How to get more value out of your college education

College is getting more and more expensive, and yet it seems it's a pre-requisite for most middle-class kids. Here's how to get the most bang for your college buck.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Spring blossoms at the foot of a Harvard University tower in Cambridge, Mass., as seen in this photo taken April, 21. As college tuition costs skyrocket - tuition is now $36,173 at Harvard - it's more important than ever to get more bang for your buck at school.

These days, it seems like most middle class kids go on to college.

In fact, many jobs are now requiring a Bachelor’s degree. Thus, many kids are going to college as almost a default stage of life. Some people are wondering if a college degree is still worth it. While it is difficult to quantify the benefits of a college education, if you are in college you should try to get the full value out of every dollar you pay.

Some of the key ingredients in preparing for college are getting college savings, applying for scholarships, reducing expenses, and getting student loans (and, of course, later paying student loans). However, the value of a college education is about a lot more than the cost of tuition.

Most people tend to focus exclusively on saving money on college fees that they forget that once the bills are all paid, there is a lot you can do to help get more value out of your college dollars.

5 Tips On Getting More Value Out of Each College Dollar

1. Don’t Go To College Until You’re Ready

When I was doing youth ministry, mortified parents would approach me because their son or daughter didn’t want to go to college right after graduation. I tried to be sympathetic, but I was also honest. I took a year off between high school and college. My reasoning was two fold.

1. In Canada, you’ll find a lot more high school students are expected to pay their own bills for higher education. I didn’t have enough money to pay for college.

2. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have any sense of direction. Why pay thousands of dollars for something to get me to a destination I didn’t know?

Taking a year off school helped me tremendously. Here’s how:

* I was able to travel the world, live on my own, and do some informal studies. All of those experiences taught me and helped me mature. You can’t get value out of a college education unless you are mature.

* I got rid of some distracting bugs – specifically, my life-is-meaningless-bug and my travel bug. After high school, I had the focus of a gnat. I was so distracted by every opportunity that if I had gone to college I probably would have dropped out halfway through my first semester to be a professional athlete or something similar.

* I got to spend a few extra months working. Honestly, I only ‘worked’ 4 of the months I was out of school. I did take a 4 month long short term mission trip that ended up giving me a lot of life focus.

By the way, mom and dad might not need to worry so much because there really are some good paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.

2. Don’t Go Until You’re Prepared to Study

A funny thing happens at college – professors give you assignments. Interestingly, those who complete their assignments tend to get better grades. You can pay thousands of dollars for an education, but you won’t get a single return on your investment until you apply yourself.

When it comes to a college education, my theory is you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

Sure, you don’t really need to read every book to get a good grade, but each of those books have something to teach. But, this is starting to get into the next point.

3. Don’t Go Until You Want to Learn

Subtitle: don’t go until you want something more than good grades. I hope no college professors are reading this post. Some college educators are lazy – perhaps it is a repercussion of tenure. They give you one article to read all semester and expect a five page report. And they are the favorite teachers on campus.

The purpose of a college education is so that you will learn – not so that you will get a degree. Focus on learning what motivates you, and you’ll get a tremendous value out of your college education.

4. Do Some Career Counseling Before Starting College

People go to college to get degrees. Degrees help people get jobs. But, you want to be sure your degree is in a field of your interest.

The problem is that far too many people have no idea what they want to be. I’m not blaming anyone for this. I switched my major even after taking a year off. Worse than that, 10 years after college graduation, some days I still wonder what I want to be when I grow up.

However, the more work experience you get and the more people you talk with, the better off you will be. In an intentionally controversial post, I claimed that teens should work, even if it results in lower grades. The point of the article is that life experience is tremendously valuable.

If you’ve talked with different people and had some work experiences yet still feel confused, consider something like the Career Direct package from Crown Financial Ministries.

5. Do Decide What Motivates You

In college, there is no one to motivate you. It’s almost as if the people around you expect you to be an adult who can care for herself.

You will spend your time doing whatever motivates you.

If you are motivated to learn, you will spend time learning. If you are motivated to have fun, you will spend time trying to have fun. If you are motivated by acceptance, you will spend your time trying to be accepted. If you are motivated by sports, you will spend your time playing sports.

If you are in college or getting ready to head to college, just remember a good deal is not about your scholarships and tuition payments. It’s about how much you learn, grow, and develop. To get a real bang for your buck, make an effort and you will get a great rate of return on your college investment.

Just remember, a college degree does NOT guarantee a good job.

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