Thinking about going to college? Attending college can have significant ramifications for your wallet, as there are substantial short-term costs, but there are also substantial long-term financial benefits. College attendance is also correlated with some non-financial life outcomes. Here are some of the biggest pros and cons to college attendance.

Pro: future earnings potential

Businessman at desk
Businessman at desk

Perhaps the biggest advantage to going to college is the opportunity to earn more money in your future career. According to 2000 Census figures, people with a high school diploma typically earn $1.2 million over their careers, compared to $1.6 million for people with a two-year Associate's degree and $2.1 million for people with a four-year Bachelor's degree. Graduate degrees are associated with further increases in lifetime income, ranging from $2.5 million for a Master's degree, $3.4 million for a Doctoral degree, and $4.4 million for a professional degree.

Con: immediate financial burden

Woman on laptop
Woman on laptop

One of the biggest "cons" to going to college is the immediate financial burden. In the 2009 to 2010 school year, private four-year colleges cost an average of $26,273 for tuition and fees, while public four-year colleges cost an average of $7,020. Public two-year colleges are substantially cheaper, with an average cost of $2,544.

The above figures don't include the additional costs of living and purchase of books and other educational equipment.

Con: opportunity cost

Woman working at hotel front desk
Woman working at hotel front desk

Another "con" to attending college is the opportunity cost of attending school. Essentially, if you attend college you lose the opportunity to use your time in other productive ways that can earn you money. The average high school graduate earns $30,400 per year; so the yearly opportunity cost of attending college full-time is that $30,400 that you won't be earning.

Pro: easier to get a job

Woman in interview
Woman in interview

A significant advantage of going to college is that college graduates show higher rates of employment. In 2009, 9.7% of high school graduates were unemployed, compared to 6.8% of people with an Associate's degree and 5.2% of people with a Bachelor's degree.

People with a college degree also find it easier to move between jobs.

Pro: non-monetary benefits of college education

College graduate smiling in cap and gown
College graduate smiling in cap and gown

Earning a college degree is correlated with several positive non-monetary outcomes. These associations include better health, decreased mortality rates, enhanced social status, and enhanced open-mindedness and capability for rational thought.