Paying Your Way…from high school to college

college-debtThe #1 most crucial activity that high school students must do is calculate how much it will cost to attend college. There are many factors to consider, and as recent headlines have reported, the cost of college continues to go up-up-UP!

Unless you have a trust fund, wealthy parents (and I mean the kind of wealth that you don’t need to show with flashy clothes and fancy cars), you are probably going to need to borrow some money for college. Before you visit your first Campus, you owe it to yourself to look at the hard facts about what it will cost you to pay back those student loans once you leave school.

Notice I did not say “graduate“. While everyone goes into college with the intention of graduating, not everyone does. A 2012 study by ACT  reported that only 36.6% of students in public colleges and universities (four-year) completed their degree within five years.

So, if you beat these odds, stay in school and complete your degree, add an extra year of tuition (and potentially – borrowing) to your calculations. Even more important, if you borrow money to pay tuition, fees and other costs but leave college without your degree, within six months you will be required to begin paying your loans back and guess what?

Student loan lenders don’t care if you’re still working the fast-food drive thru: they want their money and you will begin to pay it back at that 6-month mark,…or else.

You need to understand that the student loan lenders ALSO do not care if you chose to spend $100,000 on college but earned a degree where you are only going to make $28,000 a year. Payments on $100,000 in student loans are more than $1,000 a month. At a salary of $28,000 a year, your monthly take-home will be something close to $1,650 a month. Can you live on $650 a month?

It’s wonderful to dream about becoming a Marine Biologist, or a Zookeeper, or an Astronaut,…BUT – if at the end of your college years you have borrowed money to finance your dreams without tying them to reality; those dreams quickly become a nightmare that never goes away until those loans are paid off,…in full. You cannot even escape student loans by declaring bankruptcy, except in extreme and extraordinary (rare) cases. Going into default on your federal student loans (i.e. not paying them as scheduled) not only ruins your credit, making it impossible to buy a car, or a house or even get a store credit card, but it can lock you out of federal, state and even many local government jobs.

Today, more than ever, it is CRITICAL for high school students to THINK before they DRINK the college Kool-Aid.

Stay tuned for updates on the release of my next book: Finding Your Way: from high school to college New Book Cover

For additional information on the trillion-dollar student loan debt crisis:

If you’re already done with college but not thinking you picked such a great major,… check out my first book, Finding Your Way: uncover your path to a better job. You spend most of your waking hours at work –  if “work” isn’t working for you, it’s time to find something that will.

From High School to College

New Book CoverIn my next book in the Finding Your Way series, I address the disconnect between high school students’ college dreams and the realities that most of them will inevitably will face. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, we need to begin telling the truth about college: how much it costs, the real jobs that will be waiting and the hard work that it will take once you get there (in most cases).

I have witnessed the high school valedictorian from Small Rural High School struggling to pass Freshman Chemistry who ends up passing after being coached by the average B/C-student from the large and academically-rigorous suburban high school. It seems that we get caught up in where we are in our own high school space and never stop to consider the larger world and how our knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) may apply.

Here’s one example (of many) that has led me to write this next book: Junior or Senior high school girls who dream of becoming an Obstetrician because they “really like babies“.

While not actively discouraging their dreams, we need to engage them in a dialogue that goes beyond “liking babies” to make sure that they understand:

  1. there’s a lot of chemistry and advanced biology between now and delivering newborn babies
  2. there’s at least 8 years of college – probably more – before anyone is going to hold babies as an obstetrician and more importantly,
  3. Obstetricians do a lot more than deliver babies so maybe (just maybe!) the career path should be Early Childhood Education and working in a day care if “babies” is the primary career motivator

A recent NY Times article (“Losing is Good for You“) highlights a lesson that can (and should) be applied as we mentor high school students toward college. The extrapolation of this concept is that just as we have done a disservice to our kids by pronouncing “everyone a winner!”, not everyone is cut out for medical school, engineering school, business school or law school (law school is a whole other issue), and that it’s not only OK to think about more mundane professional goals, aligning your true abilities and interests with an achievable plan is MUCH more life-affirming than cheerleading a doomed dream because it’s easier to clap and say “how wonderful!” than it is to say, “you might want to think about that a different way, and here’s why…”

Of course there are those who will chastise this approach for being too negative. I’m a BIG fan of finding what you love to do and making that your career, as I have outlined in my first eBook, Finding Your Way: uncover your path to a better job. BUT…you have to be smart about your choices.

Love health care and holding babies? Check out the tuition at your local community college for nursing school or some other health care profession where you can hold babies without major student loan debt.

Love teaching & medieval history? Perhaps a reasonably-priced bachelor’s degree (that you can begin at your local community college) leading to a full-time job in a museum or work for a non-profit that supports education initiatives.

Like the first Finding Your Way book, “from high school to college” includes a process that high school students, their parents and even counselors can use to document facts that support a decision. The time to figure out you’re not cut out for Pre-Med as a major needs to be before you’ve invested a year or more of tuition – especially at today’s tuition rates. As a former faculty member and academic adviser at a university, I have seen scores of students who came to the university to become a doctor, pharmacist, or physical therapist – just to find themselves knocked out of the running by chemistry, biology or some other gateway course (gateway, or “weeder” courses are those which effectively separate who has a chance at continuing on toward a particular program of study [a major or graduate school; medical school, for example] and who needs to find another major).

The best time to begin this conversation is in middle or high school when you have time to look at all your options, including how much money you really have to spend on college, and make a decision that will result in the best outcome for YOU.

Stay tuned for updates on the release of this next eBook!!