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Is going to a four year college right out of high school a waste of money.... or the best decision you have ever made?

I want to know if I am making smart and worthwhile decisions about my future. #future #scholarships #college-advice #financial-planning #personal-finance

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Richard’s Answer

It was a good decision for me. I went to medical school and residency after college and so even going straight through, I was 30 before I got my first "real" job. Taking a gap year would have just made the process take one year longer.
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Greg’s Answer

It depends on your situation. Do you know what you want to study? if not, and you are wanting to be cautious and not rack up too much debt, you can always find a job (any job) and take some basic courses at a community college until you know what you want to do. I would recommend saving any money you can specifically for school. Once you are in, you can start talking to your professors/advisors about acquiring grants to help you along.
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Danielle’s Answer

Good Question! I'll echo the others and say "it depends". They say that other than owning a home, a higher education is the best investment you'll ever make. It increases your earning potential 3x or more. However, a lot of people make that decision: "community college/4-year straight from high school" mostly based on finances, and I think that that is unwise.

Ask yourself:

Am I committed/mentally ready to be away from home and still be accountable for keeping a schedule, doing the work, keeping my eye on the end-goal and making the best use of this opportunity?

What kinds of work am I interested in doing? What qualifications/education/skills does this job/field of work require?

There is a fantastic resource where you can search careers and find out what education is needed, what the day to day looks like, what personality characteristics are common for that position, what the average person in that position makes. This website will show you careers you didn't even know existed, it's a gold mine of information: https://www.onetonline.org/

It's managed with the Department of Labor, it's the real deal, accurate information.


I've worked in Higher Education for 11 years, and for 5 of them my entire life was dedicated to college freshmen at a 4-year institution. I was a Residence Director for a building of 1,500 freshmen, I lived with them, guided them, provided them a community and a warm welcoming living environment so they had the support system that allowed them to do well in their academics. I know a lot about the "freshmen experience", there's nothing like it. Here are some things to think about:


The Pros for the 4-year straight from high school:

Students who live on-campus for their first two years perform better academically, are less likely to "drop out" and have a higher chance of completing their degree in 4 years instead of 5+.

A huge part of success at college is what happens outside of the classroom. Those who live-on, or are the traditional straight out of high school make more use of the resources available to them. This includes internships, scholarships, research opportunities, and clubs/activities.

These clubs/activities are essential, one of the biggest predictors of college success is finding a niche, i.e. a close group of people who share the same passions as you, serve as your friends and support system during school, and are the 1st level of your professional network.

Those who go the 4-year route and live-on campus have a larger network because they had more opportunities to interact with students outside of the classroom.


The BIG Con:

The drop-out rate of straight out of high school college freshmen, in their first year, is 35-40%. That's right, if you're not ready there is a large chance you'll drop out and waste a lot of money. This is why the "am I committed..." question is essential.


Pros of Community College First:

There definitely is a financial pro.

You're going to have exposure to more trade-based program options, some that are very high paying and really interesting that are not offered at a 4-year.

Those who transfer after a year of experience elsewhere approach their academics differently than others, there is more commitment, more appreciation of value, in some cases, even better grades etc.

They have the gen ed done or almost done, so they get an opportunity to spend more time on their courses of interest and potentially have more opportunities to interact with other students/faculty in their desired field right away once they arrive. Efficiency in who their network is, people who share their interests.


If you opt this route, it is essential that you: place a high priority on networking outside of class, through volunteering, student organizations, internships. I know that a lot of non-traditional students are commuting and/or working, but building that niche is almost like an off-set to missing the first year or two of the traditional experience. Also, make it a point to use the campus resources, especially academic advising and career services.


Here are some personal stories for people who took different paths:

My family grew up in a low-income area in the middle of nowhere where the closest community college is a 45 minute drive, i.e. very limited access to educational opportunities.

Me, straight out of high school to a 4 year, 4 hours from home, did well, got a masters, etc. --- this is very rare for my community.

1: Went to community college for a year did terribly and ended up joining the service and learning a trade. Now works for a private company and makes 6 figures.

2: Went to beauty school and focuses on family.

3: Went straight out of high school to a 4 year and failed out in the first year. Now works a trade and also makes more money than me.

4: Went to community college for 2 years, transfered to a 4-year, completed a masters in a science field. Currently working in real estate and preparing for a Physician Assistant program.

5: Did community college for 1 year, transfered to a 4-year, is a senior and doing very well, high GPA. They have a huge network even though they are very shy because they joined an intramural team.

