Be a Smart Shopper When It Comes to Higher Education

Student-Loan

According to research done by the Associated Press, the average Gen Xer with a bachelor’s degree is paying $400 a month on student loan debt.  Does this seem wrong to you?  The federal government says this is more than the average household spends on groceries a month.  You need a bachelor’s degree, right?  So what do you do?

Everyone and their brother has a bachelor’s degree

We’ve been told that a bachelor’s degree is a must-have in today’s society.  But, let’s look at the numbers.  In 1970, the average income for a recent college graduate in their 20s was about $42,000 in 2013 dollars.  In 2013, that same average income was only $40,000.  Yet the bill to acquire said degree has sky-rocketed.  Is this really money well-spent?

The master’s is the new black

So, maybe a bachelor’s just isn’t cutting it anymore.  Maybe the new shiny object is a master’s degree.  Since 1970, the income of recent recipients of graduate degrees has increased by $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.  That’s good news, right?  Well, you have to factor in how much a master’s degree costs – $40,000 – versus $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree.  It just doesn’t seem like you’re getting a whole lot of bang for your buck.  Are there any other options?

I’d like a plate full of hands-on experience, please

If you’re planning to become a scientist, doctor, or researcher, yeah you’re probably gonna need a degree, and then some.  But, if you’re looking at getting into something like sales, software development, or business, you’re really gonna need to get some good old fashion hands-on experience.  The same goes if you’re looking at getting into a trade like carpentry, engine repair, or electrical.

So, how do you find experience?

1) Apply for entry-level jobs or internships.  Even if it’s not exactly what you want to do, get a job somewhere.  Once you’re in, put in some extra hours with people that are doing what you want to do.  Observe what their doing, ask questions, and offer your help with some of the more menial tasks.

2) Work on projects at home.  If you want to be a software developer, get on your computer and start coding something.  If you want to be in sales, start going door-to-door and sell something.  If you want to be an electrician, start re-wiring something.

3) Sign up for a vocational trade school.  Unlike 4-year universities that offer classes from a more academic or theoretical point of view, trade schools provide practical training geared specifically for the job you want.  Plus, they typically far cheaper to attend than a 4-year school.  And, according to Mike Row, blue collar jobs can pay pretty well.

4) Start your own business.  Even if it’s just helping out your neighbors with some odd jobs, you can learn a lot about how to run a business by trying it out yourself.

Full disclosure

I have a bachelor’s degree and I’ve taken several post-graduate classes.  But, I did it on the cheap.  I went to Community College for my first two years and paid for it entirely out of pocket. Then, I finished up my bachelor’s with two years at an inexpensive public state school.  I didn’t start taking post-graduate classes until I worked full-time for a few years and, even then, it was free because my company had a tuition reimbursement program.  I did take out a loan for my undergrad degree, but I paid it off in 5 years.

Would I take out a loan to get my bachelor’s again knowing what I know now?  No.  Would I even get a bachelor’s degree?  I’m not so sure.  I’ve found that, at least in my line of work, employers value experience far more than any degree.

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