The face of higher ed is no doubt changing as the student debt crisis rages on and new educational options become available to accommodate a unique mix of learners. All of this is pretty freakin’ thrilling to consider, especially if you feel like traditional university learning isn’t for you or the cost of it all overwhelms you (and your wallet).
If you’re wondering how to make higher ed work for both your dollar and your individual learning style, check out these tips.
Take Traditional Advice with a Grain of Salt
While the advice of the generations before you may be helpful and well-intentioned, it could also be outdated. The Millennial generation went to traditional, 4-year universities in droves largely because their parents told them to. Many didn’t think twice about taking on massive amounts of student debt because they were told it was what everyone was doing. While that may have worked for the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, it’s clear it hasn’t worked out as well for many Millennials, who came of age during the recession and had to contend with inflation and rising tuition costs.
That’s why we encourage you to take the advice of others (even ours, boo) with a grain of salt when it comes to your future and education. Education is an investment above all else and only you can know how much of your time, energy, and money you’re willing to invest. You also know your risk tolerance better than anyone else. Trust your gut. Your future depends on it.
Do Your Own Research
The best way to make a good decision is to be well-informed of your options. Higher ed goes beyond the traditional route of a 4-year college, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Before you make any decisions, look into traditional university programs, community colleges, certification programs, vocational schools, and college alternatives (like tech academies or coding bootcamps). If you’re not sure where to start, take our learning style quiz.
Your research will give you a wider picture of what you can study, how long each education model will take to complete, and where each program could take your career. Those who are fresh out of high school should also consider taking a gap year to work, travel, or both. You’ll have more time to think over your options, gain some life experience, and come into your own.
Crunch the Numbers
Once you’ve done your own research and know what type of program is for you, it’s time to get out your calculator. Start as early as you can and do the math to figure out exactly how much the entirety of your education will cost you. How will you finance that amount: with student loans, scholarships, or cold hard cash? Better yet, you need to ask yourself how you really feel about the bill you’ll be footing and your chosen financing path.
If you’re taking out student loans, sit down and figure out how long it will take to pay them back. You can do this by researching the median salary for entry-level positions in your field, estimating the minimum payment for the amount you’ll owe, and making a budget based on the cost of living in your area. From there, you can see how much extra cash you’d be able to put towards the debt each month based on the margin in your budget.
If your heart is set on a traditional university program but you’re wracked with anxiety and guilt about the prospect of taking on a big bill, maybe consider other options like starting at a tech academy or community college and transferring those program credits towards an online degree program or more traditional institution. Whatever you plan to do, don’t stick your head in the sand when it comes to your money.
No matter what higher ed option you land on, we’re confident you’ll make the best decision for yourself. Interested in learning more about college alternatives? Explore your options here.
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