College Advice Blog

Sep 16, 2010

College Choices: Are You Making the Right Ones?

Graduated High School? On to the next step...
If you already know the answers to the following three questions, then you probably won’t get a lot out of this article. It may be worth reading, anyway – just re-affirm your decisions or maybe to help a friend in their decision making.

  • Where are you going to school?
  • What are you going to study?

  • How are you going to pay for it?

(The old WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW logic that you have used to solve problems, at least since the fifth grade).

I plan to focus on the negative points in this discussion since I believe you know your own positive reasons for your choices – “I’m going to an Ivy League school, because that’s so cool”. Or “I’m going somewhere a thousand miles away, so I’ll never have to come back here again”. Also, I’ll try hard to not state the obvious.

Where are you going to school? I hope you did not limit your search to the “Top Ten Party Schools” in the nation. As bad as that sounds, I also hope you have not limited your selection to most prestigious schools. I know you can rationalize your decision to make it the logical choice. But let’s look at the bottom line dollars and cents. If you were paying out of your own pocket, would you spend as much as three times for a “private” school as you would pay for that same degree from a good, in-state university. More than likely, you would be applying for the same job at basically the same pay. “Networking”, you say. “Going to that private school will lead to higher paying jobs over your career because of the people on top, pulling for you”. Even if this be true, do you realize how many years it would take to off-set the extra 50,000 after-tax dollars you “invested”. Also, I feel that if you go in as a white-collar, you come out as a white-collar – you probably won’t go through metamorphosis and come out a blue-blood country clubber who spends a great deal of time and money at the yacht club. One last point, if you are in a networking environment, be prepared to be passed-over for that promotion – not because you didn’t deserve it – but because you we lower on the networking stairway.

What are you going to study? In a lot of ways it really doesn’t matter that much. Do stay away from Basket Weaving and Parks and Recreation Management. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a Political Science Major designing the bridge I’m driving over. Nor am I really excited about an ex-actor leading my country. If I have a brain tumor, I’ll seek out the best Shakespearean scholar in the land. No, let’s stay real. In my experience, the most important trait I had, was that I graduated. When things got tough, I didn’t quit. I didn’t transfer from school to school trying to find something where I could succeed. My degree was in Business Administration. I think I can safely say that I never, ever used a single classroom lesson in the real world. Not Accounting, Industrial Engineering, Advertising, Marketing, Wholesaling, Money and Banking, Real Estate, Business Law, and who can remember all the rest of them. I’m not saying the classes had little or no value; they helped mold me into a viable candidate in the job market. I found companies are more interested in what you can do rather than what you know. One last point, the best boss I ever had knew nothing about computers – his background was Project Manager for the underground Silo Atlas Missile Bases – yet he successfully managed a large computer department. Again, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can do – but first you have to get in the door. But enough about me – What are you going to study?

How are you going to pay for it? First let me say that if you are planning to go to one of those private schools and plan to pay for it using student loans – don’t even bother finishing this article and please do not leave me a comment – I cannot help you! Good luck.

With that said, private schools are excellent choices for the very rich and the very poor. Again, the middle class gets stuck carrying the load- but that’s another story. Many of the top schools offer full scholarships to top students of truly poor families. They take a great deal of pride in their slogans “Money, or the lack thereof, will not keep you out of ______”. The next best chance is to stick the parents with a large portion of the bill. You may be surprised at reaction and movement a simple statement like “I decided not to go to college because it costs too much – so I plan to spend the rest of my life here at home with you” may provoke.

On a more realistic note, work is the answer. Nights, weekends, holidays, summertime, during school sessions – the time is available. It is inconvenient, I agree, but how bad do you want it? Most schools have student aid offices that can assist you in finding an on-campus job. Go for it.

Also note there are hundreds of scholarships that go un-claimed every year. Applying and qualifying is hard work, maybe harder than anything you’ve ever tried. If you can’t take rejection, don’t even attempt this exercise. Dave Ramsey, national radio talk show host tells the story of a Mom and Daughter spending the entire summer applying for these scholarships rather that working at Wendy’s for minimum wage. At the end of summer they had something like 1300 applications, 1268 rejections, and only 32 grants. What a rejection rate – I could just sit down and cry. Oh, I forgot to tell you the grants produced more than $13,000 and many were self renewed with successful completion of each year’s academic work. (Numbers in the example above are estimates based on my memory – I could look it up for the exact count, but the magnitude is what I’m stressing here).

So have at it. Would love to hear your comments.

About The Author:  
James Luther is old to the world, but fairly new to blog sites. “I have a few postings on– various topics – whatever is on my mind today. The thing that I love about blogging is that you can develop your thought without interruptions. Seems like in head-on debates you never get to finish your point; you (and your opponent) aren’t listening to what is being said – rather planning what they are going to say next. Nothing I hate more is a discussion where everyone is talking at once – talking louder and louder trying to talk over their opponent."

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