How Much Your Time in College is Worth, Literally

It’s that time of the year in college where your commitments start to wind down - the impending doom of final exams is in the air and the warm weather now requires me to wear deodorant. Coincidentally, I bet you’re also planning next year’s commitments - registering for classes and maybe even running in some elections.

Personally, this will be my third time (year) experiencing this transitive phenomenon in college, where I am forced to guess what I will be interested in in the Fall semester. I do my best to find classes that will inspire me and join organizations which I think will grow me as a person. It’s a romantic approach, but it’s mainly attributed to the mentality in this quote:

“This is the only time in your lives when your only real responsibility is to learn. Try to remember how lucky you are every day.”

This quote was posted from the MIT Admissions Blog Post that discussed the 50 most important “things” in college and it really got me thinking - how much is our time worth here anyway? Some people consider college a transaction; you pay tuition to get a degree (which we hope will earn us money one day, right?). Not quite.

College is an investment. You are expected to learn, grow, and become skilled in some realm of academia. Each commitment of yours, whether it is a club or a course, is supposed to contribute to this notion of an investment and develop you as a person. I think we, as students, loose sight of this fact under pressure to earn high grades and a stacked resume. ##What Is 1 Hour Of College Worth?
To answer this question I looked at three things:

  1. The average career earnings of a college graduate in various majors
  2. The average career earnings of a high school graduate
  3. The average cost of 4 years at The University of Texas

Technically, the value of college should be all future earnings minus opportunity cost (starting work straight from high school) minus cost of college (tuition, etc). To calculate the value of a career, I looked at salary growth rates and discounted all earnings back to present value. Lastly, I divided this number by the number of hours we spend (awake) on campus over the course of four years.

According to this approach, each hour of college is worth $70. In other words, each hour we spend in college should add roughly $70 of value to our career.

So What’s The Point?

The point I’m trying to make is time in college is too precious to be wasting it doing things that only look good on paper. The hourly figure of $70 is only an attempt to quantify how important our time in college is. This number does not even hold a candle to the value of relationships and lessons we learn while in school.

Today, thousands of students graduate from for-profit institutions in serious debt and unable to get a job. Why? Because these for-profit colleges fail to provide value to their students ($70/hr) in the same way their non-profit counterparts do (More Info). In other words, you can’t buy a college education.

So go ahead, take that interesting class with 17% A’s. Join the university comedy club. Make the best of college while you’re still here, just don’t forget to wear deodorant.

Update: See here for a discussion of this article on Hacker News