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College Planning Questions and Answers

Our message to the student:

We don’t know who you are. We don’t need to know who you are. But we care about you. We want you to succeed in getting through college, with no debt, and in getting a good job thereafter. If you do all of that well, our job is done.

A little bit about us – we do financial risk analysis for student lenders. We know more about the mistakes that students make in college and borrowing than just about anyone. We created this program to expose you to information that is meaningful for getting through college successfully. Some of the information on this page is already known by you. Other information will be new to you, or it may even run counter to what you’ve heard from some other sources. We can support mathematically every assertion or data point within this program. And we’re not charging you for this.

A few last words before you begin – your goal for college should not be based upon ‘getting in’. You will get in to a college. Don’t worry about that. Going to college is not a job in itself. Put your energy into what you’ll do for that 4 or 5 years in college to prepare yourself for the 40 years that come after college.

It’s simple. You identify an academic major that will lead to a real job. Then you find the lowest tuition state college (it can be a 2 year or a 4 year college) that offers that major, and you enroll.

Or you can make it complicated and insanely expensive. Enroll in philosophy at a costly private college, borrow $140,000 to pay for it, get out in 5 years, find out 3 years later that no one has had a paid philosophy job in 2000 years, keep waiting tables for the next 50 years to pay off half of your student loans, but we don’t recommend it. Just go to a low cost state school, get a real degree and get out with as little debt as possible.

Our CareerBuddy program will give you great insights regarding career tracks and the right college for you.

Actually, it is more important that you focus on a major that will lead to a good career, rather than focusing on choosing a specific college. Here’s why – an employer hires a skill set, not the brand on the diploma. Businesses hire people who can perform specific functions, such as: programming, nursing, welding, accounting, all real stuff.

You’re probably heard someone say, “College graduates make $1 million more than those with a high school diploma, over the course of their career.” It’s not true. Most college grads with a soft degree work in the same jobs as those with a high school diploma. College grads with a STEM degree make $2 million to $4 million more than high school grads.

Spend a few minutes with our CollegeBuddy and you’ll see the jobs (with salaries) that recent grads have landed from every major.

When you’re finished with the CollegeBuddy, then spend 10 minutes on a job board. You’ll see very quickly, there are literally at least 10 times more job postings for people with STEM degrees, compared to ‘soft’ degrees.

This is actually pretty complicated. It is a ton of paperwork and applications, and it seems like it’s never ending. Start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It will make the applications process to specific schools easier, and you might qualify for some government aid – most people do. Definitely do the FAFSA.

We created a program helping you develop a college plan – the ETC College to Career Planning System. It’s got a ton of info and it’s organized in a series of logical steps to guide you through the process. And it’s got an excellent Checklist which you will love because it will help you to stay on track with managing responsibilities and important dates.

Don’t ‘follow your passion’. Do something that’s hard – those majors lead to the interesting and better paying jobs. But don’t do something you don’t like or you’ll never get through it. Find something that IS hard, that you’re interested in, and go for it. Once again, the CollegeBuddy is a great program to help you decide what to study, and the job outcomes.

Here’s a bit of advice if you’re thinking ‘I struggle with math’. Study business. In Business Administration, the curriculum is super diverse – you’ll be studying marketing (cool), accounting (boring, but it’s a great life skill), Microsoft Office (super valuable skills), various technology courses (again, super valuable skills), and economics (interesting and valuable skills). You’ll have a degree that will open up a lot of job opportunities to you, and you’ll acquire a lot of skills that you need to succeed in life.

In almost all cases, yes. And starting at a 2 year college is a really good way to save a lot of money. And no one will ever know (or care) that you started at a less expensive school and then finished your degree from a more expensive school. Be smart!

With cash or debt. You can either pay for college with cash, or you can borrow cash to pay for college. Though doing the applications, paperwork, enrolling, and umpteen other functions are complicated and time consuming, at the end of the day, the college accepts one form of payment – cash. If you have cash, that’s nice. If you don’t have cash, you’re going to have to borrow cash which will be forwarded to the college. You have to repay that cash. Unconditionally.

