Getting a college loan to go to school could be the best investment of your life. A degree can lead to a career, meaningful connections or a new way of thinking you would have been otherwise not exposed to. Also, degree holders earn more over their lifetimes on average than non degree holders, although that gap is closing.
It can also be the worst. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25.5 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed, and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau says those grads are burdened with an average debt of $27,000 (up from $15,000 in 2000). Speaking from personal experience, that debt can be crushing when trying to find a job.
There are literally hundreds of articles on the Internet about why going to college in this economy is a bad idea. I don’t think most of them are useful. Instead, I think prospective students need to take a careful and thoughtful approach to whether college is right for them. I’ve included a couple of things to consider below, hopefully they will be helpful.
Go to college if:
You Have a Clear Objective
Too many college students follow this formula:
- Get into college
- Pick a degree that sounds interesting
- Try to find a job
It doesn’t work, and it’s a major reason why students graduate with tens (hundreds in some cases) of thousands of dollars in debt without a job.
A much better approach is to come up with a plan that makes your degree actionable. For example, a small business owner may get an MBA to better understand how to run their business, a history professor may get a Ph. D in European History to teach at a state university, ect.
Don’t get a degree in Business Administration because the coursework is easy, and don’t get a degree in physics because it sounds like it will get you a job. Find a degree that will advance you in a career that you want, or at least find out how you can make your degree get you a job. Become a regular in your university’s career center until you know and can take action on how your degree will advance your career.
Your Ideal Job Require a Degree
I got my degree in public relations because most PR/Marketing agencies require a bachelor’s degree of their entry-level job candidates in PR, English, Journalism or a related field. Jobs requiring knowledge of the hard sciences (doctors, chemists, ect.) fall under this as well.
Many jobs, however, value relevant experience over college degrees enough that having a bachelor’s is not important. When starting out on a career, it may be worthwhile to see what relevant experience can be obtained without having any advanced education. Some careers that most would normally think require degrees, such as app developers/software engineers, actually value experience over a formal education. (If you make meaningful contributions to an open-source project on GitHub, that’s a major gold star on your resume that will beat out most degrees).
You Are a Self Starter
If you do the above, you are likely already a self-starter. But I put this in here because nobody comes to you as a recent graduate and says “great job with your degree, please interview at my company.” In fact, job hunters are often surprised to see that a college degree is just one of many requirements to get an interview. Heck, sometimes a degree isn’t even mentioned.
Those who succeed after college are self starters, people who take action when presented with an issue before the issue becomes a problem. They identify where they want to go, find out how to get there, then take action until they get there.
You have tons of scholarship money
If you have a free ride to college, you should go. In fact, I say that if you’re going to make it out of college with less than $5,000 in loans, it’s worth it. Even with an unsubsidized loan, it’s possible to pay off within 5 years by doubling what you pay on your principal.
Every single cliche filled article on why college is great (the people you meet, the memories you make, the personal growth you experience, ect.) are true, but those experiences come at a cost. Go to college with a good plan, and don’t get killed by debt.