In recent decades, attending college after high school has become practically a no-brainer. However, with mounting student loan debt and a notably tough job market, many students and their parents are questioning whether higher education is really worth the investment. But how do you decide whether college is the best next step for you?
Ben Feuer, professional educational consultant with Forster-Thomas Inc., identifies three major points of consideration. As he puts it: “Whenever I encounter a student who is considering skipping college, it immediately activates my GAG reflex. No, not that gag reflex—it’s my little acronym to help students decide if college is right for them.”
The steps of GAG should be considered (and prioritized) in order: Grades, Ability to pay, and Goals.
The first thing to consider is your academic standing. Your GPA and standardized testing scores will heavily influence what kind of schools and programs you can enroll in, as well as impact financial costs if you qualify for scholarships.
“If your grades aren’t up to snuff, it really doesn’t matter that you think you’d be interested in being a doctor” Feuer says.
Ability to pay
This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but college costs a lot of money—enough that you’ll likely be paying for it years after you’ve graduated. That kind of investment should be made with careful consideration.
The average tuition in Canada for full-time undergrads is $5,959 according to Stats Canada 2014, with the tuition in Ontario projected to surge to $8,756 in 2016-17.
The price tag for a university degree is significant: when books, living expenses and transportation costs are added to tuition and other compulsory fees, the cost of a four-year university education is estimated to reach over $80,000; of that, residence is estimated at about $31,000. Statistics Canada figures estimate that students with both public and private debt end up owing an average of $37,000 by the time they graduate.
University and College loans are real and that they can cause serious problems down the road if a student is unable to pay them back.
This doesn’t mean you should disregard University as an option if money is tight. There are plenty of scholarships, payment plans and other programs designed to ease the financial burden tuition can put on students. You may also try to look at tuition costs at different schools, sometimes you can obtain the same degree or diploma at a different school for less. However, when contemplating your next move after high school, the monetary cost of University or College is well worth considering.
“I’m not so much concerned about career goals at this early stage, because 18-year-olds don’t really know what their options are,” Feuer says. “I’m more concerned about what environments allow a student [to] thrive, and where he or she does his or her best work.”
So much attention is focused on how to convince schools that you’re a good fit for them that it can be easy to forget that not every type of college may be a good fit for you. Whether it’s four-year, or technical college that’s a right fit, or going straight to the workforce while considering your options, you have to determine what’s the best next step for your future.
Making an informed decision
“You have to do what’s right for you,” can be frustrating advice, especially when it’s offered at moments when you may not know what’s “right for you.” How are you supposed to figure it out?
Of course, doing what’s “right for you” is a lot easier if you have a general idea of where you want to end up. “My recommendation is for students to take the time to think about what it is they want before automatically getting into the college search, and for parents to respect that time of introspection,” says Stefanie O’Connell, Millennial finance writer and founder of thebrokeandbeautifullife.com. “Limiting post-high school choices to the selection of a major is just that—limiting.
Everyone thrives in a different environment, and each student should think carefully about his or her options before committing to any one ‘set’ course. Post-Secondary education is too expensive to commit to half-heartedly.”