As little as possible! College tuitions range from about $1,000 annually at a public 2 year college to over $50k for an elite private college. And it’s worth knowing that college tuitions are negotiable. Yes, you read that correctly. College tuitions are negotiable and we created a program to help you figure out how to get the lowest tuition possible, and it has a nice name – the College Tuition Negotiator.

A word to the wise… save your money and don’t sign up for an expensive private college. There are only about 25 nationally recognized schools in the U. S. and cumulatively, they represent 3% of the population enrolled in college. Another 20% is enrolled in expensive private colleges that do not have any brand cache’. 77% of the college population made a wise decision and enrolled in state colleges. They’re getting a good education at a great price.

As a last resort, only. We really, really hate student debt. We do a lot of actuarial (mathematical analysis) work for student lenders. We show them how debt ruins many young people’s lives. Basically, you get out of college and then you spend 15 or 20 years repaying loans. The money you’re allocating to debt repayment could be used to buy a house. But it won’t if you have student debt.

There are better ways to finance college than borrowing money – and the best way is to pay less for your tuition. We can prove to you mathematically that you will be far better off when you’re 25, 35, 45 years old by NOT borrowing for college, and by using smarts to cost effectively get the degree you want. Pick a good state college, find the right major, and enroll. You’ll save a ton of money and get a solid education.

There’s another application to complete, the College Student Scholarship (CSS) Profile. It’s kind of like a FAFSA lite. It’s a pain, but if you’re going to do the FAFSA, and you really should, then also do the CSS Profile.

Note that when you’re talking with the folks in the admissions offices, ask them what scholarships will be available to you. Ask them this question early. They will say, “You can probably qualify for……”. Probably is meaningless. Ask them again for a listing of the scholarships that are available and ask them to help you secure any of those scholarships. We’re not kidding. They know their way around the campus. Have them call so and so and find out exactly what you will qualify for. If they really want you to enroll at their college, they will help you find scholarship money.

Use our College Rankings Index to learn about the admission information for specific colleges, including SAT’s. If you’re wondering about the ACT, some colleges require this though many will do a conversion of an SAT to the equivalent ACT score.

Be advised that some colleges are reporting that they no longer require students to submit SAT or ACT scores for consideration. You should not construe this mean that they have dropped their admission standards. These colleges will scrutinize other admissions info, such as the quality of your high school, any AP work you might have done, and other relevant information. Furthermore, many students are still submitting test scores with their applications.

Same answer as to the question above, with the addition that GPA’s are being more closely reviewed than in years prior.

Ask yourself, “Why would I go to a private college over a public college?” Private colleges are almost always more costly (2 to 3 times more expensive). Would a private college increase my earnings that much more to justify the expense? Would it increase my earnings at all? The answer is no. Definitely spend some time with the College Business Plan and ‘do the math’. You’ll find this challenging, you’ll learn a LOT about the costs of different colleges, and the effect that has on your ability to succeed financially when you graduate.

This is a very good question to be thinking about. And when we say ‘thinking about’ we mean contemplating for a long period of time – as in – years. Yes, you should spend years thinking about this topic.

Thinking about your future job is nothing like a simple little question on a test: right or wrong, done and on to the next. Thinking about your future job entails planning and preparing yourself for the entire time that you’re in high school, college, and obviously while you're in the job market.

Our CollegeBuddy is an excellent program to aid the thinking process because it shows you exactly what jobs recent graduates from last year are working in right now. This is a fact base that will be very helpful to you in your career preparation process. The Job Futurecaster is also great because it shows what jobs will be available in the coming years.

This is essentially the same response as to the question above. And the CollegeBuddy program will also provide you with salary info for every job. Good to know.

It is important for us to add a key point that will help you in thinking about your career – STEM salaries are 2 to 3 times higher than salaries from ‘soft’ majors. Most graduates from soft majors are employed in jobs that require a high school diploma. Sorry to bum you out but it’s true. Keep in mind, we’re not telling you what to do. We're just presenting you with facts. You decide what you’ll do with those facts.

