college major

The Importance of College Major in a World of High Student Loan Debt

You’ve heard it before. Student loan debt in the United States is soaring. At the end of 2021, the outstanding student loan debt stood at $1.58 trillion. With the future financial health of our children on the line, how can we lower the risks involved with the growing costs of higher education? Careful consideration of the college major, future career path, and self awareness can be the key.

“Inherent gifts”

An editorial in the Columbus Dispatch stressed the importance of students considering their “inherent gifts” in this thinking, and we agree. Ohio State lecturer Jessica Johnson encourages her students to “seek their gifts and pursue what they value in life.” When students know themselves well, their decisions around why they are pursuing college education are much stronger.

And they have many decisions ahead of them!

Today’s high schoolers put a lot of pressure on themselves making these college-oriented decisions. Anxiety levels soar. College selection can feel like a life-or-death decision! When you couple the inherent pressure with a lack of self knowledge, the result can be troubling. No parent wants to watch their kiddo struggle with this.

Parents, too, can ultimately feel stress, especially when the decisions their student makes are based on shallow or hollow reasoning. Going to college today means paying big tuition bills and likely joining the millions of others in debt, and we all want our kids’ decisions to be solid as they head to college. We also don’t want college to take too long! “According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 41% of first-time full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, and only 59% earn a bachelor’s in six years, driving up the cost of attending college significantly.

“What do I know about myself?”

As adults, we know things about ourselves that make choices easier. For example, you may know you have an innate ability to listen well to others. You gravitate toward situations or work experiences to take advantage of that ability. Often, students don’t take a moment to take stock in their talents and struggles, so they are left to flounder.

We’d never suggest that students make college major and career decisions based solely on future earning potential – the keyword, though, is “solely.” Students do need to consider the economic realities of the job market and of their desired lifestyle. This thinking is a part of understanding their values. How important is their style of living? How comfortable are they with economic uncertainty? Considering these economic realities surrounding their future career paths is important! Combine this thinking with the other elements of self knowledge to help facilitate their decisions and plans.

Choices are tailored based on self knowledge – an example.

Let’s say, a student has all the skills, values, and interests to be an excellent elementary teacher. He/she is good at juggling several tasks at once, values working with others (including children, parents, and co-workers), and enjoys the challenge of conveying knowledge to others in an effective way. (We could go on, but you get the idea!)

The reality for teachers is that the starting salary will be lower than other career fields. Take a look at this starting salary chart shared by Joe Messinger of Capstone Wealth Partners:

Data from National Association of College and Employers--Class of 2022 salary projections
Anticipated Major / Career:Education
Average starting salary = Max loan$39,097
Computer Science$75,900
Math & Sciences$66,760

When considering the cost of college, families must also consider the student’s projected starting salary at the end of college. Most families want to pay a reasonable amount for the products and services that they purchase and receive an adequate return on their investment. College is no different. The cost of college is too large today to ignore this line of thinking.

Starting salary and placement rates should be on the list of questions during a college visit, and look for opportunities for students to experience experiential learning to stand out from the crowd after graduation. Keep in mind, though, that the start of this job and salary thinking involves that self knowledge about skills, values, and interests!

Gaining self knowledge

Some students can do this deeper thinking on their own – maybe they’ve had some practice or are innately more self-aware. However, most students struggle with this because they need some help, and they tend to respond best with someone to guide, analyze, and collate their thinking. At The Core was created for this purpose.

Have you ever noticed that the word “college” doesn’t appear in our name, At The Core? Because our primary focus is and has always been helping students look inside to their “core.” What makes me tick? When do I struggle? What do I find interesting? With this valuable knowledge, ALL of the other decisions about college become so much easier. When a student takes an honest look at their “inherent gifts,” strengths, interests, and values, they can say, “Yes, this college/major are right for me, and I can be successful without breaking the bank.”

Setting aside the space and time for this careful and deliberate thinking is the key. It leads to smarter choices and lessens the risk of making uninformed choices which are combined with large student loan debt. Better college choices. More confidence in the major and targeted career. A more thoughtful approach to all the decisions ahead.

How we can help

Our unique Guided Self Assessment process supports students to articulate and consider their strongest traits. It is personal and engaging. It’s a series of in-depth discussions with a trained expert who acts as their personal guide. It yields a deeper insight for the student and an understanding of how to connect their traits to the working world.

An added benefit of Guided Self Assessment is simply learning HOW to do this thinking. Students should continue self assessing all through life, and this experience can teach them how to continue the process.

Think back to your experience after high school. Maybe you changed majors a few times. Or even transferred to another school. Maybe it took you more than four years to complete your degree. Back then, college costs were much lower. And, we had the benefit of time to discover what was best for us as adults. Today, students have to hit the ground running. The tuition bills are too high for much experimentation. By exercising that self exploration muscle, students have a jump start that we never did.

Guided Self Assessment will help families consider potential careers, get the student started with their career research, and understand next steps and considerations for the student to be successful in college and beyond. Please consider hearing more about the process in a 30-minute (no obligation) family meeting. Nothing we do is ever a sales pitch. Our process is simply easier to understand when you get to look at a report, hear from an expert facilitator to answer your questions, and understand how it works.

We can all be proactive in protecting the future financial health of our children.

We can be more thoughtful in our approach to our college choices and to our level of student loan debt. (College money guru, Joe Messinger, recommends a student loan debt level no higher than one year’s starting salary. Learn more at a Smart Money Moves for the College-Bound webinar.) With a layer of self knowledge and the understanding of how to explore our choices with careful consideration, students will have a leg up that we didn’t have in their approach to the college choices ahead.

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