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Time It Takes for a College Degree To Pay Off: 11 Years

How long does it take before earning a college degree pays off?College grads throwing their mortar boards in air.
Having a bachelor's degree should pay off financially by the time you've been working for 11 years. If you attended a private college, it might take 12 or 13 years to surpass the financial break-even point.

When you take into consideration the price of a college degree and the four-year delay in entering the workforce, many college grads will be 33-years-old when their cumulative earnings will outpace the earnings of their former classmates who never went to college.

This magic number comes from a report released this week by the College Board entitled, Education Pays 2010, which contains statistics on the value of obtaining a bachelor's degree.

11-Year Milestone

The College Board produced the 11-year figure by first comparing what the typical high school graduate has earned cumulatively since graduation and what the average college graduate has earned cumulatively since leaving college.

In determining how long it takes before a bachelor's degree pays off, the researchers also took into account student loans and the fact that college grads start working four years later than high school graduates.

I'd argue that the report would have been more accurate if the researchers had used a five-year graduation rate since sadly most students don't graduate in four years.

The study also assumed that college grads borrowed the entire amount needed to cover the tuition at a state university. So what about grads who attended expensive private schools? When a reporter asked Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst for the College Board and one of the study's co-authors, this question, she suggested that these grads would have to wait one or two additional years before they surpass the break-even point.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
College degree image by nsaplayer. CC 2.0.