The truth is, if you’ve prepared yourself very well for the job market – a good job will find you. Recruiters are scouring college campuses. They are meeting with professors, department heads and so forth. Recruiters really want, and will pay dearly for specific skills. These recruiters are looking for engineering, programming, math, hard science and health care graduates.

This next part might sound harsh, but it’s true, so it’s not cold or harsh – it’s reality. Employers are competing for STEM talent, yet most of them won’t even visit the liberal arts and humanities schools on their recruiting trips.

If you’re not perfectly prepared for the job market (few really are), then you’ve got to be resourceful to get a job. The best way to get a job is to have a job. Huh? That’s right, nobody wants to hire somebody with no experience. But if you have a job (part time, summer job, whatever… having a job proves that you actually want to work). If you can meet with an interviewer and tell them that you’re working right now – they will view you in a completely different, and positive light. And remember, everybody starts on the ground floor (or the basement) and climbs/claws their way up by proving they can – do the job.

Internships typically exist for jobs that employers are having a hard time filling. Do a search of job boards that have dedicated internship positions. You’ll get a sense of what’s available. You might also want to talk with your professors and the campus career center to see what they know. Internships can frequently be ‘under the radar’ and not broadly advertised.

It is also worth visiting employers that you’d like to work for. If there’s a company that you’re interested in, do a search and find out who the department managers are. Call them or send them an email with your CV. They will talk to you because they’ll be impressed that a young person is hunting for an internship. You never know what you might create out of being ambitious.

Soon. When you graduate, your lender(s) are notified that you’re done with school. They will send you a nice letter which will say, “Congratulations, now we want our money”. The letter will notify you of the start date of payments due to them, which is usually 90 days after graduation. Welcome to the real world.

Questions that we wished you had asked, but didn’t.

No, just read the book. Not kidding. Nobody cares if you memorize a bunch of stuff that happened 300 years ago. If you’re really into it, just read the book in your spare time. Study something that will get you a career tracking job. If you think that developing perfect grammar and linguistics skills by reading a mountain of history books will make you more employable, it won’t. Employers want skills that are valuable in their industry.

What no one will tell you, but you need to know is that most of your adult life will be spent in a market – the job market. Every market is comprised of buyers and sellers. The buyers are the business operators – they are buying skill sets. The sellers are the workers – they are selling their skills. You have an excellent opportunity in college to make yourself very valuable. There is a very good reason why doctors earn over $200,000, good engineers earn over $100,000, yet restaurant workers earn $25,000. It all comes down to skills, and the demand for those skills. There are no bad jobs, but they all require a lot of your time. On that basis alone, it’s well worth it for you to find something that pays well.

College is expensive, and it will take up 4 to 5 years of your life. Don’t make a large investment in college if you are not going to be repaid in the form of reasonable earnings.

This is a really common problem – one that most students don’t know how to ask. The worst possible advice to this question/problem is, “Enroll in a 4 year college, study general ed, and you’ll figure it out”. The truth is - you won’t ‘figure it out’. The six year graduation rate for ‘undeclared major’ is about 35%!!

Here’s the success formula --- get a part time job while you study business at a 2 year college. You’re going to learn a lot about what you like and don’t like while working. And that is really important. While you’re studying business, you’re going to read about concepts that you’ve been observing at work, and the dots will start to connect. The beauty of this strategy is that it provides you with options. If your job is really working out for you, then it will materialize into a career. If you need more education to advance in your career, then continue on, transfer to a 4 year college, and you’ll be doing so with a real purpose. This is an important process because now you actually have ‘figured it out’.

Different people have different skills and interests. In doing something real, you will learn what you like and are good at, and also discover what doesn’t work for you.

Best question ever. Why do you think you should go to college?

Is it for the 4, 5 or 6 years you’ll spend in college? Or is it to prepare you for the 40 years that begin when you leave college?