82% of college grads believe their bachelor’s degree was a good investment — but most would change one thing — their major

Over the past several decades, the cost of college has steadily climbed, causing a student debt crisis and creating a climate of skepticism about the true value of a college degree.

According to The College Board, the average student debt total among those who take out loans to pay for college is roughly $29,000. However:

  • Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million over a lifetime, on average.

  • A college degree can be a clear path to stronger job opportunities and higher earnings.

In 2018, college graduates earned weekly wages that were 80% higher than those of high school graduates, according to the Federal Reserve. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Americans with a bachelor’s degree have median weekly earnings of $1,173, compared to just $712 a week for those who have a high school diploma.

While hard skills can help college graduates reach these higher earnings, respondents said that learning soft skills was actually the most valuable part of their college experience. Over 40% of those polled felt that mastering soft skills like creativity, critical thinking and communication was the most beneficial.

Soft Skills

  • Interpersonal Skill
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Problem Solving
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Organization, Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Stress management
  • Persuasion
  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Public speaking
  • Social skills

“It isn’t about recognition. It isn’t prestige. It’s literally the skills and their experiences that are helping people every day in their jobs. People are going back and realizing that maybe the major that they studied is not actually aligning with the outcomes that they want in their life.” — Quinn Tomlin, public relations manager for BestColleges 

Around 26% of degree holders said they would change majors to pursue their passions, and 25% said they would change majors for better job opportunities

Hard Skills

  • Technical skills
  • Computer skills
  • Microsoft Office skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Marketing skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Management skills
  • Project management skills
  • Writing skills
  • Language skills
  • Design skills

Tomlin recommends that students who are unsure about what they are passionate about take a gap year to explore their options or to begin their college career at a community college so that they can try out different classes at a lower cost

Students should also consider their financial realities after college. There is a wide range in how much graduates earn based on what they study and what fields they pursue careers in.

“Choosing a major might seem like no big deal, but it’s one of the few choices you make as a 19- or 20-year-old that can have an outsized impact on your entire career — and possibly your whole life,” Chris Kolmar, co-founder of career planning site Zippia, previously told CNBC Make It. “When you’re selecting a college major, you should consider how that choice will set you up for your career. If you’re looking to snag a high-paying job out of college, you should ideally look for a subject you’re passionate about, but that there’s also a market for on the hiring front.”