Young adults today face a difficult choice: brave the job market without a college degree or incur a hefty amount of debt in order to get one. While a college degree doesn’t guarantee grads a job (as many are learning the hard way), it can still be an invaluable asset for forging a career, provided students are smart about where they choose to go to school, what they major in, and the skills they learn in college. So how can you help to ensure that your investment in education is a sound one? There are no guarantees, but these tips can help reduce the chance that you shell out big bucks on a degree that won’t pay for itself after graduation.
Before enrolling in a degree program, make sure that you do a lot of research. You want to find out if a degree is required in your chosen field and at what level. If you know you’ll need a degree, then you should begin to research which schools have the best programs for that field. Once you know that information, you can analyze which schools will offer the best price for the degree, helping you make a smart, informed decision about where to attend school whether it be in Michigan, Arkansas, Delaware, etc – doesn’t matter. In making your choice, don’t forget to look at employment data for grads, which, while sometimes inflated, can help you determine what your prospects are after graduating from a certain program or just in your field overall. Why all the research? While college can help you pursue a passion, it’s also an investment. If you have few prospects for return on that investment, then it’s a poor one to make and you may need to retool your college plans or help to compensate for a poor job market and fewer prospects by heading to a cheaper school.
One of the most valuable things you will take away from college won’t just be your degree; the relationships you develop with faculty, alumni, and classmates can also play a pivotal role in your success after graduation. Cultivating strong relationships in college will give you a great foundation for networking after you leave school (not to mention a great support system while you’re in school) and college offers opportunities for connecting that are almost impossible to find in the wider world. To really make sure your college tuition is working for you, you need to not only focus on getting an education but also building relationships that can benefit you personally and professionally throughout your life.
Ideally, your college experience should include at least one internship in the field you’d like to work in after you graduate. This experience will help you learn more about what working in your chosen field is really like. You may find that it isn’t what you expected or that you want to retool your educational experience to emphasize certain skills that you feel you’ll need. If you love it, you’ll be happy to have the experience on your resume as it can give you a leg up when you’re looking for work. Most colleges offer help and placement programs for internships, so don’t be afraid to take advantage.
If you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars getting a college degree, then make sure that you’re getting the most for your money. That means not skipping classes (remind yourself that you’ve paid quite a lot for each and every one), doing your homework and reading, and taking advantage of all the amenities that your tuition affords you, including gym membership, world-class libraries, clubs, career advisors, health services, and free on-campus events. You pay for these whether you use them or not, so it only makes sense to take advantage while you can.
College is full of distractions. The biggest source of this can be social events, but distractions can be academic too. It might seem fun to take a bunch of silly classes as your electives, but is that really the best use of your money? Instead, keep your focus with regard to your future career and take courses that, while in a different field, could potentially have applications in your field of choice. For instance, graphic design majors could take courses in computer programming, business, and creative writing to help their careers. That doesn’t mean you can’t take courses that interest you, but if you do, think of ways to apply the skills you learn in your own field. You’ll expand your horizons, help your career prospects, and ensure you’re not wasting tuition money on courses that won’t really help you in the long run.
Whether or not your college degree will be worth it is somewhat contingent on what you want to get out of life. Do you want money? Job security? To change the world? Spend some time seriously thinking about whether or not your chosen major will help you to achieve some or all of your future goals and determine what elements are the most important to you. Fair or unfair, some careers just pay better than others or boast positives that others do not. Ensure that your long-term goals and values are compatible with the degree you’re working toward. A mismatch could mean unhappiness in your career and a return to school later on for a degree that is more in line with your true goals.
No matter what major you choose, there will be hundreds of other students all over the nation graduating in it or something similar right along with you. You need to find a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. One way to do that is by adding a minor that complements your major in a useful way. You could also just learn skills that will be assets in finding a job. For instance, you could learn a useful foreign language, study business basics, or learn how to design websites. Any practical abilities you can bring to employers will help you. Even better, in-demand skills will serve you well even if you can’t find a job right out of the gate in your chosen field, as they are often applicable in many different kinds of settings.
Getting a degree in a given field isn’t enough to get you hired these days. Many employers have a very specific set of skills that they’re looking for when hiring, and many grads just don’t have them. You can get ahead of the game by looking around at job listings in your area to see what employers are looking for in hires. If you’re lacking in any of the skills, take courses in those areas. Ideally, you’ll be able to create your own degree program tailored to the job market that will give you the skill set you need to be competitive and stand out.
College should teach you much more than just chemical formulae, financial markets in Louisiana or Idaho, or the dates of significant historical events; it also teaches extremely valuable life skills, like how to communicate with others, work as a team, manage your time, motivate yourself, and think critically. These skills are some of the most important that you will learn and hone during your college years, so don’t neglect to work on them. Even better, they can be applied both in your personal life and in any future job, regardless of the field you end up in.
One of the best ways to ensure that you get a college degree that’s truly a smart investment for you is to keep an open mind. There are numerous ways to get the training and certification necessary to be competitive in the job market. You may have to consider online programs, lower-tier schools, combination majors, or even taking a different direction altogether. Whatever comes your way, make sure to keep an open mind. You may find that the best opportunities are at first scary or strange to consider, but will provide you with the skills and expertise you need to get out into the working world without drowning in debt or struggling to get hired.