For many people, college simply seems like the next logical step after high school. However, deciding to go to college is a major investment, especially if you plan to attend a four-year university or earn a professional or graduate degree. Before you enroll, make sure to take the following factors into consideration so that you make a smart decision for your financial future.
By 2020, it's estimated that 65% of all jobs will require a technical or bachelor's degree; so you need to seriously consider which college you'll go to and more importantly how much it will cost.
Paying for College
Higher education isn't about whether you can get into college; it's about whether you can pay for it. Some people are able to pay for college with their own money or with help from their parents. If you don't have all or part of the money to cover the costs of college, you'll need to apply for scholarships, grants, and student loans. While scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid, you should think about whether you're willing to take on student loan payments after college.
I graduated in 2008 with $50,000 in student loans…my biggest advice for students is to choose the most affordable college option.
Two main types of student loans exist: federal and private loans. Federal loans are offered by the government and generally have more generous repayment terms, but private loans can be a great supplement if your federal loans don't cover all your expenses.
Federal loans usually have more lenient repayment terms so be sure to compare student loan offers before applying for additional aid so that you get the funding you need at the best rates.
College is an investment in your future. Hopefully, that investment will help you to earn a higher salary in the long term. However, different careers can have different earning potentials. You'll want to think about what career you hope to have and the education you'll be required to have to pursue it. For example, you may need only a bachelor's degree for the career you hope to have, or you may need to attend graduate or professional school before being eligible to apply for jobs in that field.
If you're not sure which career is right for you, consult the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource lists the job details, education requirements, and average salaries for a range of career options.
I also encourage summer internships. After an internship during my sophomore and junior year of college, I switched career fields when I realized what I wanted to do sounds fun when you're 18, but doesn't make sense when you're a graduate who was to work in that career field full-time.
Now that you've thought about how to pay for school and what type of career you'd like to have, compare your college options. Do you want to attend a large public university or a small private university? Will you need a school with a particular degree program? Consider these questions when searching for colleges that would be a good fit for you and provide the high-quality education you desire.
You'll also want to factor the costs of attendance into the equation. Students can often save money by completing part or all of their education at a community college or testing out of college courses.
If you want to attend a four-year university, remember that a private college may cost twice as much as a public university. Take into account the expenses beyond tuition as well — including books, on-campus housing, and student fees — to get a better picture of the total cost of attending each college you're considering.
Make a smart investment in your future by taking the above important factors into account during your college search.
If I Could Do College Over Again
While I have no regrets about going to the college I did, there are a few things I would do differently:
- Consider community college and CLEP testing first instead of thinking student loan debt is good
- Not be prideful and think you need to attend a big-name school for the name recognition (and higher tuition fees)
- Listen to adults for career and college advice (Yes, opportunity is wasted on the youth in way too many cases)
What advice do you have for aspiring college students?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.