Almost Half Of The Respondents In Our 'Best Colleges' Survey Don't Think College Is Always Worth It

It’s a simple question — Is college worth it?

We posed this to the 1,000+ people who answered our “Best Colleges” survey. While over 90% of our respondents indicated that they have a bachelor’s degree or higher, just over half of them said that it’s always worth it to go to college.

Specifically, we asked “Given the large debt college students can incur, is college worth attending if you don’t get into a top-tier school?” 51.6% of respondents gave an unequivocal “yes,” 31.4% responded that “it depends,” and 17% said “no.” Check out the chart below:

The numbers make the debate even more real. At least six four-year private colleges now charge students more than $US60,000 a year, and the average student debt for graduating seniors last year was $US26,500.

One person who has made his beliefs about the potential benefits of college very clear is PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who runs a fellowship program aimed at enticing bright students to drop out of college and focus on innovative projects. Those accepted to the program get $US100,000 to skip college and focus on their own research and work.

“Rather than just studying, you’re doing,” the fellowship’s website states.

One of the most influential voices on the other side of this debate is Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University.

In a recent appearance at the Nantucket Project conference, Summers railed against Thiel’s program, TechCrunch reports, calling successful dropouts like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg “extraordinary exceptions.” He went on to say, “if any significant number of intellectually able people, of the kind that would have the opportunity to attend top schools are dropping out, I think it’s tragic.”

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa takes this further, writing after the Thiel Fellowship was announced in 2011, “what matters is gaining a basic education and completing what you started — not the ranking of the school you graduate from.”

Respondents to our survey seemed split when answering whether college was always worth it. Here are some of the highlights from people who argue that its always good to get a degree (with light edits for clarity):

  • “If you don’t get into a top-tier school, it’s still worth attending college in general, but it’s not worth spending a lot of money. Going to a state school is your best bet!”

  • “As long as the student is not acquiring massive amounts of debt, any institution is better than just a High School diploma.”

Others said that what matters more than a school’s name is the graduate’s chosen field of study:

  • “It depends on your field of study. Engineering and computer science are good, philosophy and sociology less valuable.”

  • “What majors you pursue. A vague, liberal arts degree from a low ranked school may not be the best investment; however, a STEM degree teaches tangible and desirable skills, even if received at a lower ranked school.”

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