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A Note to High School Students

In looking over my blog stats, I noticed that I was getting many hits for searches around the theme of “Should I take out loans to go to college?,” and I wanted to give my perspective on this to both ease fears and advise caution to current high school students who might be worrying about the financial implications of their education.

Just so it’s clear, even in the midst of my own tremendous debt, I still believe that a college education is a worthwhile “purchase.”  In general, college graduates make more money than high school graduates who didn’t go to college.  Additionally, studies have shown that college graduates have higher self-esteem, are more likely to stay married, are more likely to vote, and are more likely to enjoy other benefits than high school graduates. 

That said, high schools students who are planning to go the college route, as well as college graduates who are looking into further degrees, need to do some serious research before choosing where they decide to pursue their educations.  Ask your prospective college/graduate school about their employment statistics and average debt load.  Look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook for information on your employment prospects in your chosen field and average salaries so you know what you are getting into.  Think long and hard about what you are willing to give up – and, more importantly, what you aren’t – in order to be able to pay back any debt you may incur. 

In my own situation, I was always a bit of a pseudo-hippy who could never have thrived or been happy in a corporate law environment.  Nonetheless, when it came time to choose a law school, I let myself be dazzled by the Harvard name, forgetting that if I ever chose to pursue a career outside of corporate law (which I, of course, did), the cost of my education would far outweigh the salaries I would be able to draw in alternative careers. 

The point is, you need to know yourself going in.  If you are dead-set on being an investment banker, you know all the sacrifices it entails, you love working 24-hour days, etc., then you’ll probably be fine taking out student loans to get a degree that will allow you to be an investment banker, assuming you go to a school prestigious enough to allow you to get that job after you graduate.  But if you are someone who has always had a desire to work with, say, children, and you’re dream is to be a kindergarten teacher, then you should think twice about paying crazy money to go to the most prestigious college you can get into and instead look for programs that will give you enough grants or are inexpensive enough to let you pursue your dream without having to take a 10-year hiatus in a job you hate just to foot the loan bills.

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