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College Is A Scam: The Truth Behind The Tales

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: July 27, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: July 27, 2020


In many societies, the ultimate goal for children once they graduate from high school is to continue on to a college education. Many feel that with a degree, young adults will be much more prepared for their future, having the ability to lock down a secure and stable job that will allow them to live a comfortable life thereafter. But is college a reasonable investment in this day and age? Many people are wondering if college is a scam, based on the high cost of tuition. And, if it is a scam, what are your alternatives?

Is A College Education Worth It Or Is College A Scam?

As tuition costs (especially in the United States) have gone up exponentially, and as it’s getting harder and harder for young people to find a well-paying job even with their degree, many are starting to question whether or not college in the United States is worth it or not.

Is college one of the biggest financial scams in the world, or is it still a stepping stone on a journey towards a reliable and stable future? Or, can it be both? And are there any alternatives? Let’s dig in to find out all the facts.

How Many College Students Are Just Keeping Up With The Joneses?

One of the things that we have to look at when deciding whether or not to attend college is the reasons we are considering going down this path in the first place. According to a study mentioned, 44% of undergraduates are not able to identify the industry they want to work in once they graduate. Therefore, we can assume that most people choose to go to college simply because it’s what “everyone is doing” and what everyone in society has done before them.

So, when you go to a college campus, you have to wonder how many of the students are only there because they felt they had to appease their family, fulfil expectations, etc., versus how many are genuinely there because they want to be there and are certain that earning a degree will benefit their future. There’s no question that there’s somewhat of a stigma attached to those who choose a different path from college, so many will attend simply to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Empty lecture hall at a college
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

6 Reasons Why People Think College Is A Scam

While there may be several reasons that people are beginning to think that college is a scam, the main reason is due to the costs which run parallel to this idea that college is the only way.

For many of us, in our parents’ and our grandparents’ generation, tuition was affordable, and it was almost guaranteed that you’d find a (well-paying) job shortly after graduation. But, as tuition has gone up and many graduates are jobless with debt, we must dig a little deeper to understand whether college is worth it or not.

1. The Accessibility Of The Internet

The first reason that many people believe that college is a scam is due to the accessibility we have to the internet today. Way back when, people who wanted a different life had to go to college to learn, as there weren’t many other options. This is especially true for people who came from more rural areas.

However, today, we can essentially look up anything we want with a few strokes at the keyboard. People can access all kinds of information with the internet. Of course, you can’t possibly learn everything online — certain careers require actual applied skills that likely require a formal or hands-on classroom environment to learn. But the internet has definitely made all different types of paths and futures accessible to anyone who is willing to self-educate.

2. The Cost And Student Loans

The number one reason people think college is a scam is the sheer cost and the student loans that students need to take out in order to pay for their tuition.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the average price for in-state tuition for the 2019-2020 year was $10,116, with public out-of-state tuition costing $22,577 on average, and private colleges costing $36,801, with some costing as much as $50,000.

Remember, these prices are just for one year, and most students go for four. This means many students have to take out loans for school, with very high interest rates and the inability to declare bankruptcy on the loans themselves if they have a hard time in the future. Because of this, most students graduate college already tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and if they do land a job, a lot of their earnings will go towards paying off this debt.

3. Degrees Are Not Always Necessary

But, isn’t college necessary, no matter the cost? Many people support going to college despite the tuition amount, because they believe it’s the only path towards a stable and promising career that will set you up for life.

Well, today, some of the world’s biggest companies — like Google, Apple, and Netflix — no longer require their employees to have a college degree. This is mostly due to the fact that people are able to self-educate the necessary skills, while their employer can fill in any gaps with training and mentoring. In addition to this, many feel that attending a trade school or even opening a business is a much more viable (and less expensive) option.

4. College Is A (Big) Business

Surely the money a student is spending on their degree goes to a good cause, no? Not exactly.

While the faculty needs to be paid and students benefit from clubs, events, and activities on campus, most institutions of higher education are simply in it for the profit. More often than not, colleges are just big businesses. And, even with many offering scholarships and grants, it’s usually the students who end up being taken advantage of while the college continues to deepen its pockets.

5. The Cost Of Books

If you thought tuition wasn’t enough, there’s also the cost of books. CollegeBoard states that students pay nearly $1,300 a year on average for their books and other school supplies in any given year.

Although student loans may cover these costs, most students have to pay for these supplies out of pocket. Once a course is complete, it’s likely the book won’t be needed anymore. And, most won’t be able to re-sell the books for the same cost they bought them at.

6. The Cost Of Room And Board

In addition to books and supplies, the cost of room and board is another reason why many think college is a scam. One of the appeals of college in the United States is the experience of living on a college campus, which means that many students will choose to live in dorms. According to CollegeBoard, room and board for the 2019-2020 year was about $12,000 on average.

College library with staircase in the middle of the room.
Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

4 Actual College Scams

So, whether or not college is a scam is really up to you to decide. But, aside from this, there are also actual college scams that students and potential students need to look out for if and when they consider enrolling in school.

1. Financial Aid And Scholarship Scams

Because of the high costs of college, most students will need to seek out financial aid and/or scholarships to help cover these costs. Today, there are now many companies that will take advantage of students with these services, by promising something they won’t deliver on. They may have interest rates or hidden terms and conditions that require the student to pay back the money or they require students to pay in order to get these services in the first place.

2. Roommate And Rental Housing Scams

For students looking to save money on room and board by living off campus, there’s always the risk of falling victim to a roommate and/or rental housing scam. Because many students are coming from far away or out-of-state, they are often inexperienced with finding housing. People will take advantage of this with fake rental ads, encouraging these students to do something like sending over money to “hold their room.” Of course, there was no room to begin with, and now this scammer has the money you’ve set aside for living expenses.

3. Phone And Phishing Scams

Once the Internet knows you’re a college student or a prospective college student, there are scammers that will use this knowledge to call you or email you and pretend to be the university, a bank, or institution that provides grants/loans/scholarships, etc. They’ll sound legitimate, and ask you to confirm your information which the scammer did not have in the first place. Now they have your Social Security number, name, birthdate, address, etc. If someone calls you, never give this information without first doing your due diligence.

4. Online And Social Media Scams

The internet and social media has made life easier for many people, but it is also a way to easily get scammed. Social media sites can advertise fake universities, freebies and giveaways, as well as surveys to earn money or a gift card. Again, these can all be used to collect your sensitive information.

How To Avoid A College Scam (And Still Get Your Degree)

As you can see, it’s clear why many people today feel that college is a scam, or at the very least, how it can leave you vulnerable to other scams. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn your degree, because in many cases, a degree is not only valuable, but may also be necessary for whatever career you want to pursue.

If you can, therefore, eliminate some of the things that make people consider college a scam — such as the high costs — then it may actually be a very good deal.

The University of the People, for example, is the first accredited institution of higher education in the United States that’s tuition-free, so you don’t have to worry about spending thousands of dollars on a degree that may or may not help you out in the future.

What’s The Right Choice For You?

So, with all things considered, what is the right choice for you? Is college still worth it, or are you better off choosing a different path?

Ultimately, that decision is up to you, but there are a few things you can do to mitigate your concerns about whether or not college is a scam:

  • Choose a more affordable school.
  • Check out the job placement rates for programs you’re interested in.
  • Save money where you can by buying or borrowing used textbooks.
  • See if you can join a work study program to save money on tuition.
  • Try vocational school or learning a course online before deciding on a degree.

Finally, if you’re certain that a degree is for you, then consider getting your degree tuition-free at UoPeople!

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.