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Review: Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David Wilezol

So even if you’re not sure what your academic goals are or what your next steps might be, I encourage you to fill out an application, find out how much financial aid you qualify for, and talk with an Admissions Advisor about your concerns, fears, and dreams. (from an advertisement sent out by a non-traditional ‘affordable’ college, bold-face added by me).

Colleges are encouraging students to get into debt for their education, and this has serious consequences.

In the United States, most students have significant debts upon graduation.  Many cannot afford to get married, have children, have a stay-at-home parent, or buy a house, for years and years.  Some young people’s situations are even worse, because some degrees lead to such poor jobs that repaying the loans is almost hopeless.

Is a college degree worth all this?  Former US Secretary of Education William Bennett and David Wilezol address this question, and after reading pages of discussion of student loans, tuition hikes, cost effective majors, the purpose of education, and more, I ended up with conclusions like these:

  • Only those who can get into the top institutions on scholarships should go to the expensive colleges, unless they are wealthy enough to do so with little debt.
  • Everyone else should question whether the education they plan to pay for will provide a good return on the investment.  They should choose their college and major thoughtfully, studying resources like PayScale.com for information about return on investment for various colleges and majors.  Is College Worth It?  has tables, questions to ask, and points to ponder as you decide whether or not it will be a good idea to spend over $100,000 for the education you desire.
  • And if you don’t desire the education, why spend that kind of money?  Don’t just go because you ‘should,’ risking life-sapping debt for no reason.
  • In fact, if you don’t really want to study at a college but love other kinds of work, you’d be miles ahead, financially, pursuing your interests in trades, apprenticeships, or working with mentors.  This applies both to those who find studying difficult, and to those who think and learn so quickly that university would not offer them much, like the winners of the Thiel don’t-go-to-college fellowships.
  • Certain majors are much more likely to lead to poorly-paying jobs than others.  Low cost, non-credentialed ways of getting top-notch learning in these poorly paying fields include options such as online courses or the amazing deals offered by The Great Courses.  Why go into debt for what a lot of colleges don’t even teach well if you face a future without a high-paying job?
  • If you’re planning to study beyond your bachelor’s degree, it does not matter much where you go for your BA, as long as you learn a lot, get good marks, and do well on standardized tests.

In conclusion the authors present a series of 12 typical student scenarios and give their advice to each of the students. This short chapter could be worth many thousands of dollars in debt avoidance or increased salary; it’s a must-read.

Any student or parent thinking about college in the US should read this book.  It could have a huge impact on your future, your happiness, and your bank account.

You may also want to consider the thoughts and resources I discussed earlier.

Please note:  Canadian students are in a somewhat different situation than US students.  I wrote “Is Post-Secondary Education Worth It in Canada?” to address that issue.

This is yet another book in the in the 2013 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, and is also linked to Saturday Reviews and Trivium Tuesdays as well as Encourage One Another Wednesday, Works For Me Wednesday , Raising Homemakers, Growing Home, Above Rubies, Wisdom Wednesday, and Frugal Friday.

Disclosure I received a free review copy of this book from Booksneeze in order to share my honest opinions.


  1. This looks really interesting, thank you for the review! I have a middle schooler now, and I know that college will creep up on me sooner than I know! This book looks like something we could really use to help us make some big decisions in the near future.

  2. Robyn says:

    I wish I would have had this book 15 years ago! I will be purchasing this book for my son. Another book that he will be taking off to college with him is the book, “Practical Steps to Financial Freedom and Independence: Your road map to exiting the rat race and living your dreams” by author Usiere Uko. It is an amazing book that is based on personal experience. The narrative is spiced with humor. http://www.financialfreedominspiration.com/

  3. Carol says:

    I love this!

    There was a Newsweek article on this very subject last year, and I saved it. I am a former Financial Aid Advisor, and it was hard to advise when I saw many of them sinking in a sea of debt that I knew they would not get out of with their choice of major.

    I know there are many parents who legitimately cannot afford to pay for their kids’ college education, but I also know there are many who were not willing to make sacrifices in the “here and now” in order to save for education in the future (trips to exotic locations, expensive cars, etc). They say, “Paying for college is their responsibility,” but college can no longer be paid for by a summer job! The Newsweek article addressed the issue of parents not saving for college either.

    There are many options that some people just do NOT take advantage of. For example, my kids both got free two year degrees from a local community college with a program in a neighboring school district where they earned a high school degree and a two year degree at the same time. My school district did not opt for this program (and district in the country can) so I transferred them.

    I recommended this to one family that was sending their son to community college because he did not have enough credits to graduate from high school with his peers (had homeschooled the first two year of high school), and she didn’t want to hurt his ego by having him in a “high school” program even though he would be doing EXACTLY the same thing as what they were planning on doing for him, only the school district would pay for it AND give them a $400 a term book allowance. Ego? Really? (This is the same family who doesn’t think they should have to pay for things at conferences because they are in “full-time Christian work” yet “ego” trumps good financial stewardship.)

    I will have to check this book out of my library. If they do not own it, I will recommend they buy it!

  4. Amy says:

    I agree completely! I really wonder what things will look like when my kids are finishing up high school (10-15 years). I tend to think that it would be smarter for them to choose trade type careers or be entrepreneurs of some type. Thanks for sharing this book recommendation!

  5. Annie Kate says:

    You’re welcome, Christie! I’m sure you will find it a worthwhile read. You’ll also probably like Debt-Free U mentioned in the thoughts and resources post I mentioned above.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Robin. It sounds intriguing.

    Carol, the idea of parents saving for their kids’ education is also discussed in Debt-Free U. It is a complex topic, seeing that many young adults refuse to grow up. I am fascinated by the US idea of 2 years of college equalling the last two years of high school. That doesn’t work in Canada, because college comes after high school here, although there are remedial classes for those who need them.

    You’re welcome, Amy. Who knows, your kids may be so entrepreneurial they will be able to get one of the enormouse dont-go-to-college scholarships!

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