With student debt in the united states climbing to all time highs, parents, high school grads, and college grads alike are asking if college is worth the cost before they even choose a degree or think about the lifestyle they want after graduation. Recalling my college search I remember a lot of effort going into looking for the right “fit” in a school. I had basically already decided I wanted to get a degree in finance; however, I also wanted to pursue music. Linfield College turned out to be the perfect place to study both. I ended up with both degrees; however, in hind sight I wish I had put more practical thought into stacking a math degree on top of my finance degree. It’s not that I don’t love music or even that I regret pursuing it; simply put, I could have gotten a much higher monetary value out of my degree if I had gotten a math degree instead.

The issue with high school grads looking into going to college is that they focus on the wrong things. What high school student has the ability to understand how much difference a $60,000 salary will make on their lifestyle compared to a $40,000 salary? Sure, maybe they have worked full time over the summer or maybe they have experienced unemployment through their parents; but the vast majority of high school grads don’t have the experience to know the difference. If they did, they would not only pursue something that they liked doing but also something that would produce a high enough salary to maintain the lifestyle they wanted.

Choosing a degree is much more important than selecting which college to attend

Regardless of what college a degree comes from, the bottom line is that certain degrees pay much more than others. One major issue with colleges today is that two different bachelors degrees with totally different expected salaries after graduation cost nearly the same amount at any given college. Many people go to college without having a degree in mind, only to be swept up into an “interesting class” which leads them to believe they want to get a degree in philosophy, psychology, or religion instead of something that would produce more job prospects after school. These are NOT bad degrees, but degrees like these with fewer potential job prospects should be seriously thought about before making a choice to pursue them.

After seeing multiple of these last minute degree decisions, I am convinced that they don’t always end up with the person having found their passion in their chosen degree. Instead many people are left with an expensive piece of paper (a diploma) that can’t help them land a professional level job.

If someone isn’t sure what they’re passionate about should they pursue a four year degree before they know?

It’s not a fun position to be in when your high school friends are selecting colleges and talking about what degrees they want to pursue while you are totally clueless. I believe many people feel pressured by peer perception and/or parents to get an expensive four year degree even if they haven’t decided on what degree to get. Instead of going straight to a four year college, high school grads could spend less money by going to a community college while deciding what four year degree they want to get. This gives them the opportunity to explore different academic subjects without the pressure of paying $20,000 or more per year.

Before choosing a degree, college students should ask themselves what kind of lifestyle they want to have after college

“Do something that you’re passionate about” is sage advice; however, it’s tough to be happy when you can’t live the lifestyle you want to live. Many of the degrees that result in lower paying jobs don’t necessarily result in fewer hours of work every week, meaning you may be working just as hard for much less pay than other college grads. If someone is just scratching the surface of a potential “passion” while in college, they should look into the lifestyle that would result from pursuing that passion with a degree. Too many students focus on what subject area they think they are “passionate about” and not on the lifestyle they want to achieve.

Ultimately the degree you choose will have a much larger effect on your job prospects, pay after school, and lifestyle than the school you select. College can be very expensive. If you’re thinking about making a large investment of time and money by going to college, make sure you are getting a degree that will support the lifestyle you want while letting you pursue your passion!