Is an Education a Debt Sentence?

We’ve all heard the horror stories of people graduating from college in debt of incredible amounts anywhere from $25,000 – $100,000. Is this really necessary? Well yes an education is vital to helping you reach the career of your dreams in many cases. However, is your dream career worth the stress of having to pay back thousands and thousands of dollars of debt? Personally I feel that the stress of having to pay back your student loans may lead to you making a sub optimal career decision by taking the first half decent job that comes your way, without even considering the level of career growth potential available. This is why I feel it’s important to outline a few critical signs that will indicate if an education will be a debt sentence for you:

You have not selected your major

If you have been enrolled in a post secondary institute for a few years without deciding on your major then you should definitely re-evaluate your present situation. An education is extremely expensive so don’t pursue one unless you have a specific major in mind or else you will rack up debt only to find yourself even more confused than you were at the start.

Choosing a more prestigious school when there are alternatives

Sure it feels good to get your degree from one of the top schools in your region, but you have to wonder if you could have obtained a similar degree from a less expensive college. Many community colleges and small town schools offer very practical programs that will help you land a high paying job without receiving a debt sentence.

You have no career choice in mind

There’s nothing wrong with earning a Science degree but you need to look into possible career paths before you even apply to the program. Think about it, how are you supposed to pay off your debt when you don’t even know where you will find work after graduation?

Going to the same school as your friends

Believe me I wish I knew more people on my first day of school but that’s what makes college fun. Taking on this great new challenge all on your own with no clue of what to expect. The funny thing is that due to my late birthday I was 17 years old when I started college and believe me it was pretty intimidating. With that being said it would have made no sense if I went to a different school just because of my friends. Make sure you that you choose the school that is right for YOU, not your friends.

5 thoughts on “Is an Education a Debt Sentence?”

  1. Not bad advice. I’d add that considering a community college at least your first few years of school could be a good choice. It’ll allow you to knock out many of your graduation pre-requisites without needing to pay the higher price of a state or private school.

  2. To play devil’s advocate, “prestigious” schools often have big pools of money for financial aid. I actually got better financial aid at the more prestigious schools I got into than the smaller, less expensive schools, making the prestigious schools cheaper at the end of the day. I’d say do a lot of research about financial aid at various schools and work your butt off so that you are as qualified as possible.

  3. I got trapped when my major turned out not to be something I was good at, but the credits in it weren’t going to transfer to anything else. I was already nearly $30,000 in debt at the point that I realized this, and wasn’t entirely sure what the path was. I ended up getting a multidisciplinary studies degree, and I probably won’t ever use my degree for what it’s intended for. Also, it looks like if I pursue the field that I love and have talent in (backstage theater work), I won’t ever make enough money to justify my $42,000 film degree (which is barely tangentially related to theater) because theater really only pays about $30,000-$40,000/year after you’ve been doing it for 10-20 years.

    Of course, I never would have known I wasn’t good at film if I hadn’t gone to film school, so it’s a big catch-22. In the end, I don’t regret anything – I made the best choices I could with the information I had at any given time.

  4. Another thing that I read about recently and it seemed to make sense to me is when someone finishes high school, have them go out and work for like a year or 2.
    Get a feel of what they want to do, and make some money and then determine where they want to do.

    I find it very hard to imagine how someone can live with themselves and having 100K student loan debt. I got freaked out when I had 10K in debt.

  5. Parents need to take a larger role in insuring their children do not take on too much debt. Parents usually understand the debt issue; many students do not understand what a $50k+ debt load really means.

    We told our 3 children we would only pay the $50k per year for a private school only if it was an Ivy (or equiv. such as Stanford, etc). If they opted for a “Tier 2” school we were not paying the $50k per year and they therefore weren’t going there. Child #1’s first choice was Lehigh; we told him it was a very good school but clearly “Tier 2” (not Ivy) = no way we’re paying the $50k and we’re not signing any student loans. He then chose Virginia Tech and the Univ. of Maine (both far lower cost with excellent engineering programs), graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree, had 11 written job offers, he has a very good job now as an engineer…and had no debt when he graduated..

    Child #2’s first choice was the Univ. of Miami. Good football team, but not great academically. Clearly “Tier 2” = no way. She ended up choosing Pitt (far lower cost), graduated with an Industrial Engineering degree, turned down job offers from IBM and Accenture to teach math at one of this country’s most notorious prisons…and has no debt when she graduated.

    Child #3 chose the Univ. of Colorado ($40k out of state). Clearly “Tier 2” = no way…fall in love with a school close to home. He chose the Univ. of Buffalo = far lower cost = no debt.

    My point is that parents need to take a role in insuring that the debt burden does not get out-of-hand for them (don’t cheat yourself out of retirement savings) or the children (don’t sign for student loans). Go the community college route for a couple of years and then transfer to a good state school. I work with Fortune 100 companies all the time and I can tell you that, unless you KNOW you want to work on Wall St. when entering college (how many high school kids know that?; many Wall St. firms only interview Ivy grads), paying the big money for an Ivy or private school and putting yourself in debt is a very subjective decision and I’m not sure it’s really worth the cost. The starting salary for a teacher, engineer, financial analyst, nurse, and almost every profession out there is virtually identical whether you graduate from SUNY Buffalo or Princeton/Lehigh, etc. Yes, the Princeton degree looks better, but if you are a very good student, you bust your butt at Buffalo, co-op / intern every summer, and stay on the ball…’ll get a job at the same salary and do just as well financially as the private school graduate and there are numerous studies to show that….and you’ll have little-to-no debt to go along with it. Some of the private schools are under tremendous pressure to free up their endowment money to give more financial aid to students and if that’s available, the choice can be a no-brainer. But many endowments have taken a hit with the recession and some schools are not able to offer big financial aid packages as a result. If that’s the case, and the option is to go there and take out loans….I’d look very hard at other options (community colleges / lower-cost state schools).

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