When it comes to higher education there are generally two sides of the story. Which side you tend to find yourself often correlates with your experience. I know when I was younger all I wanted to do was go to a flashy school. Flashy when I was in high school was the local expensive private college that everyone raved about. Still do. Now that college and graduate school are behind me, I see the world through a different filter. I’m no longer enamored by a price tag or olympic-sized swimming pools. I’ve also been in the corporate world long enough to know that it just doesn’t matter. Go ahead and read that last sentence again, because it’s true. That brings us to the time-honored classic Great Debate – Your Passion Or Your Money.
Experience & Case Studies
I remember starting school at the local community college at the tender age of 19 and not having any idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I was accepted to college. Woohoo! Open admissions policy what? I didn’t know about that back then. Haha. After graduating with my associates degree in general studies, I transferred to a local private school that gave me an awesome financial package. Once there, I flipped a coin and picked a major. I’m almost not even kidding. I gave that little thought to picking a major. Thankfully, I graduated with an undergrad degree and started working in a great field – the field in which I still work till this day. I also got my graduate degree for exactly $0 out of my own pocket.
Looking back, I would’ve given significant consideration to the course of my adult career life. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to change careers after meandering too far down a rabbit hole. I now realize this.
I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with, side-by-side, who went to impressive schools and were paying back impressive debt. Did I mention we were working side-by-side? After you graduate and start working in the real world with real people, you realize that it really does not matter where you went to school. This can hit you like a ton of bricks if you’re one of those people who paid an arm and/or a leg for your education.
Advice I’d Give To Anyone (Including My Own Child)
Advice I have and will continue to give to anyone willing to listen (or read) is to avoid debt – at least massive debt – for higher education. I know the media loves to tell us how impossible it is to obtain a college degree these days without incurring debt, debt that we’ll be paying off until we start collecting social security, but I tend to vehemently disagree.
I would tell anyone to skip the brand name and go for the decent school at a reasonable price.
We are saving each month to send Mini Monster to college and, when the time comes, I’m going to encourage her to save as much of her money as she possibly can. I would rather see her attend a community college for the first two years than go into any kind of debt.
I would also tell someone in the process of applying to schools to ignore the sticker price. The sticker price is often an allure used by colleges and universities. After all, the more expensive something is, the better it is, and the more coveted it is. Right? Right. Except when it’s wrong. Unless it’s Ivy League, this is a ploy to inflate reputations. Aspiring students should apply to every single one of their DREAM schools. You never know what they will offer as a financial package based on what the student can bring to the table – grades, athletic abilities, diversity. The sticker price is just that. It can always be, and often is, marked down for a plethora of reasons.
In sum, FOLLOW YOUR PASSION! Do it while you’re young and have the ability to move around and switch careers without having to consider other people or children or a giving up a high salary. However, follow your passion AND use your brain. Avoid debt. Period. And if you are considering debt, make sure your future salary can easily support you and your debt.
These are projected college costs through the year 2033…
This is an aside and I would love to hear what everyone else thinks on the subject. Is it really feasible that tuition costs will continue to skyrocket at this alarming rate? Is that actually going to happen? Or is it more possible that higher education will become more affordable via more options? Think: more online classes, MOOCs, and real-life experience counting for college credit. Also, won’t a large amount of schools go out of business if the sticker price ticks up too high? In my humble opinion, I think the higher ed landscape will be vastly different when my tot is ready to navigate the college application process. But what do I know? Does anyone else have an actual professional opinion on the matter?
When Would I Take On Debt
I would take on debt if I were accepted to an Ivy League school and was planning to study something that had a high probability of a high salary upon graduation. What do you get at Ivy League schools that you don’t get at other schools? Connections. These connections can get you into graduate schools, professional schools, and jobs at top-notch companies. It’s not fair. But it is the way it is. And if you haven’t noticed yet, life tends to not be fair :)
I would also take on reasonable debt for a professional degree that would guarantee a high salary. Other than those situations, I wouldn’t do it. Ever.
What I Would Do If I Were 18 Again
First of all, let me say that I think everyone should follow their passion, within reason. I also think it’s imperative to be smart with your money, especially your future money. The first thing I would do if I were on the cusp of entering college again, would be to explore salaries in my fields of interest. Based on the cold hard money facts, I would determine what amount of debt would be acceptable for each specific degree.
For example, I would not drop $100k on a degree in Social Work. I think it is an honorable field and feel grateful that we have people who are passionate about it, however, the potential salaries do not warrant the guaranteed debt. On the other hand, if I was reasonably certain I had the smarts and the endurance to snag myself a medical degree with an orthopedic specialty, I’d be more willing to take on large debt – but I would still be smart about it and try to avoid it as much as possible. Maybe I would look at undergrad programs at universities also offering medical degrees. I would consider the armed forces and their “free ride” to medical school in exchange for a few years of service.
Your Passion Or Your Money
That brings us to the Great Debate. When do you put your passion ahead of your money? For me, I would be okay putting my passion ahead of my money if I had a lifetime ahead of me to make enough money to pay back what I borrowed for that passion.
For example, I always wanted to go to medical school. But because it took me so long to get my undergraduate degree, I decided to start working because I needed a break from school. After working in my field of study for years and making a life outside of school (relationships, a daughter, etc.), my medical school dream reared its head again a few years ago. The passion for that path was still with me. I talked seriously about my options. I ran the numbers. I tried to figure out how I could do it and still be a good wife and mother. Turns out, for me, it was impossible. I would be taking myself out of the workforce for the next 10 years, not contributing to retirement accounts or saving in any way. The amount of debt I would incur did not make it worth it for me. In fact, I would come out ahead, financially, if I just stayed in my industry and continued to work and invest. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have enough quality spare time to spend with my daughter. I would be an absentee mother even if I was living in the same house. I decided to NOT follow my passion. I chose money and my time.
But, if I had time on my side and no familial obligations – I would’ve gone for it! But I still would’ve tried to incur as little debt as possible.
No matter what we’re told to believe, it is possible to obtain a higher education without committing to gobs of debt. We did it. And we would do it again. So what would I do differently if I could turn back the clock? I might’ve picked a different major, but I would’ve done about the same thing as far as choice of school and lack of debt. Now, if only I would’ve had this financial advice upon graduation.
I’d love to hear from you! What did you do? What do you wish you had done? If you could go back in time in a DeLorean, of course, ;) what would you tell your younger self? So let’s go, lay it on me!
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