Does College Still Feel Worth It to Gen Z? 

They say Yes — But are Stressed About Affording It

School’s not the only thing back in session — student loan payments will start back up in October, and a study by Bankrate found that 24% of Americans with student loan debt say it’s their biggest financial regret (Source).

Waves of mass layoffs have Gen Zers anxious about their futures and puts the value of a college degree in flux. That’s not even including the typical stresses of school, the rising cost of housing, and the general inflation of products that can especially impact students strapped for cash. 

With all the growing expenses of growing up, we asked The Receipt, our Gen Z community of 9k+, whether college feels worth it anymore. Not only were tuition costs and financial aid one of the top two factors influencing their decisions around pursuing higher education (28%), but it was also the #1 potential barrier to pursuing higher education – making 46% of respondents hesitant to get a college degree (Source: The Receipt Network).

While money may be a concern, the majority of Receipt members are still pursuing higher ed, specifically college, with 77%  either in college or planning to attend.  So, what’s drawing them in? 

When deciding on which school to attend, courses or reputation are drivers but not deal breakers: while courses and programs offered (29%) and reputation and ranking (25%) are among the top three most influential factors when deciding on a University or trade school, very few Receipt members viewed them as deterring (8%). 

The real draw for respondents is career development and networking opportunities. Respondents find that college is a career launchpad, given the professional development and networking opportunities offered by their schools. As one respondent put it, “I think college is valuable if you take advantage of the services offered. For example, using the school for resume help or for getting internships.”

College is also where they are able to meet like-minded peers and make new friends. Another respondent explained that the “friendships [made], alongside the amazing journey of discovering your career path with extra resources [and] support, it’s what makes the college experience so worth it.”

Lastly, respondents associate college with being a pivotal moment in their lives; it is the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood. At college, they learn about themselves, their interests, and passions but also skills — either for their chosen career path or soft skills like time management.

So, while Gen Zers are feeling the stress of college, they’re still hopeful about the opportunities that higher education can unlock — as long as they can afford it.  

The data collected from the Receipt Network featured 87 respondents. These results are not generalizable to all of Gen Z, but help contextualize findings from other studies. Data collection was open from 9/15-9/18/2023 as part of JUV’s Weekly Ztat, where we gather quick-pulse data from our Receipt Network of over 5,000+ global Gen Z’ers. 

Gretta Kissell
Gretta is an Associate Director of Research at JUV. When not writing or conducting research, they spend time supporting queer youth as a board member of OkaySo. Like many Gen Zers, Gretta is shameless about plugging social media, so go follow their account @gwillyk on Instagram.