COLUMN: Time for students, parents to weigh the pros, cons of college choices

Gregory Mattacola
Gregory Mattacola
Posted

Cue the melody of Ray Charles singing “Georgia, you’re on my mind” and sub in “college” for “Georgia.”

Let that soundtrack play as you read this as it is college on my mind presently. In a month’s time, I will be watching my son receive his college degree, say goodbye to the campus that has been his home away from home and venture out into the “real world.”

It has been a long journey to get him to this point and not always an easy one. This is also the time of year when high school seniors are making decisions about where they might be attending school in the years to come.

And it’s the time of year when parents across the land are collectively seeing their blood pressure rise at the thought of helping their children pay for their college education. And that is precisely what we need to talk about.

We routinely help clients prepare for that moment and ideally, that preparation begins long before senior year.

But beyond setting money aside in a 529 Plan or another savings vehicle, there are other discussions to be had as college age draws near.

First, is this even the right choice for your child?

There has been a way of thinking, fostered for many years, that a four-year college or university is the path to success for high school graduates.

Yet, this is not true for all.

And when considering the amount of money it takes to attend a four-year school, even one in the state system, this one size fits all approach should be analyzed before choosing it.

What are the child’s interests? What are their strengths?

What is the current job/market environment for the major they think they want to pick?

What will the debt look like for them in terms of a monthly payment coming out of college?

What will you the parents have to contribute? Are you prepared to do that?

College should be looked at, ideally, as an investment and evaluated as such.

If I offered you an investment where you pay $300,000 plus over time for the chance, not the guarantee, but the chance to make $40,000 a year would you take it?

Yet that is exactly what many young adults are doing.

I am not advocating that our high school seniors not attend college – but I am saying that this decision is not for everyone.

Staring out in life with crippling debt and a liberal arts degree is an uphill climb that resembles Sisyphus pushing the boulder.

Why start out with that burden if this was never the appropriate choice in the first place?

Mike Rowe, yes, the Dirty Jobs guy, has a foundation dedicated to the trades and bringing awareness, along with dollars, so that young people can avail themselves of the many opportunities there.

Check it out at “mikeroweworks.org.”

As a country, we are looking at a serious shortage in skilled trades over the coming years and more young adults should know of these choices. ‘The same goes for the numerous options in the military which could also be coupled with college assistance.

There is significant financial power that comes with starting your earning career years earlier and with no debt versus later and with significant debt. Something to think about.

The point is – these are life altering decisions.

And not any one thing is right for everyone.

Before you and your child make this choice – go through it all.

Run the numbers. Look at different options.

Swim against the current if only to make sure you’ve examined all the choices and the ramifications of them.

The exercise, at the very least, will be useful to show the graduate what the long-term implications are.

And it could be that the conventional choice just isn’t for him or her.

It’s much better to flesh this out now before signing on for debt.

Now, back to the song....

Original content provided by Gregory Mattacola, Esq., Financial Advisor at Strategic Financial Services.

Content is provided for educational purposes only and should not be used as the basis upon which to make investment or financial decisions.

Investments involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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