I’m usually not one for ridiculously sensational headlines but I thought it was justified for this post. As graduating high school students look to their future, college should be at the top of their mind.
If you, or your son or your daughter, are currently faced with the decision whether to attend college or not and consequently how to pay for it, I’d like to point you towards some data that might help you decide. Mr. Everyday Dollar is an analytical guy so the first place he always starts when trying to figure out what to do when offered multiple options is to get the low down deets.
According to the Census Bureau, 30 percent of U.S. adults age 25 and older have attained a bachelor’s degree. That’s awesome! And here’s why: over an adult’s working life, the data shows that earning a bachelor’s degree is worth $1 million more than earning a high school diploma. Also, earning a doctoral degree is worth an additional $1 million.
To me, that means a college degree becomes the great dividing line in lifelong financial success. I think we should agree on that. For those of us striving for early retirement through financial independence, it’s a must-have!
Best of all, this investment in a bachelor’s degree that returns $1,000,000 cost Mr. Everyday Dollar $4,500. Okay, I probably have some explaining to do. How did I leave college seemingly freed of the cost? Well, I guess even in my younger years I was on top of my financial game. Thanks younger self! Here’s some suggestions on how you or your kids can follow a similar path:
1. Apply yourself in high school
Back when I was in high school in the late nineties – with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic in heavy rotation – I was doing everything I could to set myself up for life long financial success (which I only realize now):
- I challenged myself by taking Advanced Placement courses such as English and Calculus.
- I took college-level classes over the summer at the local community college.
- I learned a foreign language. Sprechen sie deutsch?
- I studied and prepped myself to obtain excellent scores on the ACT and SAT standardized tests.
- I was involved in nerdy extracurriculars, such as the robotics club U.S. First.
- I played saxophone in the band, I sang bass in the choir.
- I was a shooting guard on the basketball team and played midfield in soccer.
- I worked various jobs from freshman year through senior year.
- I schmoozed the guidance counselors and teachers to receive good letters of recommendation.
- I made sure I upheld a high GPA.
2. Pick an affordable college
I went to a small, private, liberal arts college in the Midwest that was good, not great, but good. But it was affordable! I did a cost benefit analysis when presented with the problem of trying to decide which college to attend. Very Mr. Everyday Dollar-ish! While some high schoolers pick whatever college they like with cost being an afterthought, I knew upfront how much various schools would ultimately impact my wallet.
How did I leave college just $4,500 in debt? Simple. I got a scholarship based on my high school accomplishments: the high standardized test scores, the high GPA, and the multitude of extracurricular activities. After reviewing my cost benefit analysis with the four schools I was interested in attending, I picked the school that gave me the most scholarship money which amounted to full tuition.
I was only on the hook for room and board, and for keeping a 3.4 GPA, to retain my scholarship semester-to-semester.
3. Apply yourself in college
Much like high school, I applied myself in college. Granted, my first semester was a disaster. I was a bit lost personally and academically and wound up with a 2.7 GPA. However, I bounced back by figuring out how to be successful in my courses and was on the Dean’s List with a 3.5 or higher GPA for the remaining seven semesters. I was able to keep my scholarship and after my first semester I viewed going to college, and keeping my GPA high, as my full time job.
Of course, it was college after all and there was plenty of time for beer bongs, bocce ball, and chasing girls. I had some time for fun as my fraternity brothers can attest to, but I also didn’t hesitate to buckle down and study when I needed to.
Just like high school, I worked all through college. My freshman year I worked as part of the grounds crew, laying sod and moving furniture. It paid peanuts but before long one of my professors must have seen the potential in me and landed me a job in the Information Technology department. I worked weekends, helping students through computer problems while battling hangovers.
My academic performance and my I.T. job led to more opportunities. I was offered summer fellowships that provided me with a nice stipend and free housing. No summers off for Mr. Everyday Dollar!
My senior year culminated in an internship within the I.T. department at the headquarters of a 30,000 employee company. This job paid a very decent hourly wage for a 21 year old and I was offered a full time position there (that I respectively declined).
4. Apply yourself in your career
Is there a parrot in here?
A man wiser than me once told me: “If you do not show growth in your career, in terms of skill and salary, you will simply stop advancing.”
It’s true. Now that I’ve been out in the professional world for almost 12 years I’ve seen peers dead end. I know some of them are content with their role and undoubtedly will go through the motions for the rest of their careers. By making this choice and not advancing as far as we can, we can’t expect our salaries to grow any more than two to three percent yearly. And by not making as much money as we possibly can, through growing our skills and career, we’re not allowing ourselves to reach our financial goals at the fastest pace!
In our careers, it’s all about our own motivation. We might get a job because we had a great resume and went to a great college but if we’re not producing, we can’t whine, “But I went to so-and-so school.”
And for that reason, that’s why I think once we get our first job out of college, our performance is what matters the most. Yes, our college carries some weight. However, the farther we get down our career path the more and more experience matters and the less and less our college matters.