Should You Go to College If You Can't Afford it?

It’s no secret that student loan debt is aiding in the slow economic growth of America. More students are in debt and that, in part, hurts the economy. Moreover, the carte blanche lending from the Federal Government has caused a tuition bubble that will certainly pop. Schools are raising tuition rates because students have the mindset of just using more loans to afford it; a dangerous mindset indeed.

I am of the opinion that if you can’t afford college, then you ought not to go. Had I listened to this advice before I went to school, I wouldn’t have had over $60,000 in student loans. Student debt kills consumers in the marketplace in that it restricts them. They have fewer options because they have less monthly capital because they are paying $300-$1,000 per month for their student loans.

This gets us the question of is a degree even important? I have two opinions on this. First, degrees can certainly be helpful if they are done in meaningful areas. Business, education, science, and human services/healthcare are all degrees that hold value at varying levels.

However, there are also very limited degrees that don’t necessarily hold a lot of value such as: communications, psychology, and fine arts (at a bachelor’s degree level, primarily). There are jobs that pay well for those degrees but they are far less frequent than the former jobs I had mentioned.

Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you go to college:

1. Can I afford it?

Do you have the capital or working cash flow to afford school? If not you should probably consider a school change, switching to part-time enrollment, finding scholarships or grants, or waiting until you have the cash. It will save you so much headache in the long run. Moreover, as I wrote in a recent article, it will put students ahead as they exit the college space as they will be more marketable.

2. What will my career opportunities be?

This is a serious question that often gets a half-way response. A quick Google search and five minutes on Glass Door doesn’t constitute research. Actually look at what the expected market will be and how easily you can find a job making 40-50k. If you career starts at 30k, you may want to reconsider unless you’re fine with hustling to the top of that pay scale.

3. Where are your current efforts?

Mike Rowe and Mark Cuban have a very similar saying along the lines of following your effort and not your passion. Rowe gives the example of American Idol and how people are crushed because they find out they suck at singing for the first time in their life instead of getting good direction from friends and family. Look at where your effort is and what you have good potential at, not just what you are passionate about.

4. How big of a degree do you need?

I have friends in the social work industry who tell me that generally, here in Michigan, a social worker with a BA or BS can expect about $35,000/year but they really need a Master’s Degree to reach that $50,000 mark. That means at least 1.5-2 more years of school, which equates to more money.

Again, make sure you a have the cash before you take on a graduate school program; don’t go into debt for it. Even better, find an employer who will cash flow it for you. That’s an employer worth working for.

Make sure that really look at the undergraduate and graduate programs before you jump in. If you’re 18 and you feel pressured to go to school but have no money, look for a company that offers temp jobs that translate into full-time work and bust your butt until you get the money, scholarships, and/or grants needed to start.

Several studies show working 18-20 hours while in college increases your GPA. Don’t be afraid to work and grab some life skills while you’re in school too. I promise you it will be a far better ROI than using debt as the tool to obtain your degree.

Do you have tips for college students or an opinion on whether or not college degrees’ matter? I’d like to hear from you!