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On the face of it, getting a college degree seems fairly simple. Go to college, do the work and get a degree. What more is there to it? Well, actually, as with so many seemingly simple things, quite a lot.
This is the most important question about getting a college degree. Why take anywhere from two to nine years out of your life? Why don't you simply go straight to work without one? The answer lies in the ways of the modern world. Jobs are simply getting more specialized as the economy develops. You can no longer expect to join a business or company and simply learn things as you go along - these days you need specialized training. There are, of course, jobs that don't require an education, but these entry-level positions pay significantly less. In fact, the Economist's Voice has published research which shows that those with a college degree earn, on average, 68% more than those who only graduate from high school.
The US Congress (in their Joint Economic Committee Study) has estimated that if you have a college degree you will, on average, earn $20,000 a year more than someone who only has a high school diploma or GED. This does of course depend upon what your degree is in and what sort of job you get afterwards. Now that sounds great but then you also have to figure in the costs. Not only will it cost you money to get a college degree, but you may have to cut back on your work hours to attend school. If we include these effects then the returns on investment (of your time and money) can be as high as 20% for each extra year of education. Fortunately more and more degree programs accommodate working adults, making it easier to keep earning while you pay for school.
As you prepare for postsecondary education, consider which program type suits you best. There are community and junior colleges, (usually two years to an Associates Degree), senior colleges (four years to a Bachelors) and postgraduate programs for Masters and further college degree such as PhD's. Once you've settled on a degree type, investigate your funding options. Most schools offer financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants. The federal government offers a number of subsidized and unsubsidized loans with relatively low interest rates. The most common loan program is the Stafford Loan, but you may also qualify for a Perkins Loan or Pell Grant. According to the Department of Education, these can range from a few hundred dollars to $4,050 for grants and $10,500 in loans. There are several types available.
You're likely to earn more money than you would without one, and you'll almost certainly be doing more interesting work as well. Perhaps the most important reason, though, is the personal and intellectual growth you'll experience in the process of learning. There are many who look back on the time spent earning their college degree as the happiest time of their lives.