6: Went straight into a trade program, tried it, didn't like it, now studying for a second trade program.


Good examples of "it depends".

Danielle recommends the following next steps:

Do research on O*Net https://www.onetonline.org/
Based on interests, go to specific college/university websites and take a look at their programs.
Have conversations with your family, friends, school counselor, and potentially professionals in x field if your previous research reveals a career interest you'd like to explore.
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Melanie’s Answer

Hi!

There is no right or wrong answer. This really based on personal choice; however, there are a few things to consider. If you are still unsure of where your passions lie and are unsure of who you are, then college will help you discover more interest and develop a sense of self. Some of the things taught in college can also help you have leverage for getting a job and can give you connections. Connections are vital as those people can help you get hired. College is very costly, though, so if you cannot afford it, take a year or two off and earn some money.

The one thing I can tell you is, you will never regret learning. In school, we are taught to memorize a lot ( and I'm sure you know that!), but in college, you learn and apply your skills in deeper levels. Sometimes, you may feel like you're doing a lot for nothing, but In the end, everything pays off. Effort will play a big roe as a college student; however, as long as your passionate and motivated, success will come.
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Linda’s Answer

Hi, Savannah, I agree that the answer to your question has no right or wrong answer. It truly depends on how well you know yourself and your situation. If you know that you will likely not go back to college once you start working, then go straight to college and begin exploring what avenues are available re: field of study, funding, career. BUT ... if you feel you may not be ready yet, no point in spending all that money going to university or college -- full time junior college may be a better transition for you.


With my kids, I had one go straight (he was totally ready) and one go to JuCo first (she started at 4yr college and realized she didn't want to spend her time at her 2nd choice college so she opted to do junior college and get her grades up to re-apply at her first choice, and transferred). Not going to lie, it is HARD going to college after you've been working, too -- I always admired my dad for doing that. He was already a senior manager in IT but went back to JuCo to finish his AA degree. Many a night he worked a long full day, commuted home, spent time with his family before cracking open the books to study or attend night classes.


Another thing to consider is that you will be much older than the average student attending classes at college/university if you postpone going to college. This can be a benefit with more life experience under your belt, but if the college experience is most important to you (over career preparation or academic fulfillment) then you might consider if you'd really enjoy the experience going back to college as an adult.


A college degree IS valuable and I highly recommend it for most people and careers, but it does depend on the person and the career path with regard to exactly HOW IMPORTANT that degree really is. Sometimes, the degree is merely a tick point on a resume to show that you have a college education and that you had enough grit and dedication to complete 4 years. In other situations, you may be starting a bit later in the career journey than those who apprenticed earlier.


So ... LONG EXPLANATION to your short question. :)

Linda recommends the following next steps:

Really examine WHY you want to go to college and what you hope to GAIN from your college experience (just a degree, really experience the collegiate lifestyle, make great networking contacts, valuable learning and foundation setting for your career, etc.).
Research how viable your local junior college options are and how that might (or not) help you get to your #1 college choice. (Be sure to hone your time management and study skills, if you decide to go to JuCo, and ensure your classwork will transfer to your preferred college.)
Always ask questions! Best of luck to you, Savannah. :)
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Dylan’s Answer

Hi Savannah,

This is a great question and top of mind for my young adults thinking about going to college. There's no right or wrong answer here, which makes this a difficult topic to answer. Instead, think about what purpose there is for going to college. What's valuable about going to college? Getting a piece of paper with some text and your name on it at the end of 4 years of work (aka a degree) isn't what makes college a useful experience for so many people. It's about learning how to function on your own in the world and developing specialized skills in an area of focus, be it finance, sciences, medicine, etc. It's also useful to meet people and LEARN about what you want to do with the rest of your life.

The people who go to college successfully all have one thing in common. They have a focus on their future and an interest in their long-term development. You don't need to know what you're going to do with the rest of your life when you begin as a freshman. You don't even need to know when you're graduating as a senior. But you do need to make progress between those two points towards figuring out how you want to make money and live on your own. That's all there is to it. "Can I get a job after this?" is probably the most useful question you can ask when thinking about something to specialize in. If the answer is no, or you don't think you can put in the work it will take to find the answer, then maybe college isn't for you. It's definitely a lot of work! And you have to figure things out on your own.

Overall, higher education has a positive influence on people's lifetime earnings (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4534330/). For that reason, I think going to college is worth it, but going right out of high-school depends on your own maturity and interest in developing yourself as a person.
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