A Brookings study found that only 38% of incoming students are aware of what they’ll owe in federal loans after graduation. This shows that very few freshmen estimate the overall financial costs of their college programs, and even fewer develop an effective plan for paying off their loans. Not only are the financial costs very real, but so is the lack of awareness about the other costs at play. College can cost much more than money if preparation is not made ahead of time. Let’s look at three ways in which college can cost us our wallet, emotions, and brain power if we’re not adequately prepared…
There’s the Financial Cost:
Before you sign up for a college program, have a very good idea of what the total cost of the program will be and what type of job you can obtain within the first few years after graduation. In other words do you know what the payoff of the program will be, or are you just guessing? That $50,000 program becomes a lot more expensive if you don’t have the income to pay it off soon after graduation(I’m using $50,000 as an example cost for a four year program, and this is on the cheap end, as many programs cost close to double that amount). If you’re taking out a loan, you’re going to spend much more than the full program cost over the long haul, because interest is added to that initial cost month by month if the principal amount isn’t paid off in full.
Don’t get choked by college expenses without knowing if the degree will help you generate the type of income needed to pay off your loans within 5 years or less (some people would say 10 years, but I’m conservative).
Then There’s the Emotional Cost:
A college choice should not be based solely on emotion. Fear and pride are very strong emotions, and both have driven people into college programs without preparation. Many people are afraid they will be useless without a college degree, and many others desire to obtain a college degree to boost their self-esteem. Others attend college out of jealousy or envy of people they view as successful. Simply put, don’t go to college to establish your identity or build your status. Really big decisions in life should not be made on emotion. You do not need to become a “college graduate” to become a “smart person”; and having a college degree does not mean that you have “made it.” These are very expensive lies to believe.
There are many happy and successful people in the world who do not have a college degree. I’m sure you know a few – perhaps in your family or social circle. Graduating from college can make you feel as if you have accomplished something important; but are you spending all of that time and money in academia to feel good about yourself? Let’s hope not. This is not to say you shouldn’t be excited about a college program that you know will benefit you professionally and will teach you the skills necessary to do the job you desire to do, at an affordable cost. What I’m addressing is the generic idea that a college degree will bring you bliss, wealth, success, high-profile job, and the American dream. Be careful not to enroll for those reasons. Think about your college choice carefully. Are high tuition costs, unneeded courses, missed opportunities, and interest rates part of your dream? They can become more like a nightmare if you don’t put a lot thought into college affordability. When deciding whether or not to attend college, just make sure you’re keeping strong emotions out of the picture, as much as possible.
And Then We Have the Intellectual Cost:
You can learn Sociology, Literature, History, Philosophy, English, Business, and even some Science with the use of a library card, internet access, and mentors. Whether or not you can learn these subjects with your own time and effort is a question of motivation and discipline. It’s not easy, but doable.
Many colleges are now offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) for free. Using a MOOC to test drive a college program is an idea worth considering. I’m not saying let’s do away with teachers. Teachers and mentors are essential for a good education; but there are basic subjects that we can learn adequately and quickly outside of the classroom setting for free.
It’s true that many colleges require core general education courses, but taking these required classes are only beneficial if the end result is a job in your desired field. This is not to say that the core subjects aren’t important for intellectual growth and development. You just may not need to sit through a History or Philosophy course to learn the lessons. As mentioned, a library card may very well do the job, and for free – considering you return the books.
College can cost you valuable time and energy learning something that you could have learned for free while on the job, at home, traveling, volunteering, or at the library. Be careful to choose a college program that will truly benefit your career and development, at a reasonable cost.