Do degrees stand up as investments?

You’ve worked hard and succeeded in your A Levels. You’ve got a place at a good university. You’ve accepted that you will probably end up with a student debt in the region of £40,000, a level that might hold back your ability to get a mortgage or to save into a pension from an early age.

Now, as you start to pack your bags to move into your overpriced student digs, you might be beginning to wonder if it will actually be worth it.

Good news. It probably still is. Students and parents in the US suffer the same angst about their choices as those here, so the Federal Reserve has marked the return to university with a study comparing the returns from the money spent on a degree with those from investing in stocks and bonds.

The results are encouraging for the worriers: the return on investment for the average college student is 15% a year, says Stephen Foley in the FT. By contrast, investing in stocks has returned 7% a year since 1950 and bonds have given a mere 3%. The trade looks even better if you do engineering: the return then rises to 21%.

The calculations haven’t been done in quite the same way in the UK, but nonetheless the Department for Business Innovation and Skills suggests that the average graduate will earn around £200,000 more than a non-graduate over their working life.

Clearly, this isn’t as straightforward a calculation as it looks: not all graduates will perform well (college could be a ‘negative investment’ for those who never find a job) and there are non-financial gains to be had from university too (socialising, perhaps).

Still, given that you can’t be certain what your personal returns from an investment in education will be, it makes sense to keep your costs as low as possible – just as is the case when you are buying an investment fund. How? There are a few key steps to take, says the Daily Mail.

First get the right bank account. Most provide an interest-free overdraft for the duration of your degree, although the amounts vary enormously. One option to look at might be the Santander 123 Student Current Account – it gives you a free four-year railcard as a teaser and also comes with up to £1,500 in overdraft.

Next, make sure you have at least some possessions insurance: this could come as an extra on your parents’ home contents insurance, but if not Cover4Students provides basic policies.

Get a National Union of Students Extra card, as this will give you discounts on pretty much everything from books to technology.

Finally, keep tabs on your spending. It might seem to take some of the joy out of student life, but budgeting and sticking to that budget will make things much easier once your university years are over.

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