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When College is Right it Works

While not everyone is cut out for a 4-year college education, those who are can experience great success... if they play it right.

When I was growing up, the conversation in my house was not whether or not my sister and I would go to college, but which college we would go to.

My father, a professional golfer-turned-police-officer, never attended college. My mother, who eventually built a successful business for herself, only attended for a semester before life took her in a different direction. They believed their daughters could earn a better life if we had a degree.

For me a college education was required. From the time I was in second grade I knew I wanted to be a teacher and so there was no other option for me. I chose a school that had the best teacher prep program at the time (thank you CSU Chico!!), filled out my paper application, paid my tuition, and set off. Five years later I had a California Certified Secondary Education Teaching Credential, a Bachelor's degree in English and a job as a high school teacher.

Universities and colleges can offer fantastic opportunities for students. Supporters point out that having a degree means more open doors in the future, whether or not a student works in the area of that degree. There is also the added financial earning opportunities a college degree has. According to a CNN Business article: "The average college graduate earns $78,000 a year compared to the $45,000 earned by someone with only a high school education, according to the analysis. That's a 75% premium, or more than $30,000 a year."

Additionally, there are the social and networking benefits of college. Where else can you meet so many potential people who may become network influencers and interact with leading researchers and experts in their fields, or even participate in ground-breaking studies that could change the way we live?

Last, some careers require a college degree, whether that be a Bachelor's, Master's, or PHD and so a college education becomes a gateway through which a student can enter into their chosen career path.

That are definitely many worthwhile reasons to explore a college education, but I believe it is worth the time to stop and consider a few questions before investing.

Is your student (or you) prepared to pay the hefty price tag? According to the research done by, the average cost of a 4-year degree is approximately $122,000. That is if a student graduates in 4 years which, according to the same data, only 39% of students do while a full 60% take 6 years to earn a degree. This does not take into account in-state vs out-of-state tuition costs, which can have substantial differences, or even travel costs to and from college. Is your student ready to invest financially in their future? Are you comfortable contributing or financing them as they pursue that degree?

Is your student ready to compete for scholarships? There are multitudes of scholarships available to help students pay for college, but they often require students to compete, spending countless hours on essays, projects, interviews, etc. just to be considered. Making the time to participate in this process can be tough for today's involved high school student. Does your student have the time to financially contribute to the costs of their education?

Is your student willing to start their career life in debt if needed? Filling out the FAFSA form is the gateway to government aid as well as loans. While grants do not have to be paid back, loans do. They are attractive because they do not have to be paid until a student graduates, but will the amount of debt accrued be able to be paid off by the career pathway the student is in? Many adults incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt in a career that will not support repayment. Is your student ready to start their life having to pay back what it cost for their education?

Is your student emotionally ready to go off to college right after high school? We have all heard the stories of students who fail out after their first semester due to too much partying, or those who become so homesick they leave within weeks of the start of a term. It is important to help your student assess their emotional maturity. How will they handle the freedom they will experience, the multitude of different cultures, and not being close to family and friends? How will they handle budgeting both time and finances? Is your student ready to be fully responsible for their education, since parents are no longer included in the experience?

Has your student determined a career cluster? College is expensive, too expensive to just wander through. Having a clearly defined career cluster does not limit the student, but rather helps them focus when making class selections and determining a major. While majors may change, there is a greater chance a student will graduate within their budget when they pursue a degree for a series of clearly identified potential careers. Does your student have a clearly identified career cluster they want to pursue?

Has your student researched other options available? In our culture the seeming expectation is that students will go to a 4-year program right after high school. But, there are many other options to consider before committing. 2-year colleges offer AA degrees that can transfer to a college or university or stand on their own, Certificate programs for entering the workforce in as little as 18 months, and AA/Certificate programs that offer opportunities to enter the workforce while also earning the money for a higher degree at a much more reduced fee than 4-year institutions. Additionally, there are specialized training schools, the military, and gap years, all meant to offer students an opportunity to pursue their chosen career in a way they can afford financially as well as emotionally. Is your student making a decision without gathering all the information?

When pursuing a college degree right after high school is the right fit for your student everyone wins. The key is making sure your student is ready for the experience.

Join the conversation: How did your student determine a 4-year college after graduation was the right choice for them?


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