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Maximize the Return on Your Investment in Higher Education

Maximize the Return on Your Investment in Higher Education

by Valerie J. Calderon

Many students don't know enough about the important decisions to make and factors to weigh when selecting a college, which costs them time, money and can even take a toll on their well-being. My oldest son graduated from high school this year, and every aspect of the college-selection and enrollment process is more complex than it was when I went to school. Selecting a higher learning institution, financing an education and learning technology systems are all daunting tasks. Below are five strategies that soon-to-be college students can employ to successfully navigate the terrain of the college experience, avoid getting lost in the higher ed shuffle (see Spring 2015 issue) and maximize the return on their higher education investment.

  1. Invite someone at your college to mentor you. Your mentor should help you reflect on your talents and accomplishments and should encourage your success in school and in life. Mentoring is a key college experience that can help you feel more prepared for life after college.

  2. Become the candidate that hiring managers want. Set up interviews with hiring managers in your field while you are a college student and learn what they want from their new hires while you still have the opportunity to shape your college experience. A college transcript is an indicator of what you know, but business leaders also want to know what you can do in a real-world environment. Many business leaders say college graduates don't have the skills their business needs. So, get the experience that hiring managers want while you are still in school and be prepared to discuss that experience when you interview for a job.

  3. Follow my dad's advice: Finish your degree. Completion yields choices. You may hold many jobs over the course of your lifetime -- a recent report indicated that among baby boomers the lifetime average is 12 jobs -- and completing your degree could increase the chances of finding and crafting the job of your dreams. If the maze of courses and requirements for your program is confusing, ask your higher education institution for help, because it is expensive to speculate about the right way to navigate these requirements alone. Find someone who will help you map your path to degree completion.

  4. Avoid debt, and pay as you go. Only two in 10 people in the U.S. strongly agree that education beyond high school is affordable. The comfort level among some higher education leaders about college loan debt is disappointing, but it also reflects the national "borrow-as-you-go" trend. Buck the trend and enroll in the courses you can pay for as you go because large college loan debt doesn't only harm your pocketbook, it may also stymie your well-being. Ask an academic adviser frank questions about the cost of your education versus the earning potential in your field. This analysis can help you make wise choices about where and how you should go to school.

  5. Find the right fit. Enroll in an institution that is the right fit for you. How you go to college matters more than where you go to college, so focus on the knowledge and applied skills you will learn at an institution. Attend a school with opportunities for you to do what you do best every day -- one that helps you develop your knowledge, skills and strengths to their fullest potential.

These are a few of the ways you can maximize the return on your investment in higher education. Find a pathway that works for you, your finances and your well-being. Then be focused, intentional and willing to ask for help during your college career. Good luck, college-goers! Your future awaits!

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