Do yourself a huge favor. Consider if your investment in college is going to be worth it before you pursue a degree program. College isn’t for everyone and you can find employment despite not having a degree. But if you do decide to go, make sure you ask this question first. If you do you are bound to make smarter decisions and you’ll get a much greater return on your time and money. But if only start asking this question after you graduate (like a lot of people do) and start looking for a job, there is a high probability you won’t like the answer. Let’s stay positive. Here are 7 ways to maximize your return on your college investment.
1. Study the Right Subject
This is not going to sound very politically correct but I’m telling you for this for your own good.
If you go to college, do so in order to learn how to make a living. That’s it. College is not an extension of high-school. Your primary objective is not to “have an experience”. You can have fun (if you insist) but your goal is to learn something that will enable you to be financial independent.
You are going to invest a great deal of money, time and effort so make sure you keep your purpose in mind. You don’t have to be dead set on the exact job you are going to pursue. But you should learn something that will help you get a job and advance in your career. So, which majors should you pursue?
According to Georgetown non-technical majors have much higher unemployment than technical majors. As of 2012, unemployment rates were 11.1 percent in the Arts, 9.4% in the Humanities, 8.9% in the Liberal and Social Sciences and 8.1 in Law and public policy. By contrast, here the majors with the lowest rates of unemployment according to Yahoo:
1. Actuarial Science—0 percent
2. Astronomy and Astrophysics—0 percent
3. Educational Administration and Supervision—0 percent
4. Geological and Geophysical Engineering—0 percent
5. Pharmacology—0 percent
6. School Student Counseling—0 percent
7. Agricultural Economics—1.3 percent
8. Medical Technologies Technicians—1.4 percent
9. Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology—1.6 percent
10. Environmental Engineering, Nursing, and Nuclear Industrial Radiology and Biological Technologies—2.2 percent
Are you getting the picture? Learn skills that others value. Don’t just learn something that is important to you. You don’t have to study astrophysics (whatever that is) but given a choice between Literature and Math, you’ll find it easier to find a job with a degree in the later. Capiche?
You can learn more valuable skills outside the classroom than in and one of those skills is networking with others. Connect with others in a meaningful and productive way. The best way to acquire those abilities is to get involved in clubs and student government.
Sure it will be nice to rub shoulders with the future rain makers of tomorrow but that’s far from the main reason to master this skill. People do business with others they like and trust. People like and trust others who help them get what they want. If you become a master connector helping other people reach their goals, you will be a monster success in life no matter what you pursue.
Learn how to do this in college and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. By the time you get out of college, you’ll be a regular Henry Kissinger.
3. Get involved
Hand in hand with networking is involvement and taking on responsibilities. Sadly, not many young people are hungry for responsibility. They often prefer to sit in their dorm room and play cribbage while they are busy multi-tasking watching re-runs of Scooby Doo. Seize this opportunity and fill the void. And this is an over-sized opportunity if you attend lower-priced state colleges.
It’s very easy to find student organizations that need your help. Get involved. Take on responsibility. The experience you garner will be invaluable. My middle daughter took this idea and really ran with it. (In reality, she’s the one I got the idea from.)
As a freshman she was given the responsibility of deciding how to allocate over $100,000 each year for student body activities. Where is an 18 year old kid going to get that kind of opportunity? Do you think that experience is going help her when she goes out looking for a job? You bet.
4. Get experience
Involvement on campus is important but don’t be afraid to venture out past the ivy green towers. Get a paid college internship or part time job – any part time job – and don’t worry about how much money you’ll make. You’ll learn how to balance your time, work with clients, deliver results and how a business runs. This knowledge is priceless – to future employers.
5. Get out
If you want to make your investment in college count, graduate fast. Don’t make a career out of school. Before you start college, map out how you are going to graduate in 4 years or less. Every semester you delay graduation adds to your investment (time and money) without enhancing your ability to earn. And this increases the chances that you’ll have trouble finding college student funding. Not a good tone.
6. Take Writing and Speaking Courses
Think about the most successful people you know or know about. They tend to be very good communicators. Take as many courses as possible on business writing and speaking. Even if you don’t get credit for these courses, take them. They are that important. If you want extra credit, join Toast Masters to get plenty of speaking experience. Besides taking the right major, this is the most important step you can take in order to be successful in your professional life.
7. Business Courses
I’ll admit that I was a business major – accounting to be exact – so I am biased. I didn’t love all my business courses but I never regretted taking them. That small investment has paid dividends every day since the day I graduated – 35 years ago. Yes I suffered through a few semesters with one or two of those classes. But I have reaped the benefits for 35 years. Wouldn’t you say that’s worth it?
Take a few accounting courses (cost accounting was super rad!), investment classes and personal finance courses too. These will all give you the basics you’ll need to understand your finances and make better financial decisions for the rest of your life.
You can ignore all this advice and skate through college with an easy major and party all the time. You’ll have 4 or 5 (or 6) fun years – and then you’ll likely struggle for the rest of your professional life. Your earnings will be lower than they could be and you’ll have less financial freedom as a result. In that case, college could have been a waste for you.
Or you can work hard and seek out opportunity during college. You’ll be burning the midnight oil while your pals are playing Ms Packman all night long. But when your 4 years are up, you’ll have much more control over your financial future. And you’ll have that power for the rest of your working life. Which seems like a better decision?
Did you party hardy in college? Did it work out anyway? Would you do anything differently if you could do it all over again?