5 ways to make sure a college education pays off

Your first step in dodging a student-loan nightmare: Go to college with an eye toward the future, not the present.

By Credit.com Jun 20, 2014 12:09PM
This post comes from Michael Garry at partner site Credit.com.

Credit.com on MSN MoneyAround this time every year, there is usually a barrage of stories in the media about the ever-escalating amounts of student loan debt. These are accompanied by news of the college majors that pay the most -- and, conversely, those that pay the least.

College graduates © Ariel Skelley / Blend Images/Getty ImagesDon’t pay any attention to the advice embedded within those stories. If you want your child to be miserable, encourage them to pick a college major based on what career pays the most when they are a high school senior.

Nothing could be more short-sighted than picking a major based on the earnings for one year. Your child might work for 50 years after graduation. How likely is it that the major they pick based on one year’s earnings will pay well for a half-century? The field might not even exist in the future. Many of the highest paying entry-level jobs today didn’t exist 10 years ago. Things change.

Here are some ways to help guide your child in making the decisions that can lead to a happier career.

1. Tell your child to pick something they love and find a way to make money from it.

With the rise of the Internet, it is easier than ever to become an expert in a field and to make money from it as an entrepreneur. There are people in every field doing that right now and there are a million ways to make a great living in this country. In my business I am always amazed at the different ways my clients have found to be successful.

You know the guy who lives in the big house on the hill in your town? Chances are he probably didn’t choose his major because the earnings for it happened to be high when he went to college. It’s more likely that he found something he was passionate about and learned all he could about it. He probably got an advanced or professional degree in a subject or two and became such an expert that people were willing to pay him a premium for his skills, services and/or products.

2. Suggest that your child to plan for college as they would a business and encourage creativity.

If your child goes to college for four years, taking courses with no plan, and then starts sending out their resume in the spring of their senior year, then yes, he or she will struggle and you will wonder what the heck you just spent $250,000 on.

Instead, they need to consider each course as an investment in time and money, and they need to figure out how each course will help them before they sign up for it. Yes, I know there will be some required courses. They should still figure out how to get the most out of them. Maybe it’s the content; maybe it’s the connections with the professor or other students. There will be something.

3. If they aren’t sure yet what to major in, tell them to take all of their required courses first and see what they like.

I was an undecided business major for almost two years. Then I became hooked on finance and went with it. In my MBA program, I stuck with finance because it was familiar. In law school I figured I might break from business and finance, but guess what? I found out that it really was what I liked so I took courses in finance, tax and estate planning. I worked for a couple of years as a lawyer and I hated every second of it.

Fifteen years ago I made a break from working as a lawyer and started working as a financial planner. The courses that I took in tax and finance didn’t help me much as a lawyer, but have come in handy ever since. Now I get paid very well to do a job I love where I get to help people every day. What could be better than that?

4. Make sure your child has a plan for paying for college.

They can’t just go in and hope for the best. Don’t be afraid to steer them toward community college and a state school or to take a little longer to decide if they need to.

5.  Tell them not to be afraid to take out student loans just because they will have debt.

It’s hard to go to college now without loans or semi-affluent parents who are generous. Debt is not evil; it’s very useful sometimes. Student loan debt can also be a good thing for your credit scores -- when paid on time, over time -- and many graduates could use that opportunity to build credit. (If you want to see how student loan debt affects your credit, there are many resources that allow you to check your credit scores for free, including Credit.com.)

Also, the average student loan debt is about what a new car costs. Which one will provide them more value in the future? It’s education, by a mile.

One last thing: Help them if you can really afford it, but don't jeopardize your own retirement. They still have 50 years of earnings ahead of them; you don’t.

More from Credit.com


Jun 20, 2014 6:46PM
If you get a degree, you might make more money.  then you can suport more people who won't work.
Jun 20, 2014 7:18PM
If everyone becimes a doctor or a lawyer, who will drive the garbage truck?  It takes everyone.  One is no more important than the other
Jun 20, 2014 7:19PM
Local convenience store is full of young people with degrees.
Jun 20, 2014 4:44PM
Many times, everyone picks the same Field that everyone thinks is the Future. Then you pay all that money for College and there are far too many folks in the same Field. The Career Choices that are always in Demand like Engineers and Doctors, everyone isn't suited to Major in those Fields. There are Trades folks can learn that will never go out of Style and also pay well. College isn't the Be All Do all some folks claim it too be. Nothing ever is.

I am all for Folks getting a Degree is something Relevant. However, in light of the rising Cost, sometimes it just better to learn a trade and start your own Business. Then you can Write off the Cost of that Vehicle among other things.
Jun 20, 2014 7:09PM

#5 was absolutely stupid.

If you have to take out a loan for something that they give to others for free (scholarships), it is a very good sign that YOU SHOULDN'T BE THERE!

Jun 20, 2014 6:45PM
The most important degrees are about 98.6 F.  Other than that, I used to tell people "get an education; nobody can take that away from you."  How little did I know.  I hope I never tell anyone that again.  Whitecoats and legal drug dealers can take your mind away.  I encourage everyone to read about statin drugs.  Don't trust your whitecoat or your legal drug dealer to warn you.  Do your own research on statin drugs.  And, that is only one of many.  The "ask your doctor" ads are working anc creating jobs.....for doctors, nurses, extended living facilities, nursing homes and staff, assisted living, and funeral homes and staff, just to mention a few.  We have a sorry ashed CONgress that would even allow "ask your doctor" ads.
Jun 20, 2014 7:20PM
I finished a computer science degree in 1995.  I have to go to the bathroom!  If I can find that degree, I may use it for toilet paper.
Jun 20, 2014 6:49PM
What kind of degree will be needed to shovel dirt in the bomb craters if Russia decides to shut the "wawanings" up of Obummer, Kerry, Clinton, Mccain and the others who feel they need to get a word in?  I am surprised washington hasn't been reduced to ashes already.  God has destroyed entire armies and countries have fallen.  I am surprised the US is still puking "wawanings."
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