Deciding what type of postsecondary education to get–if any–is one of the most important financial decisions a person can make. Education is a huge investment that must be carefully considered. Here are some factors that should inform your decision; and how to protect that valuable investment, should you choose to make it.
Fortyfive million borrowers now owe the federal government more than $1.75 trillion in student loan debt. It’s no wonder Americans rejoiced when the Biden administration announced the student debt relief plan; one that gives eligible students up to $20,000 dollars in the form of a “forgiveness credit”.
It’s also not surprising that one-third of Millennials feel burdened by student loan debt, which averages nearly $37,000 per student. Their inability to buy a home and keep up with the rising cost of living are fair causes for concern.
Yet, the story has been the same for nearly a century; take a loan to get a degree, use the degree to get a high-paying job, then pay off the loan. The only difference now is that the degree is getting incredibly expensive, and a degree doesn’t guarantee a good job.
So what should hopeful grads do?
Understand the Risks
One of the greatest risks of taking on a loan to go to school is that the degree doesn’t guarantee employment upon graduation. To mitigate this, students should enroll in programs they believe will be valuable upon graduation. For example, software engineers and computer programmers are in high demand today as more businesses use software to build their products and services. At the same time, the economy is begging for a new crop of skilled tradespeople like plumbers, welders, machine tool operators, and carpenters. To make education worthwhile, these high-demand fields are worth a second look.
Another risk is the change in a graduate’s quality of living. Consider how the financial stress of debt can affect the choices one will make in their daily life: where they’ll live, whether they’ll stay in a bad job, how often they can go out with friends, and so on. It typically takes 10 years to pay off student loans, so all of those little choices can add up.
Understand the Rewards
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. A good degree can be the difference between a job with a high salary, benefits, and upward mobility, and a ‘dead-end’ job. So, what makes a degree ‘good’?
For one, an institution’s name – whether we like it or not – carries a lot of weight. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; they’re all well-known Ivy-league schools that open many doors for their graduates. Of course, Harvard is not accessible to everyone, but it’s a great opportunity for those financially and academically inclined. Another element of a ‘good’ education is the degree to which it prepares students for practice in the real world. Most community colleges do this very well, as do trade schools, technical training schools, internship programs, or other opportunities for hands-on work. Those options are also much more accessible financially for most Americans.
Aside from a great job, graduates often have life-changing experiences over their four years in college. Life-long friendships, independence from parents, and gaining knowledge in a new field are very satisfying parts of young adulthood. Plus, a college degree demonstrates hard work, intellect, and perseverance. All said and done, investing in the right education can be financially, socially, and personally rewarding.
As the CEO of a company that profits from people going to college, I should be the last person telling young people to rethink their degrees. However, I’m a bigger believer in people pursuing their passions. I hope this debt forgiveness announcement encourages high school students to really think about their upcoming decisions.
If that’s you, start with research. Seek out alumni to find out whether they’d pursue the same degree path if given a chance to do it again. Think long and hard about the risks and rewards. Most importantly, make the decision – to go to school or not – with intent.
Protecting Hard-Earned Degrees
Let’s say you spent $70,000 to get a degree from Princeton, only to find out someone who never attended the school is claiming to be a Princeton graduate as well. That would be pretty frustrating, especially since a good portion of recruiting today starts on the professional platform.
All it takes is typing in ‘Princeton’ in the education section of your LinkedIn profile. It’s so easy that over a third of people lie on their LinkedIn profiles.
If you’re a proud graduate, verify your degree on LinkedIn for free. It may not forgive your debt, but it will build trust with future employers, and show everyone you’re the real deal.