Time to Embrace the New Way of Picking a College (and Your Major)

The cost of college is through the roof and if you don’t adapt to the new way of picking a college and your major, you may wind up as one of 50 percent of recent graduates that are either unemployed or working part time hours in a job not related to their major.

Forbes lays out a very familiar story. The author of the article explains how his daughter wanted to go to an out of state school that was going to cost three times as much as an in-state school. Not completely opposed to the idea, he asked his daughter what her intended major was and why she picked the school. She hadn’t picked a major but fell in love with the campus, she said. They lived in Pittsburgh and the college she fell in love with was in California and would cost $56,000 per year.

Reading it seems a little outlandish but before we judge, let’s remember that decisions like these play out every day because that’s the traditional way colleges are picked. We find the school that we want to go to and crunch the numbers later. In our decision making process, we factor in how pretty the campus is and the fact that we want to get away from our parents.

As Christians, we employ another metric. We sometimes say that God has called us to a certain school. You should certainly listen to God’s calling when picking a school but are you absolutely sure that it was God that called you to the posh, out of state school that will cost you and/or your parents the equivalent of a nice sized house over four years?

Your Primary Goal Should Be…

The primary goal of your college should be to get an appropriate education for the cheapest price possible.  The cost of college generally doubles the rate of inflation. That means that the average price increase of college rises by 4 to 6 percent each year. This has caused most students to see it as the norm to graduate with a degree and a whole lot of student loan debt. The New York Times reports that the average student now graduates owing $26,500 in student loan debt. Many will graduate with a lot more but even the average is the equivalent of a car payment. (And not an economy car)

The New Way to Pick a College and a Major

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;”- Psalm 37:23

Step 1: Pray

Your future is far too important to leave God out of the decision making process. Not only should you pray but your parents, spouse and other loved ones should pray too. Then, come together and talk about it. God will not only reveal His plan but he will lead you and your loved one in the discussion that will bring you to the right choice.

Step 2: What are your gifts?

You should not go to college without a plan. Have a major in mind before picking a college. Know your gifts and pick a proposed career that will compliment those gifts. Even better, make a list of careers that you could see yourself enjoying and narrow those down to the one that lines up with your other goals. How will one career impact the financial or family goals you have for your life?

Step 3: Research Your Path

Use resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or Payscale to determine basic information. Talk to people in your career field, intern in the summer, and collect all of the information you can about the career or careers you’re thinking about.

Step 4: Determine the Value

Is a job that pays $30,000 per year worth a college education that cost $150,000? For example, teachers don’t get paid extra because they went to an Ivy League school. If your chosen career is more for the love of the field than it is the salary, a state school with lower tuition costs should be your goal. If, however, you have dreams of working for a Wall Street investment bank or big name law firm, you may have to spend more.

Step 5: Cut Costs

Pick a school close to home so you can live with your parents and save on housing costs, skip the spring break trip, purchase books on Ebay or Craigslist if possible, and live frugally. The days of making college a “throw caution to the wind” best years of your life experience are no longer a reality. It’s not about being cheap. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. It’s more about spending money wisely to gain the best return on your investment.

Bottom Line

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”- Proverbs 22:7

God doesn’t want you to be in debt. If you could talk face to face with Jesus today, and you said, “Jesus, I want to amass tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get a college degree,” do you believe that He would give you His blessing and say that it’s His will for you to do that? Does the above verse speak to such a reality?

Although numerous studies still show that college is the best way to land the job you want, college is no longer a direct ticket to a great job. It’s an investment and if you make the wrong choices the investment won’t pay off.  Don’t go to the cheapest school you can find. Go to the school that gives you the education you need to live God’s calling at the cheapest price possible.

Finally, saving for college from the time the child is born is the best way to escape the debt burden of it. God doesn’t put conditions on debt. All debt is dangerous in His eyes.