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Is university worth it? Yes. No. Well, it’s complicated

May 2023
People with university degrees earn way more than those without. That’s true on average but different factors can make getting a degree a losing proposition.

For example, university graduates in the US earn 66% more than those lacking a degree. Still, research that goes beyond the so-called average student shows a more complex picture.

In England about 25% of male graduates earn less money than those without university degrees.

so what?
A wide variety of factors can affect a person’s financial returns on their university degree.

Your choice of degree matters more than choice of school. Degrees in engineering, business and IT tend to give better returns than studies in visual arts, music or agriculture.

Still, some research suggests that you should follow your interests and not blindly follow the money when choosing which degree to pursue. The Economist explains:

Norwegian research finds that students whose true desire is to study humanities, but who end up studying science, earn less after ten years than they probably otherwise would have.

In addition, price matters. High tuition can make it hard to get positive returns on a degree even if it’s from a top-ranked university.

Another factor that ads to the cost side, and hurts returns, is taking longer than usual to complete studies.

Reference shelf:
Useless studies - Was your degree really worth it? (The Economist)

Australian university reforms to incentivise Stem degrees over arts have ‘dismally failed’, peak bodies say (The Guardian)

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