Earning a college degree is more expensive than ever: After factoring in room and board, the average total cost comes out to about $21,000 a year for in-state students and about $37,000 for out-of-state students. As a result, U.S. student debt levels are at an all-time high.
Still, in most cases, a college education is worth the price, says Peter Mallouk, a certified financial planner and president of wealth management firm Creative Planning.
"If anyone tells you, 'You don't need to get a college degree,' absolutely ignore that advice," says Mallouk. "The greatest separation between you and your wealth is having a college degree."
In terms of earning power, statistics show that "there's a very big discrepancy between people who have a high school degree and a college degree," he adds. "So unless you've invented the next great app or you're on your way to the NFL, you should be focused on going to college."
Studies show that those with a bachelor's degree are projected to make an average of $1 million more in their lifetimes than those without one. And college grads are half as likely to be unemployed as those with only a high school diploma.
Americans with a bachelor's degree have median weekly earnings of $1,198, compared to just $730 a week for those with a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ramit Sethi, author of "I Will Teach You to be Rich," is on the same page as Mallouk. Taking out student loans to get a college education can definitely be worth it in the long run, he tells CNBC Make It: "Don't buy the typical advice that everyone seems to be throwing around these days saying college loans are the worst thing on earth. They're not."
That doesn't mean you should borrow recklessly: "I'm not saying everyone should graduate with $150,000 in student loan debt," Sethi says. Be thoughtful: Run the numbers, and be deliberate about what you'll be able to repay.
Mallouk agrees: When picking a college that works for you and your budget, think about your career path, he says. "You really have to look at the degree that you're getting and how that translates into future income to determine what that degree is worth."
"If you are getting a medical degree, by all means spend hundreds of thousands of dollars," he adds: "I'd rather see you spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on something like a medical degree than even half of that on a degree that won't translate into future earnings."
To get an idea of what your degree may be worth, research the different careers that it may lead to and how much they pay. When choosing your major, think about the future job market, Mallouk says: "Make sure the degree you're getting is translatable. We know that a lot of degrees that are technology-focused are going to translate really well in the future."
Self-made billionaire Bill Gates has also offered advice on what skills will give you the most opportunity in the job markets of the future. People with backgrounds in science, engineering and economics will be "the agents of change for all institutions," he told LinkedIn Executive Editor Daniel Roth in 2016.
There are multiple paths to success, noted Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University to co-found Microsoft, but "if science grabs you … that is where a lot of the opportunity comes from. The more you can learn the science, the more you'll see where that next opportunity is."
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