To high school juniors and seniors: The materialistic world of selecting which college to attend is dangerous territory in 2012.
In a weakened economy, the status of a prestigious diploma from a highly accredited university can – and typically does – leave you in a financial crisis, often for years if not a lifetime.
While new science and art buildings are erected on campus and presidents’ salaries go up, your bank account will be dwindling.
As I head into my final semester at West Virginia University, I am already in the hole $29,000. On top of that, I have accumulated $1,195 in outstanding interest.
Even as an in-state student, I have piled up a solid mound of debt just like hundreds of thousands of other students.
Considering the average student loan debt in 2012 is a little over $25,000 per graduate, it certainly does not feel as uncomfortable as it probably should. I feel like I am just part of the family – a collective group who needs their own church offering plate passed around daily.
But here is what I am thankful for: I’m glad I did not go to that out-of-state university I so badly wanted to attend as soon as I read the acceptance letter, simply because it was one of the best journalism schools in the country.
I am thankful for people – my mother mostly – telling me I could acquire a higher degree of learning at a far less expensive price and still have a successful career.
Most importantly, I am thankful I chose the cheaper option.
I am a huge believer in making the most out of your opportunities.
As a junior in high school, I landed my first internship at a local television station covering West Virginia University athletics, mostly the big stuff like football and basketball. By the time I was a student at WVU two years later, I was familiar with the majority of other media members and public relations people, which lead me to a number of other internships, including the the local newspaper, the Mountaineer Sports Network, ESPN and now USA Today.
No matter what field you are going into – whether it is medical, engineering, or something else – hands-on experience means more than anything.
The classroom can only do so much. Cliché, I know, but true: the majority of my learning has come from stepping outside of the university.
I have developed skills through practical experience. I have acquired relationships through practical experience. And I have expanded my knowledge through practical experience.
And hands-on training does not mean something completely physical.
For instance, shadowing a nurse for a day or observing an occupational or physical therapist can be just as valuable as putting an IV in a stuffed dummy. Not only are you gaining real life experience in this case, but you build relationships with these people, who can assist you in the job hunt or lead you to other professionals who can help and are willing to talk.
Even something as simple as an informational interview can be a rewarding prospect to your future.
Just because you receive that acceptance letter in the mail does not mean you are required to attend. Before reaching deep into your already-empty pockets, think about your decision and ask as many questions as possible.
Be honest with yourself.
Have a straightforward discussion with your parents or guardians who support you by supplying income. And if you do not have someone who is helping you already or is going to assist you when you arrive on campus, you should still seek advice from someone who you trust or who has been in a similar situation.
When deciding what college you are going to attend, you never can be too financially informed. Borrowing money is not the answer; borrowing as little as possible is.
OF course, many students will have to take out a loan, but now is the time to really get a grip on what you are going to be able to afford and the circumstances you will be facing in the future.
So when you do receive that acceptance letter or phone call, digest it; think about it; think about it again; and think about it some more.
And act now, not later.
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