into college with no clue what they want and end up using that time to discover what they want. College is a great time, but it can get expensive, which is why I think a more informed decision would benefit many. That said, I do tend to think that it’s still worth it for many, as long as they are able to make that informed decision.

  • There are professions where you go to school matters, but for most us having a college degree is more important than where you went to school. Especially once you get some job experience under your belt. Then it’s just a matter of checking off that you have a bachelors degree. I see a lot of parents agree to send their children to whatever school they want without discussing whether the cost of said school is comparative to what they will earn and be able to pay back. People do need to take more figuring out a higher education plan that makes sense for what they want to do and can afford. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • John says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking about Shannon. 🙂 It’s making that informed decision that I think many are missing. You have a great weekend as well.

  • I believe if you are planning to work for someone or to climb the corporate ladder, a college degree is a must. You can land a job easily and you can earn more income too. You have a self fulfillment if you are graduated a 4 year course. It will add your self confident as well.

    • John says:

      I don’t know that I’d say it’s a must. I think it benefits “you” in many circumstances, but the problem is that many grads are coming out with degrees and are saddled with debt and are not guaranteed jobs. If college is not for the student, then there are still many things they can do education wise where they can still make a very decent living.

  • My parents were immigrants who pushed their kids to attend university so we could have “good-paying jobs with benefits – all with good intentions. They did the best they could with the knowledge they had but from someone who is suffering from massive student loan debt I won’t push my children to attend a 4 year university unless it’s something they were passionate about!

    • John says:

      I think many parents do have those good intentions GMD, unfortunately good intentions can only take us so far. We have no plans to push our children either, but want to help them make an informed decision so they can hopefully avoid the debt that you and I both came out with.

  • This all boils down to the degree and what you want to do in life. People need to stop using college as a way to figure out what they want to do. That is an option that is too expensive. If the establishment stopped putting such a weight on a 4 year degree and started accepting more community college grads, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue. It is truly troubling.

    • John says:

      I completely agree Grayson. There is a certain level of “discovery” associated with college and that can be a good thing. The problem comes in when you send your kids off and they have no idea what they want and just sort of coast and accrue that student loan debt.

      You bring up a great point as well about the establishment pushing four year degrees…it definitely is going on and for many the degree should be pursued, however it can also be said that for many it’s not.

  • krantcents says:

    College is one of those achievements that is totally dependent on the individual. It is not enough to graduate from Harvard or Yale! It is not enough to get all A’s or have one of the lucrative majors! Education is what “you” do with it. I have know very bright, articulate people who graduated from the best universities live ordinary lives. Yet others with far less accomplishments exceed these stars. It is up to the individual to make a success out of their lives.

    • John says:

      I would tend to agree with you on that point. I think a lot of it does come down to what “you” as the student do with it and how it’s used once done with school. Thus, why making an informed decision is so vital to making that success go further.

  • Do or Debt says:

    I think 4 year schools are worth it for some people. If you want to learn a trade or a specific skill, don’t bother. School did help me think more globally, learn about myself and more, and for that I don’t regret it. I went to a “top name” school for my masters and while it opened doors for me, my job experience was far more helpful than the degree.

    • John says:

      I agree, that if you’re going for a trade then it’s potentially going to be a waste of your time. I have found the same thing to be true of experience as I think that trumps many things.

  • Mackenzie says:

    I still think a college degree is worth something, but I think there are so many facets to this topic. Everyone here has commented an interesting take on it. Here in California, more and more kids are starting at community colleges (2 year) because the waiting list to even get into a state school, is so long and difficult. I think like Grayson mentioned, promotion of community colleges needs to be front and center, and not made to look like it’s a “last resort” or even a failure to go to one. College is college and you will learn something no matter where you go.

    I could go on, but I don’t want to make too long of a comment 😉
    Have a great weekend John!

    • John says:

      Great points Mackenzie! My wife was wait listed by several schools in California and she had excellent grades and a solid SAT score to boot. She ended up going to UCSD which was 5 minutes from my in-laws house and she loved it and came out with no debt. I completely agree on the community college aspect, I went that route and I saved a big chunk of money.

