Since 1983, the cost for students to attend college has risen at a pace of almost five times the rate of inflation.
Students in the U.S. are graduating with an average of $33,000 in debt when getting a four year degree, and in Canada students average $26,000 in loans.
With over 1 trillion in outstanding student loans in the U.S., millions of students are being saddled with huge debts, and can only envision a future where large student loan payments are a fact of life.
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Too Many Attend College With No Plan
I think we have a huge problem in this country where attending college has become a fact of life, just something that everyone does. The problem is, far too many attend college with no plan for what they're going to do once they get there, and no plan with how they're going to pay for it.
Are they going to major in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics major? Will they go for a degree in the arts or humanities? Will they get a work study job to help pay for their schooling, or only get loans and pay them off later?
Far too many go to college mainly being interested in the social and entertainment aspects of it. They don't try to figure out what the return on investment is for their particular school and major. In fact many don't even declare a major until later. They're just there for the party.
Here's a discussion I had on an episode of the Money Mastermind Show about whether a college degree is even worth it anymore:
Better Off Taking A Time Out – Or Getting A Job
I think for many of those people college isn't going to be of much help, they might have been better off to just start their working careers, get an apprenticeship, or to attend a trade school or community college. They could still attend those college parties -without taking on those huge student loans!
But what if you're pretty sure you want to attend college, but don't know where your passion lies quite yet?
Why not dip your toes in the water and attend classes at some small schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford? Expensive you say? Not if you're checking out their free online offerings.
Attend School – Free Of Charge. Find Your Passion
Instead of just jumping in with both feet and spending $50-150,000 on an education you're not even sure you need or want, why not try a few courses and majors on for size?
There are now thousands of college level courses taught online by renowned professors, free of charge. Here are a few of the better known places, along with their mission statements pulled from their sites:
- Khan Academy: Khan Academy is a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.
- Coursera: Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free
- Udacity: Advance your tech career with Udacity. Online education that bridges the gap between academic and real world skills.
- edX: Study, have fun, uncover a new passion or learn skills that just may change your life.
These four are only some of the better known sites that offer educational courses online.
Another option is to head on over to Apple's Itunes U where you can find more than 750,000 free lectures, videos, books, and other resources on thousands of subjects.
You can also just go to the websites for universities that offer free courses online. Here are some of the more prestigious ones:
- University of Notre Dame
- University of Michigan
- University of California at Berkeley
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Tufts University
- University of Massachusetts
- Utah State University
Here's a website that catalogs a list of over 1000 free courses and where you can get them.
The options are endless. Find a few courses that pique your interest, take them online for free and see if it might be something you're interested in!
Alternatives To A Typical 4 Year Degree
Even after you've take a few online courses and you've decided that maybe a 4 year degree isn't for you, there are plenty of other options available to you.
- Starting your own business: You can start a business these days with only a small amount of startup capital. It's a great way to learn about business and how the world works.
- Apprenticeships or on the job training: Some companies are now offering apprenticeships to learn a trade and have a guaranteed job when you complete it. Here's one example of a program put in place by BMW.
- Trade school: Go to a trade school to learn marketable skills. Working in a blue collar profession can actually pay pretty well in many cases. (Remember how that plumber you called cost $90/hr?)
- 2 year community college: Get an associates degree in much less time, for less money – and still be able to find a decent job when you graduate.
- Online colleges: More and more people are still getting their 4 year degrees, but they're moving online. In 2012, 6.7m students were taking at least one online course. I'm sure these numbers will only continue to grow.
- Be a problem solver, get hired without a degree: Companies want to hire people that have drive, and that solve problems for them. Find ways to become a problem solver and get yourself hired in your dream job – despite not having that 4 year degree.
If You Do Go To College, Don't Forget To Get The Best Deal For You
If you do end up going to college, make sure you're taking the time to figure out what the best plan of action is for your situation.
What is the ROI you can expect to see based on your major and school that you choose? Does it make financial sense to go into that field, at that school? What is the opportunity cost that you're willing to bear in order to be giving up several productive working years to attend school?
If you do decide to go make sure that you:
- Choose a lower cost in-state school (especially for arts and humanities degrees that don’t require a certain school/pedigree) that still has a good reputation.
- Consider which schools offer grants and scholarships. It may make their offering more feasible.
- Do your best to go to school with no debt. Pursue more fin aid, and scholarships. Work while in school.
If You Don't Have A Plan, Make One
Those entering college, and parents of prospective students need to be aware of just how much it costs to go to school these days. If you’re not careful, you can get yourself saddled with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt before your career even starts. And the degree you receive may not be worth as much as it used to be.
Be careful about how much of a student debt load you take on, if you take on too much it can delay when you can buy a house, have kids or a myriad of other things. It reduces your options, and leverages your future when the payoff isn’t always certain.
Not only that, if your chosen career field doesn’t typically show a high ROI, don’t go to a high cost school. If you’re in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field, it may make more sense, but still be careful about where you attend and do your best to get the best value for your money.
If you're not sure yet of what you want to do, or if you just don't have a passion for something – don't go! Take some time to figure out where your passion lies.
Take some free online courses in a few different areas to see if anything catches your interest. If something does – go for it – but only after making a plan!
Do you know of other places you can take college courses for free? Have ways to cut costs on your college education? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!