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How to Spend Less on Education and Get More

March 21 2013

“One down and three to go.” That was the latest Facebook post from a friend of mine who graduated five years ago. She was so excited about paying off one of her four loans that she needed to shout it out for the world to see and hear.

My friend has reason to celebrate. College loans have grown increasingly burdensome over the years. Credit bureau TransUnion says that in the past five years, the average student loan debt each borrower carries has risen 30 percent to $23,829. More than half of student loan accounts are in deferral status.

Are there practical ways of keeping the cost of college down? I have a strategy that involves students and their parents.

According to a recent survey, over 50 percent of college graduates who have earned a four-year degree did so in six years. That’s right: it took, on average, two additional years to earn a four-year degree. There may be several contributing factors to this reality, one of them is indecision.

Indecision is costly in the college years. Many students choose a major or concentration sometime during their senior year in high school, only to switch it once, twice, or as many as three times during their college careers. Some estimates suggest that 75 percent of students switch at least once. If a switch in majors occurs in the first or second semester of college, there is usually little impact on credits and requirements. However, with each successive semester, the negative impact of switching grows as credit, classes, time, and money are lost.

Most parents and students don’t financially plan for twelve semesters of college, but the added years and loans can be devastating post-graduation. There are opportunity costs to staying an additional four semesters. Instead of entering the workforce and earning money, many students are instead taking on additional educational debt.

As difficult as this seems, the situation can worsen if students become discouraged or disillusioned and decide to take a break. At that point, many students find returning and finishing their degree to be a great challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 34 million Americans over 25 years old have some college credits but haven’t received a diploma, a rate that grew by roughly 700,000 people over the past three years. These students have the burden of loans but don’t possess the degree and profession to pay for them.

How can students avoid switching majors, transferring schools, dropping classes, or dropping out of school? The Sound of Music reminds us that the very beginning is a very good place to start.

What is the difference between making a decision and making an informed decision? It’s obvious, right? An informed decision is based on information, facts, and experiences. The more information and experiences a person has to draw from, the better the decision. Decisions made without sufficient information lead to years of confusion and change.

My presupposition in Hired ‘Right’ Out of College – From Classes to Career (Dog Ear Press, 2012) is that all students possess gifts and talents that give insight into areas in which they might professionally succeed. The best way to uncover and discover talents and gifts is by pursuing them through experiences and activities. Every activity by default leads to some type of experience, and it is through these events that students discover what they like to do and don’t like to do. They bump into activities that they are naturally adept at and hear feedback from coaches, friends, and supervisors about their strengths.

When students enter the discovery mode, they begin the exciting journey of learning who they are and what makes them tick. Being active, involved, and engaged is fun, and students won’t be able to place a value on what they discover about themselves. Students who choose a career path based on evidence and good information are going to make more accurate choices, be more engaged in their studies, and be less likely to switch majors or schools.

So how is that done?

In ‘Right’ there are dozens of ideas and strategies on how to get involved on campus. The book recommends that students visit the career services office early on and set up a plan for their four years. Next, they should visit the office of student life or their web page. There, students will find, in some cases, hundreds of school and student activities to choose from. Students can ask others who are already involved in campus life to help determine which activities will stretch, challenge, or expose them to useful discovery events.

Students will find that the discovery process is social and fun. If they follow the steps in ‘Right’, they will find themselves studying the most important subject of all: themselves. If they follow the steps, they can avoid a great deal of heartache, cost, confusion, and indecision. They will find instead that they are more engaged, excited, and focused, and on their way to a more financially predictable four-year education.

Q & A – With Author Garrett Miller

Q: When should students begin thinking about their careers?
A: Now. Once a student hits high school they should be evaluating their gifts, talents, and aptitudes. It’s never too early or too late to begin entering the discovery process.

Q: Could you explain a bit more about the discovery process?
A: The discovery process is that mindset each student needs to be in throughout their high school and college years. It is the purposeful pursuit of experiences that will stretch, test, and grow them as individuals. Great decisions are made when there is a wealth of good information, that is what the discovery process is all about.

Q: How do students find the experience? With unemployment at a record high, how can they secure good jobs that they need for the discovery process?
A: I never said students needed jobs. What they need are experiences. Many students find themselves very busy; busy watching the Office, playing video games, surfing the net, texting, and hanging out with friends. None of these are bad in and of themselves, but a steady diet of these is sure to produce a case of career indigestion. The difference between being busy and being busy with a purpose should be the goals when a student is evaluating how he should investment his time.

Q: Being busy with a purpose? That is clever, that phrase speaks volumes. How do they get busy with a purpose?
A: You said it, just get busy with a purpose. They need to choose activities that will grow and stretch them; activities that will expose them to new scenarios and aptitudes. I encourage students to get involved at school or in extra-curricular activities: join a school group, be part of a play, choir, sport, civic group, charity organization, religious group, debate team, honors group, or intermural competition.  Most campuses have hundreds of activities to choose from, it doesn’t matter which one you choose at first just get busy.

Q: That’s it? Fill their days with activities?
A: No, the most valuable process comes during and after the event. Digest! Students need to sit down with a friend, parent, advisor, coach or mentor and evaluate what they enjoyed, liked, and disliked about each of the activities. What new skills did they discover and what were they surprised about. It is in this critical evaluation period that students begin to find clues about who they are and how they have been particularly gifted. Once they discover clues then they are on their way to making career/educational decisions based on valuable information.

Q: I assume your book ‘Hired Right’ has examples of what students can do and what they should look for when evaluating possible experiences?
A: Hired ‘Right’ was written for the student. The subtitle is, ‘A Step-by-Step Guide to Discovering the Career You Were Born to Pursue.’

Q: That is terrific advice. It is like the term GIGO, garbage in garbage out. If you have poor data regarding your aptitudes then you may arrive at poor conclusions.
A: Exactly. This process can be fun and social. The most important subject any student will study at college is themselves!

Q: Where can they find Hired ‘Right’ Out of College – From Classes to Career (Dog Ear 2012).
A: Thanks for asking – Hired ‘Right’ Out of College is available as an e-book and can be found in every outlet. ‘Right’ is also available as a soft cover and again can be found in almost every outlet including, Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles.com, and my website CoTria.com.

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