      Keep bringing it Mackenzie, I love your input. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  • Thanks for bringing this topic on John, I think it is a very important one. I wrote a post on a similar topic earlier. My conclusion from that post is that there are very too many variables to say whether a four-year degree is “worth it”. It really just depends on the person. I’m a big fan of technical schools and 2 year degrees.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Nick, my pleasure. I do think it’s an important issue and one that is not getting much press. There are a lot of variables, which is why I think making as much of an informed decision as possible and I do think it really does depend on the person involved.

  • This is something that high school students are simply not thinking through enough before they go off to college. Many are just going because they are expected to and think it will automatically lead to success in their life. They end up wasting money or going into debt which hampers them long term. We have to do a better job of educating them about college costs and matching them up with careers that match their unique personality.

    • John says:

      I would tend to agree Brian. I think it’s a combination of the expectations game and lack of providing direction on the part of the adult in their lives.

  • Does which school matter? Well, yes it does. But not in the idea of a certain name on your diploma being worth more than others. But different schools are going to have different strengths and weaknesses, just like people. The school I went to was a small state school close to home, but it was consistently ranked in the top 10 for the Northeast for the program I originally wanted to study

  • Depends on the quality of diploma, perhaps. Great links. Hope you have a great weekend!

  • Justin says:

    I think that it really depends on the individual. For some, a much less expensive degree can be a whole lot better. Or perhaps a vocational degree would be better. A four year bachelors degree isn’t for everyone and society needs to stop making it seem like the best step for everyone.

    • John says:

      I really do think it depends on the individual Justin…especially when they weigh all the options. I think college is still a great option for many, but must be done with an informed mindset.

  • Eric says:

    Kanye West said it best “the concept of school seems so secure”. I graduated high school in 2002 and tried the college route but like so many of my peers, I had no clue what to major in but unlike so many of my peers I dropped out of school the minute my financial aid was cut. I took the not so glamours route and pursued a career in the water treatment field ( liquid crack dealer, LOL, think about it) which only required a high school diploma, completion of a correspondence course, and passing the EPA’s state exam. It took me about a year but at 19, I was a state licensed Water treatment operator working for a local municipality making 40k a year (at 19), now at 28 I just hit the 60k mark and the future looks great, you can’t outsource water treatment and like crack people fiend for it, potable water is in high demand,(^‿◕) . There are other options, traditional schooling isn’t the end all be all, but society has brainwashed the us to believe that it is, because traditional schooling is big business, from tuition to books, it’s all big business.

  • College is expected, nowadays. But I don’t think it has to be a four year degree. For instance, many people are successful with trades programs.

  • Janice @ Whiz Silver says:

    It is definitely worth my time seeing a great jump in my paycheck after I’ve graduated from with a 3-year degree. You have to know what you like though. There’s no point spending 4 years taking a degree that u’ve no interest in. In the end, you will only be getting into debt for the wrong reasons.

  • Wow! Thanks for the shout out and kind words John! Our house has been hectic this week our daughter is under the weather. My wife and I often talk about her education and we’ve agreed that unless she wants to work in a specialized field (doctor/lawyer, etc) we’re not going to encourage her to go to college. There’s absolutely no need (in our opinion) to go to college in this day in age. We would rather she gain a sound fundamental base of business and apply her ambition to whatever it is she loves straight out of highschool.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Marvin! I think that’s a great angle to take and one that many are not doing. I think it also helps open up to the student of what they might be able to do and still make a very sustainable salary with.

  • Untemplater says:

    That dachshund in your pic is hilarious by the way. As far as college, it really depends on what you want to do in your career and if you can avoid paying private tuition fees. There really should be a tuition cap because it’s ridiculous how expensive it’s getting.

    • John says:

      I thought the same thing! I agree that it really does depend on what you’re looking to go into in regards to if it would be worth it. I think the tuition cap is a great idea, though I think higher education is too much of a big business to ever let that happen.

  • David says:

    Most likely not, unless you are planning on applying for a job for the first time that requires a diploma.

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