There used to be a time when you could work your way through college. Now, earning a college degree often means being burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
I don’t understand how college got so expensive, but I do know that as the cost of an education continues to go up, it will have a major impact on our economy. The government can’t afford to continue to subsidize higher education, and yet, it is difficult to cut costs at colleges and universities and be able to produce college graduates that can compete in a global market. Students can’t afford the rapidly increasing costs, which in turn, place a burden on the entire system.
Despite all of the challenges, I still believe a college education is a good investment. But today’s college students need to be much more street smart than they ever have been before. My advice for college students is to minimize your cost as much as possible. With less debt, you’ll find you have more freedom. You’ll not only be positioning yourself for a bright future, but our country as well. A few other tips for college students:
Start with a plan. Do not go to college because you think that’s where you should go. Go to college because you have a definite plan of what degree you want to earn and what career path you will take when you are done. Research what the job opportunities will look like when you leave college so that you can find an educational program that will offer a return on your investment. Start with a plan and you won’t waste money and time taking classes you don’t like or don’t need.
Shop around. The schools with the biggest price tags aren’t necessarily the ones that are the best value. Consider starting at a community college. Look at public schools as well as private. Your goal should be to get the best education for the best price. Many of the expensive schools are just marketing hype.
Get all the scholarships you can get. This is free money that you don’t have to give back. All you need to do is invest some time.
Keep your grades up. In a competitive job market, grades can make a big difference. If you’re struggling in a course, find help. Keep attending class. Don’t withdraw from classes and expect to have money when you graduate.
Network. Connect with classmates. Chat with your professors. Make positive connections with as many people as you can while you’re in college. It can open up doors to career opportunities once you graduate. (Plus, it makes college more fun).
Ask yourself if the courses you take help you meet your goals. That semester in Milan may seem like a fabulous idea, but are you willing to pay for that experience 10 years from now? And will that experience apply to your career goals? If the answer is “No,” skip the experience and focus on those courses that further your career. You can always travel to Italy after you graduate.
Do not borrow more money than you need. When I was an academic adviser at a community college, I saw many students max out their college loans and use the “extra” money to buy everything from new shoes to flat screen TVs. Student loans should be for education expenses like books and tuition. Try to avoid borrowing money for living expenses if you can.
The real tragedy of student loans is that so many college students don’t take these simple steps. It’s a tragedy that will have a major impact on our economy for years to come.