As winter begins to turn into spring, many Joshua families are making a decision. They are considering whether college is really worth it for their graduating senior.
The price tag can be steep, something President Barack Obama noted Tuesday in his State of the Union address to the nation. Gov. Rick Perry has also challenged Texas colleges and universities to bring down costs for students.
Still, parents can expect to spend around $20,000 per year to provide higher education to their child. In most cases, a bachelor's degree is a five-year commitment.
The value, and whether it is worth it, depends, according to a Joshua High School counselor and students.
"I think what parents and students need to understand is that college really isn't for everybody," said Dale Sturgeon, a counselor at Joshua High School. "It really depends on what a student wants to do when he or she gets out of high school."
For example, Sturgeon said, if a student wants to study cosmetology, a degree from a four-year college won't be that beneficial. But, if a student wants to study chemical engineering and become a chemical engineer, then he needs a four-year degree.
"There are just so many variables for students now," he said. "I talk to a lot of students about college and college choices every day and, in many cases, they don't think the whole thing through. Does it really make sense to spend $20,000-25,000 per semester at a private school like Baylor or TCU or SMU for an education degree that is going to pay you $40,000 per year? No, it's not. But, on the other hand, it might be worth it if you can get a degree that is going to pay you between $80,000-100,000 per year."
No matter what students want to do after high school, it's important to try to decide post high school plans early, Sturgeon said.
"It's always been tough for kids to know what they want to do after high school," he said. "They have some tough decisions to make."
But, Sturgeon added, just because students may not know exactly what they want to do after high school, they shouldn't feel too much pressure.
"It's not that uncommon for students not to know exactly what they want to do after high school," he said. "But, if that's the case, they don't need to be at an expensive college trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. It would be much better for them to go to a small junior college, take all their basic courses and then transfer to their dream school."
Sturgeon added that, just because a student may have dreamed of going to a school his or her whole life doesn't necessarily mean that they should start there.
"What I've seen over the years with students is that, in many cases, they go off to that dream school like Texas A&M or UT-Austin only to find that it's totally overwhelming," he said. "After a semester or two there, they find themselves going back home or taking some classes at a junior college to 'recalibrate.' I like that term because it's a good term for what students have to do sometimes. They go off to a big school, find the atmosphere large and impersonal and don't have a lot of success academically. But then, they go to a smaller college, find some success academically, and then wind up going back to their dream school and getting their diploma and doing very well.
"I think what you are finding now is that students are finding some very creative ways to pay for college and get their degrees. Between scholarships and AP classes, students are finding a lot of ways to reduce the cost of college tuition."
"I definitely think college is worth it, especially with what I want to do," said Lauren Geis, 18, a senior at Joshua High School. "I'm planning to go to Trinity Valley College in Athens on a cheerleading scholarship. I want to major in Forensic Psychology and, with the money I make from that, I could definitely make enough money to pay off any loans I might have to take out to pay for college."
For Karen Pelton, 17, also a senior at Joshua High School, college is worth the cost.
"I just think it matters that you go to college," she said. "When you look at the people who go to college versus the people who decide not to go or don't get the opportunity to go, you see a lot of difference in their earning potential, especially in today's economy."
Alejandro Rueda, 17, also a senior, agreed.
"To me, a college education today is more important than ever," Rueda said. "It's hard to get anywhere without a college degree now. It's not like when our parents were young. My dad never went to college, but has worked his way up at his company over the years and makes about $90,000 as a job site superintendent for a construction company. How many people can make that kind of money without a college degree today? So that's why I am going to UT-Arlington to major in aerospace engineering."
And sometimes, students say, it's worth paying a little bit more to go to a school where you feel more comfortable and where the academic program is more suited for you.
"I'm majoring in math and plan to go to Baylor," said Sarah White, 17. "I had always thought that I would go to Texas A&M. That was my dream school. But, after visiting the A&M campus, I decided that was not where I really wanted to go. For me, Baylor was just a more natural fit. I just felt more at home when I went to visit there. Also, Baylor has a very good math department. So, for me, it's worth the extra money."
Remington Reimer, 18, among this year's top graduates at Joshua High School, said he plans to go to the U.S. Naval Academy.
"Thankfully, I've been accepted to the Naval Academy so I don't have to worry too much about tuition costs," Reimer said. "But, even if I wasn't, college is definitely worth it. I'm planning on majoring in physics and then joining the Navy as a nuclear engineer. You're definitely going to need to go to college for that."
And his college will entirely be paid by the Navy, in exchange for a military commitment after graduation from the academy.
Mason Perry, 17, said he hopes to go to UT-Austin when he graduates from high school this year.
"I'm planning on majoring in chemical engineering," he said. "Chemical engineers make $75,000-80,000 right out of college so it's definitely worth it, whether I go to UT or a more expensive school."