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Monday, May 18, 2015

6 Things To Ask Yourself Before Going To College

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Too many students underestimate the importance of the decision to go to college. The vast majority of students (particularly the more gifted ones) are poked and prodded from their childhood with the idea of going to college. Considering the statistics, it’s virtually inevitable that an average or above average student is going to end up in college. Hell, some students are even required to apply to colleges to graduate from high school. It’s hardly even considered a choice anymore.

That being said, college is a choice. The question that’s virtually never asked is, “is it the right choice?” Sure, statistics show a correlation between income and education. That correlation, doesn’t necessarily mean much. It could just mean people “destined” to make more money tend to go to college. (By destined, I mean any of a million possible factors. Students that go to college could be smarter than average. That means they’d probably make more money with or without college. Students that go to college could be richer. That means, again, they’d probably make more money with or without college.) Of course, even considering that correlation matters assumes income is a more important goal than happiness. My point is just that it’s more complicated than it looks.

I think college can be one of the best decisions of a persons life. A college education can open a ton of doors. That being said, you need to think about what’s behind those doors and whether or not you really want to open them. (There are plenty of doors you can open without college too. Maybe you’ll like those better.)

Here are some questions to ask yourself before going to college:

1. Do You Want To Go?

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This is a more important question than most students consider it. Your decision to go to college is going to cause you to spend tens of thousands of dollars. That makes it a pretty big risk to be playing around with.

If a year into college, you change your mind about wanting to go, you’re still going to have to pay for that year of college. More importantly, you’re probably going to have to pay for that year of college with a non-college graduates job. Sure, plenty of students end up surviving that mistake but it could easily take years of your life just to start back at zero again.

That dynamic leads many students into graduating just because of the costs they’ve already lost. They’re committed to four years because they can’t afford to switch to doing what they want to do. That, usually, just leads to the college graduate getting a job he or she hates in the field he or she graduated from (and wanted to leave.)

Going to college when you don’t want to go is a terrible mistake in most cases.

2. Is It An Investment?

Virtually every teacher and parent would tell you college is an investment. No, they won’t ask what degree you’re getting first. They’ll just blindly tell you that college is an investment. Mostly because, they have absolutely no idea what an investment is.

An investment is something that you’re putting money into to, ideally, make more money. When you take out loans for college, you need to make a considerable amount of income more than you would have if you didn’t take out those loans. If you don’t have very clear job prospects that can pay off those loans in a reasonable amount of time then you’re not investing.

Many college degrees are not investments. They’re luxuries. Sure, there is nothing wrong with a luxury but don’t go spending money that you don’t have on luxuries. If it’s not an obvious investment, pay for college in cash. That’s the only way to make play it safe. (If you do happen to get a good job from your luxury degree then consider it a bonus. You never have to pay interest from your loans.)

3. Is It Better To Wait?

For many students, it’s actually a smarter financial decision to wait a few years before going to college.

One of the most obvious reasons a student should consider that is loan favorability. If your parents income disqualifies you from federal loans then it may be smarter to wait a few years until your parents are off your forms. That could save you thousands of dollars and a significant amount of private student loan stress.

I remember being told, “If you don’t go to college right after high school then you’ll never go!” I didn’t listen. I ended up going to college years later. I’d argue that time off schooling taught me more than college ever could. I ended up having no student loans and had plenty of fun. Of course, if I graduated high school started sleeping around, binge drinking, and spending every penny I earned, there would be a real chance I wouldn’t end up in college. It’s all about making smart decisions. If you make smart decisions, you can put college off safely. Even after a few mistakes, it’s usually still reasonable with a little extra work.

Some other advantages of waiting: You don’t end up the average new college student that can’t even do their own laundry. You actually care about schooling because you saw the world without it and chose it rationally instead of emotionally. You have time to learn how to deal with money before taking thousands of dollars in loans.

4. Do you need it for your dreams?

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If you’ve dreamed of being a doctor since you were a child then you damn well should be doing to college for it. Many fields are regulated so that a degree is required. If that degree is absolutely required to do what you want to do (even if it’s not the greatest investment) then it’s usually a good decision.

Sure, bad investments aren’t usually a good idea but if this is about chasing a dream then investing has virtually nothing to do with it.

If you want to be a writer or something, you don’t need a college degree. You can pursue that field and become successful without ever graduating from college. In fact, instead of getting the college required liberal arts education you could spend 9-5 everyday learning how to write. You’ll end up miles ahead of the average student.

5. Do you have a solid career plan?

If your career plan consists of only, get a job, then you’re making a bad mistake. There is so much information that you should consider first.

First of all, what jobs does your degree qualify you for?

Next, which of those jobs pay enough to pay off your debt (unless it’s your dream job?)

Next, how many of those jobs are available?

How many students are going to be graduating and competing for those jobs?

“I’ll become a college professor on the subject!” NO NO NO! Really… that is usually a horrible mistake. In fields where your best job options include teaching the subject you’re getting your degree in, you’re limiting your options significantly. Look at the data. Are there really that many jobs available when considering how many people are graduating? Usually they’re not.

6. Why Are You Going?

This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself.

What is motivating you to go to college? If it’s your dream job then awesome. That’s a good motivation to have.

The sad truth is that most students pretend that it’s for the job. They lie to themselves and say that when the truth is something a bit more embarrassing.

Are you just trying to get away from your parents? Are you trying to get people off your back? Are you scared that you’ll fail outside of college? Do you just want to drink and party (you can do that a lot cheaper outside of college)?

These are all motivations that you need to question the value of. Is it really worth the price it’s going to cost? Are there cheaper alternative ways to do them. Of course, if you have a few million dollars in the bank, perhaps they’re cheap enough to pay for willy nilly but if you’re the average person, you need to seriously worry about that price.

The ideal motivation to go to college is the joy of learning. Of course, if it’s the joy of learning that’s pushing you then you’re stupid to take out student loans for it.

The second best motivation is an investment.

Don’t end up at 25 living in your parents house with a crappy job trying to pay down your student loans. By paying attention to the consequences, and risks, of every option you can make a smarter decision.

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