While many of you think your college degree was a big waste of money, usually because you’re doing nothing related to your degree, I get to tell you how my degree more than paid for itself.
I started college as a declared Accounting major, but in my senior year, decided that Accounting wasn’t for me. Thanks goodness. So I switched to a new degree (that only lasted a few years at my college) called Operations and Information Systems Management. The degree mainly focused on project management, inventory management, logistics and some computer stuff like database design and unix system administration.
Since I went to a state school, and paid in-state tuition (and lived off-campus), I estimate my degree cost me about $24,000 in tuition, and probably another $15k-20k in housing, food, etc. While my parents took out loans for the housing, and helped me buy food until I got on my feet with my first college job (at a computer lab), I paid for my own tuition and most of my non-rent bills. I will admit my parents had to pay out of pocket for my final class since I didn’t meet requirements to get a loan.
I’ll also admit that I promised my mom that I would pay back as much of the loans they took out for me as I could, and I’ve knocked a small dent in that loan my parents are carrying for me, but I still have a ways to go.
How my degree paid itself back within 5 years
I honestly don’t know what the normal degree payoff period is, but here’s how I did my math. I started at salary “X” out of college. Granted, that salary was double (or more) what people who stayed in my home town got, and I got excellent benefits with it. I could say that my degree paid off in year one, but that’s too easy.
So I started with X. After four years at my job, I had earned enough raises to be at X+$10,000, which we’ll call “Y”. I was almost halfway to payback! (although the loan itself was definitely not getting paid off yet). But it was time for me to leave, and I found a new job about 90 miles away. Unfortunately, I had to commute to this new job, but it garnered a nice boost of Y+$14,000, which we’ll call “Z”. If you’re keeping track, that’s a gain of $24,000 over 4 years, which is what I paid in tuition. However, I only stayed at that job for 5 months, so I didn’t get the full $14k. Surprisingly, though, in my next job change, I got Z+$10,000.
So in about 5 full years, I had gotten enough pay increases to virtually pay back my degree and then some. And in the last 4 years, the job market has been kind to me and I’ve gotten more and more increases; each normally coming at a job change, but sometimes with a nice internal raise.
More proof that college degrees pay
I think I’ve mentioned this before on this site, but I’ll say the story again. I started my first job at just shy of 23 years old. A coworker, 9 years my senior (making him 32), quickly became a trusted friend and we openly shared salaries with each other. We found that he was making about 20% more than me, but he had almost a decade of experience in IT, while I had none. You would think the gap would be much larger.
The reason the gap was so tight: My friend and colleague had no college education.
Fast forward to today. I’m now coworkers again with this friend as he helped get me my latest job (and got me out of federal contracting!). We still share salaries, but times have changed. We’ve both jumped around jobs, but we stayed in the same field, working on the same software.
I now have a Masters Degree. He still has no college degree.
Our salaries are currently less than 3% apart. And the thing is, while I was doing nothing and learning little in federal contracting, he was busting his butt and gaining skills in the real world.
After almost 10 years of work for me, 20 for him, only 3% separates our salaries.
Call it luck? Good fortune? Hard work? Skill? Call it what you will, but I truly believe that my B.S. and M.S. have helped catapult me 10 years ahead so that I’m on par with (and I’ll say even advanced beyond) my peer. We both started on the same project on the same software at the same time, yet I have virtually caught up to his salary in less than 10 years (really, we’ve been pretty close for years, but this is the closest).
Why do I tell you this? Because there’s so much more to a college degree than what you learn in the classroom. I’ve been lucky that SOME of my classes can be used in my field of work, but really it was the “learning how to learn”, discipline and motivation that college gave me that helped propel me to where I am today.
I’ll end with this, though. I will definitely say I am not excited to be working in IT. It has its rewards (mostly money and a cushy office job) and some little wins, but in the end, I’m not directly impacting lives. Now that we’ve gotten comfortable on my salary, I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to find my true calling, but I do many extracurricular charitable activities to keep me connected and down to earth, and maybe I’ll just have to live with that type of lifestyle.
So don’t let the naysayers tell you that college isn’t worth it. It all depends on where you go, what you major in, how much you spend and then what you do with that momentum you’ve built through your college years.
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