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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Words of Caution For Anyone Thinking About Going to College

If you are thinking about getting a college education, there are some things to take note of. Most of us have been sold on the idea of getting a college degree, which is part of the American Dream. We have been taught that people who get college degrees are more likely to earn a million dollars more in their lifetime than people who stop at a high school diploma. We have been brainwashed into the notion that a college degree is the be-all and end-all, when it comes to having a successful, high-paying and gratifying career. Well, I am here to say that this is not necessarily the end result of obtaining a college education.

Everybody and his mother knows that the economy is not good. With employers reluctant to make new hires or preparing for mass lay-offs, you would be fortunate to obtain any sort of employment, much less high-paying employment. There are more and more new college graduates, that find themselves accepting employment anywhere it can be found. I have read and heard several stories about the person who graduates summa cum-laude, gung-ho about beginning a dream job at a Fortune 500 company, with all the perks. Mr. or Ms. New Grad sends out many resumes to their preferred employers, networks like hell, and follows all the hot job leads. Days turn into weeks, and weeks, turn into months, as new graduates aren’t able to get employed. The vision of the dream job is starting to seem like more of a grandiose pipe-dream.

After several months of searching, the new college graduate realizes that beggars can’t be choosers. He or she has to earn a living, so the new college graduate settles for a low paying, menial job, until something else better comes along. This is a very pessimistic view, yet this is the reality that many recent college graduates face.

Here’s my two cents on some of the things that people should think about before heading off to college:

Choose a major in a specialized career field that you know is in demand, like a job in engineering or the medical profession. I am all for pursing one’s passions, but we also need to be practical. Aside from the obvious intellectual enrichment, what is the sense in getting a liberal arts degree in a major such as music or art history? Liberal arts degrees are very general and it is extremely difficult to obtain gainful and stable employment related to L.A. degrees. Network with people who are already working in the field that you are interested in. Volunteer if you have to in order to get experience. It will give you a bit of an inside track on what life is like in the profession.

Be cautious about the type of institution that you choose to attend. Make certain that the educational institution has all of the proper licensing and accreditation. You don’t want to end up wasting four years of your life, to later find out that your degree is worthless, due to lack of proper accreditation. Also, try to go to a public college or university, versus a private not-for-profit school or a private for profit school. Public colleges and universities cost significantly less than private colleges.  Except for class size, there isn’t much difference in the overall quality of the education at most public and private colleges. Of course, the Ivy League schools are the exception to the rule.

The best case scenario would be avoidance of student loans altogether. However, the reality is that education costs are so high that very few families can afford to send their children to college without incurring some debt. In order to minimize any debt, I would suggest that you try and work your way through school. Exhaust all forms of free financial aid available (grants, scholarship, work study programs) before taking out student loans.  Even if it means that it will take longer to complete the curriculum, minimize the amount of money that you choose to borrow. It may be worth it in the long run and save you a lot of stress.

If you choose to borrow to cover educational expenses, know your rights and all of the terms for student loan repayment. Many students are unaware of all the options available to them for student loan repayment, from deferment, forbearance, Income-Based Repayment, consolidation, to loan forgiveness, etc. Other graduates don’t know what their interest payments are, or where to send payments, since loans are often sold or transferred to different lenders. Be sure to keep yourself abreast of changes in pertinent laws or the industry which will affect you as a borrower. Keeping in touch with your lender is essential. You can also find out more information about the status of your student loans through

Remember, student loans must be repaid. As it currently stands, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. When you default on a student loan, it wreaks havoc on your credit score, making it even harder to find a decent paying job. The federal government can garnish wages, social security benefits, and bank accounts, all without a court order. The feds can also go after any co-signers on student loans. So if you do choose to take out student loans, make certain that you exhaust all measures to stay current on your repayments. Student loans can’t be easily shaken off!

I don’t say all of this to dissuade anyone from  seeking a college education. I am saying this to let the buyer beware. If you are college material, then by all means, go for it. But do your research, plan, and explore every option available to you. Don’t allow yourself to get swept up into the idea of going to college, because you don’t know what else to do with your life. Don’t get lulled into the idea that going to college this is the only ticket to a happy and successful life.

Related post:

Thinking About Taking out Student Loans For College? Think Again.

What Happens When you default on a student loan? Some of the Consequences of Student Loan Default

Is Going to College a Good Idea in a Bad Economy?

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