It’s graduation season! I was recently reminded of this because I unintentionally planned my golf/beach weekend during “senior beach week”. This is the time of year when all the high school kids head to the beach for a week to celebrate their graduation. For kids on the east coast, that means Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (I’m not sure if “senior beach week” is really a thing all over the country, or not.)
Anyway, I was only there for one night but that still led to some interesting interactions with some rather intoxicated kids. It seems that everyone goes to college but no one has a clue why or what they will study. I did attempt to ask some thought-provoking questions such as “why that school” and was met with blank stares and “because my friends are going there”. I considered putting together a powerpoint for the kids on “making good life choices” but decided against it. Just not sure it was the right environment. 😉
Think About The Future
So, In honor of all the high schoolers who are heading off to college, this one is for you. Before you pick out your dorm room decorations and decide on your fraternity/sorority, let’s take a second for your future. Far too many people go to college with no real plan at all. They just know that from the time they were in elementary school, they were going to go to college.
Unfortunately, just “going to college” doesn’t do much of anything for your future besides put you in tremendous debt or cost your parents a lot of money. Colleges offer some really ridiculous classes and pointless majors. You can’t just assume that because you got a four-year degree that a good job awaits you. I know college is a fun and exciting time but you need to realize that the real purpose of college is to better yourself through education, not drinking with your friends.
“But a four-year degree in something that will help open doors”. Wrong! You have to have skills that someone is willing to pay for to open doors. I know a lot of people with four-year degrees that work in jobs that require zero education. I don’t want to see another repeat of Occupy Wall Street. (That was a protest where a bunch of people with no employable skills and ridiculous degrees camped out in New York demanding that rich people hire them and pay them well.)
So before you head off to college, please take a few days this summer for your future. The below might not be as fun drinking at the beach but the payoff will be tremendous.
How Much Is College?
The first thing you should do is to spend some time figuring out the cost. College is crazy expensive and you should start by calculating the cost of going to college for one year. Here is a good calculator to give you a high-level look. The numbers range quite a bit from in-state versus out of state and public versus private.
I would suggest you actually go beyond the calculator and set up a spreadsheet for yourself. Try to find information specific to the school you are going to. You should definitely be able to find good numbers for the big ticket items like tuition, books, housing, meal plan, parking, and transportation.
However, don’t forget about the other ones like possibly joining greek life, playing club sports, tickets to sporting games, the cost of needing business clothes, traveling home, stuff for the dorm/apartment, going out with friends, lab fees, certification tests, possibly moving home over the summer, etc…. I know you won’t be able to give exact amounts but it helps to at least think about it and make a guess.
You will probably find your cost for four years to be around $100,000+. Hopefully, this number motivates you for the next step.
So many kids and parents just shrug at that number and fill out their student loan application. Please take some time to explore your options. You might be eligible for financial aid or scholarships. About two-thirds of students are receiving some help so it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. The best place to start is filling out the FAFSA form. Instructions can be found here. Just about anyone who puts in the time to apply for a bunch of grants and scholarships will usually end up with something.
While in school, you need to be constantly aware of your loans and work hard to keep your spending in check. Work part time while in school, live in the cheap apartment with lots of roommates, limit eating out and bar time, don’t go to Miami for spring break, etc. So many students will just spend money like it is unlimited while in school.
A final big way to save is to commute from home or possibly attend a community college for two years. I know the “college experience” is an amazing thing but it sucks paying for it when you are 45. At least explore this as an option.
What Job Do You Want?
The next thing to think about is which job you want instead of which degree you want. I would suggest starting another spreadsheet to help you out. For any job you think you would enjoy, fill out the following information.
- Average Salary – This is so important. I know “money isn’t everything” but I hate hearing people complain about how much they make. If you want to be a teacher, you can find out (to the penny) what teachers are getting paid. Civil Engineer salaries might not be as exact but you can probably get within $5,000 of your starting salary, per area. Also, look at future earnings. Some jobs increase dramatically over time while others hit a ceiling.
- What Is The Availability – Do some searches online to see who is hiring people with less than 2 years experience. The location will be big here. If you are willing to move anywhere, you can increase your chances. If you would like to be a Biomedical Engineer in Nebraska, it probably isn’t happening.
- What Education Is Needed – Find out which degree people get who do the job you want. Perhaps a masters or doctorate degree is needed. Perhaps multiple degrees are needed. Then, look at a sample schedule for those degrees. If you need up to Calculus 4 and Differential Equations 2 by end of Sophmore year, but struggled with Algebra, you might be going down a bad path.
- How Much Debt – If grad school or multiple degrees are needed, factor that into the spreadsheet you made for calculating the average 4-year cost. Sometimes, the cost of medical school might not be worth it to you.
By doing the above task, it forces you to be realistic and it tells you which degree you should get in order to get the job you want. Far too many people show up to college “undecided” and those people usually end up just taking the path of least resistance. They take classes that are fun, interesting and easy.
Then, I hear these same people complain constantly about not being able to find a job, not getting paid enough and hating the job they did get. Remember that a University is a business and if there is a demand for people to get a major in The Beatles, the University will actually supply the major to meet the demand. Notice, they don’t promise a job, but they will take your money, just the same.
I know Engineering, Accounting, Data Analytics, Biochemistry, etc are tough degrees to get, but that is the point. Just like most things in life, a little planning and research upfront, will pay off enormously in the long run.
Okay rant over. What advice would you give those heading off to college? Any advice that helped you? What would you go back and tell yourself?