Many people are led to believe that college is about “finding yourself” and that everyone should blindly take on massive debt in order to attend, regardless of your career goals. Unfortunately, when private universities like Stanford and even public schools like the University of Virginia can cost up to $270,000 to attend, going down that path without a sound strategy often results in disaster.
It is important to have a solid plan to guide you when applying to college, choosing a college, and throughout your time there.
Extra tuition money & living expenses paid
One bad outcome is when students get indecisive about their direction (often times because they are unclear about their long term destination to begin with) and end up constantly switching majors (or even schools) without making any real progress towards graduation.
Exploration is good and it’s okay to not know exactly what you want in precise detail, but with how expensive college has become, that can turn out to be dozens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars down the drain. College planning is key.
Long term return on investment (ROI)
Given that, what is a successful outcome? We have to look at long term return on investment (ROI). Success involves more than just getting accepted to your dream university. What’s the point of spending all that money on an elite degree only to be underemployed? The diploma is just the starting point. The real value is in what you do with all that, how you’re able to jumpstart your career.
Not every degree is equal, not every student is equal, and not every outcome is equal. Graduating from Yale with an American Studies degree is not the same as graduating with a Finance degree. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the former; just be aware that prospective employers don’t look at the two in the same way. And if both Yale grads spent a quarter million dollars to attend the same college, then they absolutely didn’t get the same benefits out of it.
Caveat: Even with a competitive degree from a prestigious university, there are still other factors that determine what you can do with your degree, such as the ability to market oneself still makes a difference.
Make decisions with the long term in mind
To avoid negative outcomes from your financial investment into your future, it is absolutely necessary that you know your purpose. Otherwise you’ll never be able to evaluate your decisions and progress.
You want to think of your college degree as an investment, as a tool to propel you forward. You better expect a positive return: you’re paying a lot for it, so you better be able to use it to make that money back (and more).
That means choosing the right activities and major, as well as using your free time (which there will be lots of) the right way. Exploration is good, but do it smartly. If you’re paying $60,000+ a year to attend college, it might be better to choose between two avenues that increase your chances of getting a positive return on that investment, rather than paths that don’t give any chance of that.
Remember, if you want to explore just for curiosity’s sake, there are plenty of other ways to do that while keeping your university studies focused on your long term career goals.
Are bragging rights worth that much money? What’s your plan when it comes to deciding which university to attend and what to study there?