Q: One of our sons graduated college with an architecture degree in 2013 and can't find a job. It's also true for some of his friends. My younger son, a high school junior, says this is proof that he should not waste money on college. His counselor thinks he should apply, and he's considering the military. We don't want him to rack up college debt, but don't want him to be a live-at-home barista, either. Is college worth it?
A: With daily headlines about the college loan crisis and a lack of jobs that lead to careers for graduates, this is a conversation many families are having.
"You're not alone in your concerns. College is expensive and a rising number of grads aren't able to find jobs. Some have moved back home while they hunt for work," says Rob Franek, senior vice president of The Princeton Review and author of "The Best 379 Colleges, 2015 Edition" (Princeton Review, 2014).
Keep in mind, though, that statistically speaking, the time and money one spends to get a college diploma is well worth it, says Franek: "Studies show that college grads have a richer life, both literally and culturally."
Consider these facts:
-- Lifetime earnings of a person with a college degree are much higher than those of a person with only a high school diploma. Some estimates show the earnings difference can be up to $1 million more.
-- Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the unemployment rate is far lower among college grads (currently 2.9 percent) than among job seekers with only high school diplomas (currently 5.3 percent).
-- One Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that college grads have longer lives by an average of nine years.
"The good news is that the majority of college grads are finding jobs," notes Franek, "but the employment rate varies based on one's major. Grads in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are highly employable and earn the highest starting salaries. But grads in non-technical fields, such as arts and sociology, face a tougher job market with considerably lower starting salaries."
Unfortunately for your older son, the unemployment rate for architecture majors was 12.8 percent in 2013 -- a result of the recession's construction downturn.
"But encourage him to keep searching," says Franek. "The flip side is that 87 percent of grads with architecture majors have found jobs."
Entering military service in lieu of attending college is a noble decision, says Franek, "and we heartily salute all of our military personal for their service to our country. The training one gets in various branches of the service can position one very well to find employment in some occupations upon discharge. Students who attend college via ROTC programs can get the degree and the experience in exchange for years of service after they graduate.
"But, sadly, the 2013 unemployment rate for veterans in general is high (9 percent overall) and, among the youngest veterans (18-24), it was higher still (21.4 percent)."
Bottom line: A college degree, generally speaking, is more than well worth it. But choose your major -- and borrow money -- wisely.
"If you take out loans to foot the bills, don't borrow more in total over the years it takes to earn the diploma than you can expect to earn as a beginning salary when you graduate," Franek advises.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)