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82% of college grads believe their bachelor's degree was a good investment—but most would make this one change

San Jose State University graduates are photographed during fall commencement at the Event Center in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018.
Randy Vazquez/Bay Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Over the past several decades, the cost of college has steadily climbed, causing a student debt crisis and creating a climate of skepticism about the true value of a college degree.

A recent Gallup poll of more than 2,000 American adults reveals that roughly half of Americans don't see college as a necessity.

But according to a new survey from college planning website BestColleges of 817 American adults who have actually earned a bachelor's degree, 82% say their degree was a "good financial investment."

Still, 61% of those surveyed said they would change one thing — their major.

The value of a college degree

Those who said their degree was worth the investment are likely correct.

According to The College Board, the average student debt total among those who take out loans to pay for college is roughly $29,000.

However, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that a bachelor's degree is worth $2.8 million over a lifetime, on average

Indeed, there is still reason to believe in the conventional wisdom that a college degree can be a clear path to stronger job opportunities and higher earnings.

In 2018, college graduates earned weekly wages that were 80% higher than those of high school graduates, according to the Federal Reserve. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Americans with a bachelor's degree have median weekly earnings of $1,173, compared to just $712 a week for those who have a high school diploma.

What matters most when completing an undergraduate degree?

While hard skills can help college graduates reach these higher earnings, respondents said that learning soft skills was actually the most valuable part of their college experience. Over 40% of those polled felt that mastering soft skills like creativity, critical thinking and communication was the most beneficial.

Less than 6% of graduates said that their alma mater's reputation was the most valuable part of college.

"It isn't about name recognition. It isn't prestige. It's literally the skills and their experiences that are helping people every day in their jobs," Quinn Tomlin, public relations manager for BestColleges tells CNBC Make It.

In fact, when LinkedIn analyzed hundreds of thousands of job postings, they found that the most in-demand skill that employers were looking for was creativity.

Regrets about college majors

Around 61% of those polled by BestColleges said they would go back and change their major if they could.

"People are going back and realizing that maybe the major that they studied is not actually aligning with the outcomes that they want in their life," explains Tomlin.

Around 26% of degree holders said they would change majors to pursue their passions, and 25% said they would change majors for better job opportunities.

Tomlin recommends that students who are unsure about what they are passionate about take a gap year to explore their options or to begin their college career at a community college so that they can try out different classes at a lower cost.

"Take the time to really get your foundation down and explore what you're interested in at a fraction of the cost," she says. "Then transfer to a university when you're really ready."

Students should also consider their financial realities after college. There is a wide range in how much graduates earn based on what they study and what fields they pursue careers in.

"Choosing a major might seem like no big deal, but it's one of the few choices you make as a 19- or 20-year-old that can have an outsized impact on your entire career — and possibly your whole life," Chris Kolmar, co-founder of career planning site Zippia, previously told CNBC Make It. "When you're selecting a college major, you should consider how that choice will set you up for your career. If you're looking to snag a high-paying job out of college, you should ideally look for a subject you're passionate about, but that there's also a market for on the hiring front."

One tool at students' disposal is the College Scorecard, which allows them to see the median earnings and median debt of a school's graduates, based on their chosen field of study.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields typically dominate lists of the highest-earning college majors and most in-demand jobs.

Check out: The best credit cards of 2020 could earn you over $1,000 in 5 years

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