The College Student Reality Check

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You just graduated high school and you’re now officially an adult! You have plans to attend college and you are excited for the next chapter in your life. Just in case you have not been paying attention to the real world the past 4 years, let’s open up a discussion on this whole college debt thing.

Since the recession in 2008, all of the American consumer debts have actually gone down. All of them except student loan debt. According to a recent study done by Experian, student loan debt has actually increased 84% since the recession and the average college graduate is starting off life with $30,000 in student loans. Isn’t this special? What does this really mean for EVERYONE?

We can start off with the loan itself. Imagine walking into the bank as an 18-year-old kid and asking telling the banker you need a small business loan for $50,000 to get you started. It may sound something similar to this:

“Please don’t ask for any proof of work history, credit history, or even business sense, because I literally have zero in each category. I don’t know exactly what my business is going to be, but I do know I am going to have a great experience. Also, I would like this loan federally backed by the tax payers just in case I go into default. How quickly can we get this done?”

You and I both know this would never happen. No lender in their right mind is going lend thousands and thousands of dollars to a kid who is fresh out of high school with zero real-world experience – except if we are talking about student loans. Then all you really need to do is push the ON button and money comes out all in the name of education.

 

To the Student

If you are part of the 66% of college students who are going to graduate with student loan debt, pay attention. The average student graduates with $30,000 in student loan debt at an average interest rate of 3% – 9%. This may not mean much to you, so let’s break this down:

You graduate and owe $30,000. The average interest rate you will pay is 5% and your loan term is 20 years. Your minimum monthly payment is $201 and after 20 years you would have paid $48k for that $30k student loan. Since you just graduated high school, the math jumps out at you and you realize this is a terrible plan. Not cool.

This brings us to our next topic – CHOICES.

Up until this point in your life, you have been pounded with the sense that life is supposed to be fair and equal. Everyone who tries their hardest deserves a trophy and we are all in this together. This changes the day you step foot on a college campus. First of all, you need to understand that not all undergraduate degrees are the same, however all undergraduate degrees COST the same. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything on the menu at the upscale restaurant were the same price? Hello steak every time! In college, your focus of study matters. I want you to do what you feel your calling is, but remember that degrees cost the same but they don’t pay the same.

Engineering degrees have a history of having the highest rate of return on your college investment. This doesn’t mean you now have to be an engineer, but just be aware the girl walking at graduation from the engineering school is going to be making WAY more than the guy who spent his 4 years in the undergraduate program of making puppets in theatre and now has a job lined up at Burger King. I am sure they both have their purpose in society, however unless you are the greatest puppeteer of all time, you may be graduating with a ton of debt and working the cash register at the home of the whopper. This isn’t to say that you HAVE TO HAVE a degree in business to go into business, and you don’t have to be a biology major to be a doctor. You have some wiggle room….to a point. If you want to study rocks, that’s awesome! Just make sure there is a market hiring for people with a vast knowledge on….rocks.

 

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Welcome to the Real World

So many times you hear a parent say, “I don’t want little Johnny to have to work in school because he needs to focus on his studies”. This is silly. YES, you want little Johnny to work in college because it’s called the real world! When you turn 18, you are legally an adult. Mom and Dad no longer need to protect their little Johnny from the evils of hard work.

Okay Mom and Dad, now you’re really going to get upset. Here is another piece of advice to your college student:

Your GPA doesn’t matter as much as you think

HUH! What did I just read?! You’re insane!! Don’t listen little Johnny.

Follow along for a second and you’ll understand why. I am not saying you should strive to be a bum and get Ds all through college, but I am saying that a college degree is a college degree. They don’t put your grade point average on the diploma. Furthermore, your GPA isn’t even relevent in a job interview once you graduate college. No employer is going to look over little Johnny’s report card from each semester. You know what they may look at? Time management skills, social skills, and technical skills. Guess where the undergraduate can find all of these skills? AT WORK, while in school. Diploma No GPA

Candidate A: Little Johnny
Johnny graduated with a 3.8GPA. He never worked a day in college so he could focus on keeping all A’s in about 90% of his classes. He is so smart!

Candidate B: Buddy
Buddy graduated with a 2.8GPA. He worked 20 hours a week during school and 40 hours a week during the summers. He was promoted to lead at work and was able to make $15,000 a year to help pay for his school. He has great time management skills because he has had to balance his duties at work and his school schedule. He understands how business works because not only did he study it, he worked the last four years and received real-world experience along side his education. He is a proven go-getter.

You’re the employer – you decide.

The average bachelor degree salary is $51k and the average college graduate will earn $1.2 million more than the high school graduate according to a study done by Nerd Wallet. It is obvious that college is important, however don’t get caught up in the idea that a piece of paper that says you graduated from college is an automatic ticket to your dream job. Treat college like it is an actual job and have plans to go out into the workforce and thrive. Don’t waste your time and money to go to college for 4 years to experience the art of beer pong and sitting in the student section at the football games – it’s not very cost-effective. Furthermore, don’t waste your time, money, and effort if you have zero plans on entering the job market. There is nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I think it is harder to stay home with 3 kids under the age of 3 than anything at work – my humble opinion. Therefore, realize that you don’t need to go $30k in debt to stay at home with the kiddos. To take that a step further, you don’t need to go $30k into debt to graduate college. If I am in your shoes, I am going to get a job, apply for grants, stay in state, utilize community college, and ride a bike. Your (rich) future self will being giving you a fist bump one day, and if fist bumps are no longer cool, so be it – you’re still winning in this whole money thing!

 

-Chris Peach

 

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2 replies
  1. Amy
    Amy says:

    I love imagining how, if degrees were priced according to real world “value,” my English degree could have been snagged for a low, low price. 🙂 I have no regrets, but it did take me years and years to finally get a writing job. It’s funny how that job that students have just to make a little money while in school may very well end up being at least a temporary career. This is because when you apply for jobs, employers often care more about your experience than your particular type of degree. Hmmm. Great advice, sir!

    Reply
    • Peach
      Peach says:

      Hi Amy!

      Congrats on your hard work, perseverance, and determination on getting a writing job in a market that is extremely competitive 🙂 You’re exactly right about experience vs G.P.A. Think about it; if you were hiring, what is going to be more attractive to you – your grades in college or your experience in college and life. Thanks Amy for the comment 🙂

      Reply

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