17 Things You Could Buy For The Cost Of A College Education

It hits everyone eventually. For me, it was the day I woke up in my parents’ spare bedroom, with a bachelor’s degree in English and thousands in student loans. Was it all worth it? Just what could I have bought instead of a college education?

I set out to answer this question to the dollar. This isn’t a list of general estimates, like “a couple of cars, a summer beach house timeshare, and a dozen cruises,” but rather, which car, which house, and which cruises?  I want to know exactly what I gave up by choosing four years in a classroom instead of four years practicing my golf swing or riding the lifts at Telluride. For each subject, I consulted the corresponding topic on FindTheBest.

My first task was to establish the overall cost of a college education. I looked at figures from the US Department of Education and limited the analysis to 4-year, public colleges. I calculated average in-state tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and personal expenses. In the end, I arrived at $104,880—the total cost for all four years.

Note that this calculation does not factor in financial aid, which would make the final tally lower. However, many students will attend out-of-state schools or pricey private schools, and can expect their costs to be far higher, regardless of how generous their financial aid packages were.

So with those caveats in mind, here are 17 things I could have bought instead of that college education:

1. A Tesla Model S and 66 years worth of charge power (based on the EPA’s MPGe figure, which equates standard MPG to electric power.)

2. Three bottles of every single award-winning whiskey at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits competition. That’s 383 separate whiskies and 1,149 bottles total.

3. Exactly three months in the Bellagio’s Penthouse Suite. Or with any luck, I could put it all on black and make that six months.

4. 161 unlocked iPhones or 527 carrier-subsidized iPhones (although I’d be liable for all 527 two-year contracts).


5. Six trips around the world on an all-expenses-paid cruise. That’s 618 days of non-stop sailing. (I selected the 103-night Southampton Roundtrip…a long cruise at a reasonable price.)

6. A 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house in Iowa or Alabama.


7. Well over 2,000 rounds of golf…enough to play at approximately 95% of America’s 2,449 municipal golf courses. (Municipal courses average $44.55 for playing on weekdays and $52.70 on weekends.)

8. A trip to every amusement park in America (total combined entry fees: $5,668) 18 times each.

9. 233 pairs of Beats by Dre Pro headphones—or 350 pairs of Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros: a better product at just over half the cost.

10. 25,212 premium beers—or put another way, nearly every beer listed here.

11. 75% of this light-sport aircraft:

12. 76 washing machines with enough money left over to run all of them for five years of regular use, including water and energy.

13. 21 years of car insurance…or for my female contemporaries, 25 years. (Young men pay $4,836/year on average; young women pay $4,209/year).

14. A $5,000 DSLR camera and 68 premium lenses.

15. 400 subscriptions to each of the 400 top dating sites for 15 straight months. (A subscription is about $17 per month on average.)

16. Two weeks of a premium lawyer’s time (105 hours).

17. A lift ticket at (almost) every major ski resort in the world (there are around 2,000). By my calculations, I’d only be about $1,500 short.

Okay: time for a little perspective. Compared to a high school diploma, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says my college degree will earn me roughly $457 more per week over the long run—that’s over $1 million more by the time I’m 65. With any luck, I’ll be flying my brand new ICON A5 to Vegas in just under 40 years.

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