This week’s Courier Herald column
Over the next few weeks, dormitories across the state will
again fill up. For most of us that are
long since beyond the glory of our college days, the biggest outward sign of
this will be the long awaited return of college football. For those that are returning to college or
leaving home for the first time, the ritual is not about the past, but the
The incoming Freshman class will be sharing the year with
the run-up to a Presidential election.
The news cycle this year will be dominated by the Democratic
Presidential Primary. By the time they
leave school, there will be a presumptive nominee awaiting their
The path between now and then will be littered with
promises, many aimed directly at them.
One issue already under discussion is “free” college and forgiveness of
student loan debt. Students would be
wise to keep such discussions in perspective, as most have not yet lived long
enough to experience the difference between campaign rhetoric and political and
The causes of the student loan crisis are many and go beyond
the limits of a 650-word column. Suffice
it to say that a collection of the sellers of degrees have attached themselves
to a virtually unlimited pipeline of guaranteed money with quite limited
responsibility for the outcome. Shifting
the payment source further from the student consumers to the taxpayer would not
solve the underlying problems with the current system, but instead would likely
magnify many of them.
Incoming, current, and prospective college students should
instead take a long look at the cautionary stories of those with crushing debt who
graduated college a decade or more ago, and make plans now to avoid many of the
same mistakes. It starts with the
understanding that is the student that is now in charge of his or her own
The value of your degree is not hidden, nor should it be based
on false hopes or wishful thinking. The value
of your degree can be found by visiting your college career placement
office. You, in your first semester at
school, should visit it armed with questions.
“What is the average starting salary for people with my
major?” Whether you’re borrowing money
or not for college, your time is an “opportunity cost”. You need to understand what you will be worth
in the job market when you take your degree there to sell your future time and
“What companies are hiring people with my degree?” You need to understand where you are likely
to be working, and what that work environment will be like. This will allow you plenty of time to
research potential employers, and begin networking with those that you want to
eventually hire you.
“Where are jobs like I should expect located?” Knowing how much you’re likely to make is
only part of what lifestyle you can afford with your degree. The cost of living in Atlanta is quite
different from the cost of living in Augusta or Albany. Can you afford rent, a car payment, and your
student loans in a place you want to live?
If not, you may be in the wrong major, or even the wrong school.
“What other skills and/or experience beyond my degree will
make me more likely to get hired compared to my peers with a similar degree?” The job market is competitive, and you will
be trying to get noticed above even those in your classes. Look for leadership roles in clubs, related
work opportunities such as internships and co-ops, and develop any other
special skills such as foreign languages or IT skills that an employer would
College is an amazing time in a person’s life. With some planning and self-imposed
structure, it can provide the student not only the “experience” and ability to
find one’s self, but ensure desired financial payoff as well.