I am a college graduate, a former teacher and a current graduate student. Those three things combined have less power over my opinion about the importance of a college education.
The “thing” that I am that weighs my opinion the most is a debtor.
I have amassed such a large amount of debt that the majority of my adult life will be wrapped around paying it off (and consuming it early on). It is a depressing thought and a burden I carry heavily.
My experiences with debt are not unique. I have learned this through my readings and from the stories I have heard from readers of this little blog. I have not acted maturely with respect to money for nearly every one of my major life decisions. I own this and accept the consequences fully.
I do however, hope that by telling my story I can stop others from making these mistakes.
No where do I want this to be more true than with my own children. I share stories of my money issues with my children openly. I explain to them the dangers of debt and the importance of saving for long term goals and short term emergencies. I fail with those often but continue to explain to my children why it is important that they never follow this path.
One area that I hope they avoid is the student loan trap.
I am a complete hypocrite when it comes to this because I am living off student loans right now. I did this to get out of a very volatile situation. I did it to get out of living with my mom and so that I could avoid a costly custody battle with my ex. I did it so I could move to a new area, with more possibilities and to a better school system for my children (knowing that my youngest son was going to need extra help being successful in school) and so that my children could be close to their father, whom they missed.
But I do not want my own children to take out student loans when they go to college.
For me it began in 1991 when I was told by my parents that if I wanted to go to college I would have to borrow student loans to do so. It didn’t mean much to me at the time. I never grasped what the concept was of having debt and paying off $30,000. So I took the full amount out that I could each year, “knowing” that I’d make plenty of money on a first year teacher’s salary to pay it off.
I was uneducated about personal finance and I began playing a dangerous game with credit cards during that time. I graduated from college with $30,000 in school loan debt but also $15,000 in credit card debt.
During my college years, I changed my major three times. I graduated from a four year program in five years because I spent time taking classes that I didn’t ultimately need. I know that I’m not alone in these facts. Hundreds of college students are doing the same thing every semester because they don’t know what they want to be when they grown up.
How many 18 years olds know what they want to do for the rest of their lives? How many people chose a career at 18 and then hate it in 15 years? Or they graduate with a degree that interested them but has absolutely no value in the “real world”?
College is important and I find a tremendous value in the education. However, I do not think it is necessary immediately following high school graduation. Instead, I think teens should take a year or two off and really discover who they are. They would work full time, saving money for their education. They should spend time in a field they are interested in, at the lowest level and learn every thing they can learn before beginning an expensive four (or five) year educational program.
I think young adults should consider a trade school and community colleges more often than a university. They should be working full time and taking one or two classes at a time while paying for it in full. They should spend some time traveling with the money they have saved up and discover foreign cultures and more of the world.
As my son’s age, I plan to encourage them to seek out volunteer opportunities in the fields they are interested in and then hopefully jobs where they can begin to learn the ropes. If a trade school is an option that could lead them towards the same path, I will suggest they spend a year or two learning a trade that will get them in the door and earning a higher income than working at the local fast food location. I will suggest they save up money to take one or two classes at a time while continuing to work in the field they are interested in. If their interests change, I will encourage them to explore a different job before going further with their university education to avoid wasting valuable time and money.
Until they graduate, I will, of course continue to push them in their educational pursuits, it may lead them to a full ride scholarship. Should that occur, I would encourage my son to postpone for one year to truly know what he would like to do.
There is nothing worse than a wasted education, except wasted time.
Photo Credit: shiladsen on Flickr
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