Last week we asked you to review Jason’s path to his difficult student loan burden and questionable job prospects as college graduation is just a month away. I’ll touch on some of the key points where Jason could have made his current position a much happier one. See how many of these points you picked up and whether you agree with what I have to say about each.

Because space in this post is limited, I’ll focus on Jason’s choices after he arrived at college and I won’t comment on his student loan debt because we’ve addressed that in previous posts. First, however, a brief word about what you should be thinking of while you’re still in high school, the sooner the better.

You and your parents should recognize that school counselors are often overworked counseling those with serious personal difficulties. Therefore, they often don’t have time for counseling about postsecondary education choices and career counseling. That said, it’s important that you make good course choices in your freshman year because some courses later on will require you to have taken specific prerequisite courses. This requires planning before you even enter high school.

Once in high school, a good alternative to relying solely on your school counselor is to develop relationships with your HS teachers so that you can ask them for guidance about career possibilities and what courses you need to study. These relationships with you will also enable them to write detailed, believable letters of recommendation for your postsecondary choice, be that college, trade school, an apprenticeship or the military.

Now, to some key points in Jason’s postsec journey.

Don’t go to college just because your friends are. All of Jason’s friends were planning on attending college and even though Jason had little interest in school, had below average grades and didn’t have any specific goals for college, he went along with “what everyone else was doing.”

Simply going along with what everyone else is doing almost always is a bad idea. And bad ideas usually don’t work out very well.

Have good reasons for going to college. Because Jason didn’t have any clear idea of why he was going to college, he would have been better off to seek some guidance about why attending college would be a good idea and why an alternative might be a better idea for him. He could have asked for an appointment with his counselor, spoken with one or more teachers who could help and he could have spoken to the uncle he eventually asked to cosign two student loans.

For students who are as unclear about their postsecondary course as Jason was, it is often better to take time out to get counseling and to clarify what to do next. Unlike college, this doesn’t require you to pay a substantial deposit, often unrefundable, while you make up your mind about what to do next.

Choosing a major is important. Check before you choose. Having decided to go to college without really knowing why, Jason should not have declared a major. Instead, he should have taken required freshman year courses while he looked more specifically into the majors offered by the college. Eventually, Jason changed his major twice before settling on a major in physical therapy.

The major you choose may also determine how much you earn. Payscale is a company that tracks salaries and has published a College Salary Report listing starting salaries and mid-career salaries for 834 different college majors. While the stated salaries are national rather than specific to different locations where they might be higher or lower, they do give some indication of salary expectations for specific college majors. Note, however, that a low starting salary for a history major, for example, is questionable. Unless the college history major becomes a history teacher/professor or an historian, there’s no reason to believe that student will be “doing history” as a career. Instead, history majors and English majors enter careers where their income is typically much more than what is listed in the Payscale report.

Alert! Students and parents! The important point here is that each time Jason changed his major, the courses he took did not count toward graduation. This means that the tuition money, fees and book costs were all lost. Still worse, more tuition money, fees and book costs would have to be paid for the second major and, finally, his physical therapy major. This required Jason to take a fifth year to graduate, costing not only more student loan debt but also lost income from what would have been his first year of employment.

Graduate in four years or less. Sadly, only 41 percent of bachelor’s degree students graduate in four years (EduactionData.org). The national six-year college completion rate is 60 percent (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center) while millions of students who entered college never earned a degree. Inside Higher Education reported that the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that as of December 2018, 36 million people from the Center’s database had attended college since 1993 but then failed to earn a credential at any U.S. institution and were no longer enrolled in college.

Study the best you can. Earn the highest GPA you can. Because Jason didn’t have any clear purpose in attending college, he wasn’t motivated to discipline himself, study harder and complete college with a better GPA. Depending on the field of employment, a student’s GPA will affect his ability to get hired even though his GPA will have less and less importance as he progresses in his career. In addition to his student loan debt, this is another hurdle Jason faces as graduation approaches.

Clearly, making decisions about your education and career are complicated and require information, good advice and time to consider the information and advice. More often than not, high school students and their parents put off thinking about these matters in part because these are not easy things to think about, in part because students and parents are continually busy.

But these matters will not relent. And so, it is much better to consider them early on rather than waiting for senior year, which is a wonderful time on the one hand but also a time which is fraught with decision-making and stress and deadlines.

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