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Return on Investment (ROI) for Your College Degree
(Continued from 1)

I was still a believer back then. In fact, I still am . . . To a degree. . . . And with some disclaimers. Let’s take a close look at my own personal experience in order to gain a better understanding of why I offer the following advice.

I currently hold a student loan with a balance of $50,000.00. It’s a heck of a lot of money and I am not a young woman. That amount could easily have been higher had I not had employer tuition reimbursement that covered the cost of my graduate degree. A mere few weeks after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I was fortunate enough to find work at a university and I was thrilled! I had dreams of working my way up; I loved the students and the work, I couldn’t have been happier sitting on top of my own little world. I hoped to teach one day and in my most vivid day dreams, saw myself as an academic dean with a PhD.

Then reality set in. Although I thought my salary was fair for a recent college graduate, I was still unable to afford to make payments on my student loan. After a certain number of years, the recession hit and layoffs began. The unthinkable happened and I lost my job at the age of fifty-two. Taking the advice of fellow academics, I had pursued a fairly generic graduate degree and because I had not really specialized in anything, remain, to this day, unemployed, over educated and without any real skill set. I had joined the ranks of thousands who are qualified for nothing, have steep student loan bala!nces and possess a skeletal resume.

Do I regret what I learned or the experience? Absolutely not! Do I wish that someone had taken me aside and offered the same advice I am about to offer to you? You betcha! If you are smart about it and heed what I am about to share, my story need not be your story. Despite everything, I still wave a flag for higher education and will get on my soapbox for any education issue. Here’s my piece of advice and it’s just three little words. Do your research.

Here it comes again so get ready, “DO YOUR RESEARCH!” Don’t rely on someone else to choose the right degree or certificate program for you and don’t listen for one minute to anyone who presumes to tell you what degree and career are right for you. (For a list of tools, see Career Counseling.) What are the job outcomes for program grads according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics? What, potentially, would your starting salary be? How long will it take you to find a job post-graduation? Will you achieve a license, medical or otherwise? Are you planning on graduate school and how will a master’s degree benefit your career? All of these are questions you should have the answers to prior to choosing a degree. Find someone who works in your career field of choice, buy them a cup of coffee, talk to them about the work and even job shadow if you can.

I’m not saying that that this process should purely be a business decision. God forbid that you choose a profession that you hate so much you can’t stand to get out of bed in the morning! So choose wisely and partially from the heart but, here’s the cold hard truth, choosing the right program IS a business decision and may well be one of the most important decisions of your life. Think about it. Regardless of whether you are paying for private or public education, base the majority of your decision on one thing, return on your investment. It’s a simple accounting philosophy. Does it really make sense to pay even $15,000.00 for a program that offers few job prospects, forecasts even fewer for the future and pays minimum wage? As they say, you do the math.

Finally, but by no means any less important, when your research is complete and you’ve made that all important final decision, how do you intend to pay for it? Will you utilize the federal student loan system, do you qualify for grants or scholarships or have you saved enough to pay out of pocket? Because in the end, when it comes to student loans, if you’ve achieved no skill set from your degree, have no hopes for a job and the projected outcomes for your field are dismal, it doesn’t matter if your student debt is $15,000.00 or $50,000.00, you simply will not be able to afford to pay for it. Now before you all get too down in the mouth remember, it’s not only about the money. Sometimes it’s just about the joy of learning.

What? You say you have twenty grand burning a hole in your back pocket and you don’t have to worry about earning a living? Go ahead and major in whatever you would like. Be a professional student; I both applaud and envy you because if I were in your shoes, I would do exactly the same thing. Don’t be scared. Go for it but be smart and have a plan. Make the right choice and make your money work for you. Nothing in the world compares with an education high. After all, you don’t think they say “knowledge is power” for nothing, do you?

Laura Janis Thompson has five years of experience in education as a college admissions representative. She holds a master’s degree in management, is a writer, an education professional and a lifelong student.

PayScale has ranked over 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities by their 2013 college tuition ROI (return on investment), or cost to attend versus return in lifetime earnings. For a complete overview on tools to use for career research see Career Counseling.


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