Life, money, and student debt by Pat Sorrells
Managing money can be a real challenge for many people nowadays. Simply attempting to limit how much money one spends on food on a monthly basis can be a huge challenge. Nevertheless, it is a necessary skill that many people just do not have. This is a direct result of our educational systems failing to prepare students for living on their own. In high school, a greater emphasis is placed on completing math courses such as geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry, and calculus than courses like math in action, where students learn how to properly budget their monthly income. Furthermore, colleges across the country fail to emphasize the importance of compounding interest rates (unless you’re a business major) when it comes to saving money for a down-payment on a house or even retirement. But, the biggest mistake a person could make in regards to money management is going into massive debt to pay for a not-so-lucrative undergraduate degree.
In my opinion, our student loan crisis is a direct result of parents telling their millennial children the age old saying, “You can do whatever you set your mind to. The world is your oyster.” While this statement may be true to an extent, it lacks the consequential caveat of, “Just don’t go broke.” While this may be implied, it needs to be more explicitly stated and elaborated upon if a parent wants their child to actually be successful in life.
Under the false assumption that life will work out for them regardless of the major they choose, high school seniors choose undergraduate institutions that cost tens of thousands of dollars a year and a major that most often leads down a path to living life paycheck to paycheck. While many use the argument that they’d rather live paycheck to paycheck doing what they love than be financially stable and hate their job, I would argue that there is a scenario where one is financially stable and loves their job at the same time.
Most of us don’t have just one interest area when thinking about our likes and dislikes. This is why many students usually choose to be undecided about their major during their first year in college. While many of us probably already know our own preferences, we also lack the knowledge to definitively know our own strengths. This is why college students sometimes pick majors like art, music education, global studies, or theatre. They know that they really love that field of study, but rarely are they actually any good at it (sorry theatre majors, you’ll never get to broadway). Their interest area is not at an intersection with their strengths. Perhaps one ends up being quite good at said not-so-lucrative major at said expensive undergraduate institution. This is where the real danger lies. In this scenario, one of two things will occur. Either they’ll be so dedicated to their major that they end up being quite successful in that field and quickly rise to the top, or they’ll end up not being able to find a job in their narrow field of study and work odd jobs at various entry level positions at big name corporations telling themselves the lie, “I’m just working here until I find a job in my field.” This statement probably helps them sleep better at night as effectively as their cat they adopted from a shelter which wakes them up consistently at 4:00 AM every morning, regardless of whether it’s the weekend or not. Most of the time, it is the latter and not the former that takes place.
If one is to choose a field of study at an expensive undergraduate institution that will allow them to not have to live paycheck to paycheck paying off their student loans for 30 years, they must know which majors intersect with both their interests and strengths, which will allow them to pay off their student debt in a timely and effective manner. Do note, I am only referencing the scenario in which one chooses to go to an expensive undergraduate institution, pay for the majority of it with debt, and choose a major that will leave their probability of being financially stable very low. Any other scenario would be a better decision than making the above decision. If you go to an inexpensive university and major in something in which you’re passionate about but might not yield much money, more power to you. That is a smart decision. If you go to an expensive university and major in a field in which you’re quite good at, but aren’t that passionate about, you’ll be financially successful enough to afford taking up a hobby or two to gain some satisfaction in life. These two alternative scenarios will yield much better results long-term than the above quagmire that many college students usually put themselves in.
Again, I am not simply stating that the above scenario will, without a doubt, result in failure. I’m simply stating that it will lead down a path of misery and financial insecurity more often than not. Please, don’t let this article discourage you from your ambitions. While that may be the result of this article in the majority of cases, it is not my intent. My intent is to better educate students on where their lives may lead by bringing the scenario that many college students have chosen to put themselves in to its logical conclusion. people cannot, and will not, think this far into the future until their junior or senior year. They just simply don’t have the planning skills necessary to realize the end result of their education (or they’re in denial, which is arguably a better alternative). They view their parents’ nagging question of, “What do you want to do with your major?” as intrusive and something to be determined at an undisclosed later time in their lives. While this question may be asked of students more times than they can count, it may be the most important question of their lives (other than a proposal, of course). Students need to be able to grasp the end result of majoring in their most loved field of study. If they are unable to do this, they are risking tens of thousands of dollars on an education that will potentially lead to their demise. Forget becoming responsibly engaged in the world. What’s the use of picking a major that has absolutely zero job prospects whatsoever? Plan, be educated, and know your future.