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Is More Education Worth it? Do College Graduates Earn More?

Starting a career? You have an important decision to make: Should I get a college or university education? Or should I just get a job and see where it takes me? People achieve success in different ways. One consideration is whether or not higher education is worth the expense. In other words, do university and college graduates earn more?

What Employers Want

A college or university education makes it easier to get hired. In Canada, 70 percent of people with a college diploma had a job in 2019. Only 31.9 percent of those with no degree, certificate or diploma had a job.

Employers appreciate the knowledge and job skills you learned in college or university. Many employers are even more impressed with the soft skills you gained. Soft skills include effective communication and teamwork.

Still, every job is different. Some professions demand higher education. Others value results and work experience more.

Education Can Really Pay Off

In 2016, if you were between the ages of 15 and 64, here’s what you would have earned if you had:

No certificate, diploma or degree: $26,824
An apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma: $47,651
A college, CEGEP or other non-university certificate or diploma: $47,259
A university certificate or degree, bachelor level or higher: $69,418

Even if you spend a lot on tuition, your earnings potential can be huge after graduation. You gain knowledge and unforgettable experiences. You become an expert in your field. As for salary? Over a lifetime, there’s no doubt, that university and college graduates earn more than non-graduates.

Over a 20-year period…

A man with a bachelor’s degree will earn an average of $728,000 more than a man with only a high school diploma.
A woman with a bachelor’s degree will earn $442,000 more than a woman with just a high school diploma.
A man with a college certificate will earn $248,000 more than a man with just a high school diploma.
A woman with a college certificate will earn $180,000 more than a woman with just a high school diploma.

Many companies that ask for a degree or diploma have better pension plans and fewer layoffs. Also, the unemployment rate is much lower among university or college-educated people.

Think before you enroll

Education can be an excellent investment, but it is an investment. Consider the following:


A college certificate takes two years. A typical bachelor’s degree program in Canada takes four years. A master’s degree takes another year or two, and a Ph.D. takes another three to seven years.

Cost of Tuition

Attending college or university is expensive, especially if you study law or computer science. Federal and provincial governments offer scholarships, bursaries, and loans to help with tuition.

Find Out What It Costs to Study in Canada

Cost depends on which field of study and which educational institution you choose. To complete a multi-year program in Canada, college tuition can cost between $12,000 and $25,000. University tuition costs $25,000-$40,000 and $25,000-$75,000 for a Masters program.

Student Debt

If you borrow money from the government for your education, you might be in debt for a while. The average time to pay off student loans in Canada is between 9 and 15 years. On the plus side, by then you could be earning a good wage in your chosen career.

The Admission Process

You need good high school grades to get into a college or university. Some institutions have long application forms and ask for a resumé, a letter of intent, or even an essay. Trade schools have a simpler process. You can enroll in trade school as long as you have a high school diploma.

Alternatives to Higher Education

Post-secondary education isn’t for everyone. Depending on your situation, there might be other ways to succeed:

Learn on the Job

You can learn some skills at work. For example, your boss or co-worker can show you how to use equipment or machinery, or how to be a great salesperson.

Start Your Own Business

In Canada, 20% of businesses fail in their first year. But if you have a knack for business, you can earn a good living. Most small-business owners don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

Teach Yourself

It would be very difficult to teach yourself how to perform a root canal or design a building. Other skills can be self-taught through research, books, networking and practice.

Study Online

Online courses can teach you how to use various computer software programs. Or you can learn to podcast, invest, or even improve your writing and math. Learning online can be inexpensive or free. Many employers will hire someone who gained skills online from a reputable school.

College, University, or Trade School?

There are different types of post-secondary education. One isn’t better than the other. Decide what works for you and your goals.

In Canada, a college education focuses on the skills you will need for a particular job. Colleges offer real-world training like apprenticeships and pre-trades. Do you want to become a dental assistant? A photographer? A horticulturist? Colleges offer a huge variety of certificates, diplomas, apprenticeships and degrees.

Universities in Canada offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. College programs often include hands-on learning. University programs are more professional and academic. You will learn to understand, analyze and apply information in a specialized area. Some jobs, due to their nature, require a university degree. These include jobs in research, education, or medicine.

Trade schools (also called vocational schools) offer both classroom learning and hands-on training. Courses focus on specific jobs. This type of education can lead to a career in skilled trades. Health care, manufacturing, technology, and construction are great options.

Some people choose more than one type of education. You can learn specific skills in a college or trade school. After that, take some university courses, or finish a degree to move further ahead in your career.

After Graduation: Make it Count

So you’re a university or college graduate. You’ve found a great job, and you’ve even paid off your student loan. Your career is off to a great start!

Remember that wealth isn’t a guarantee. While it’s true that university and college graduates earn more, to achieve financial success, you need to handle your hard-earned money wisely.

Beware of Lifestyle Inflation

Lifestyle inflation is what happens when you get a big raise or a job that pays well, but you’re still broke. If you upgrade your car or max out your credit card whenever you get a raise, you might end up with less – not more. Treat yourself a little, but give yourself a lasting reward. Save or invest more as you earn more.

Often, those who have gotten trapped in a cycle of lifestyle inflation end up seeking help from a Credit Counsellor. If that’s you, don’t wait to get help. Contact us today so we can get you back on track to financial health.

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