It’s that time of year, when high schoolers across the USA start thinking long and hard about whether and where they might want to go to college. There are dozens of considerations which go into such a decision, of course, but one is a constant: Finances.
Enter Fusion’s Lifetime Earnings Calculator, an invaluable tool for anyone trying to get a grip on the costs and benefits of different kinds of college and different kinds of degree.
If you play around with this interactive charting tool a little, you’ll see that the amount you earn if you graduate from a public or private four-year college is likely to be significantly higher than if you go to a community college or a for-profit college. At age 25, for instance, a high-school graduate will be earning about $36,000 per year, on average, while a graduate from a community college will typically be earning $41,000; a graduate from a for-profit college will be on $43,000; and the average graduate of a public or private four-year university will be earning about $48,000.
But that’s not the only consideration. You also have to look at the number of years you have to stay in college earning little or nothing; and, of course, the cost of going to college in the first place. (You can edit that number in the box on the right-hand side.) If you spend $100,000 or more going to a four-year college while earning nothing, then it could take 15 years or more to reach the same level of total earnings that you would get by going to a community college for just a few years. (The chart says nothing about the relative merits of specific universities, however: For that you'll need to turn elsewhere.)
What lessons can be drawn from this chart? Well, a lot depends on things like how much you will end up spending on the different options, and what kind of degree you’re planning to get. In general, it's still a really good idea to go to college, just so long as you graduate. But keep an eye on those costs, because they can make a substantial difference.