Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Thomas Kennedy, Guest Columnist

Go to the college of your dreams. Follow what your heart tells you. Do what you enjoy. No college is out of reach. These are the sentiments students hear when they begin looking at colleges. The total cost is rarely a factor in presentations by colleges who promote how nice their new dorms are or how lush the gardens are on campus.
The funny thing is, when I talk to people after their college experience the conversation always shifts to the cost. Large student loans are just accepted as an inevitable cog in the journey of life. Political discourse has shifted across the country to demonize evil banks and their oppressive student loans. The idea that hasn’t shifted is our cultural approach to the college application process.
One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that college is a great investment. People who go to college and particularly those who graduate unquestionably get a leg up on their peers in the global workforce. College graduates earn an average of $50,000 a year as a starting salary compared to less than $30,000 a year for high school graduates.
Not all degrees, however, have the same outcome. Engineering, math, physics, finance and other related jobs have median starting salaries north of $60,000 a year. Education, athletic training, social work and many liberal arts degrees have median starting salaries that are in the $30-40,000 a year range.
The goal here is not to demonize these degrees or dissuade people from pursuing jobs in these important fields, but rather to remind people that your future earnings potential should factor into how much you are willing to spend on a degree.
Another area of disconnect is the assumption that the cost of an education speaks to its quality. Some schools have a total cost that is 3 times that of a local state option. I liken this situation to going to a grocery store and trying to choose between a $2 gallon of generic milk vs a $6 gallon with a fancy label and some environmentally friendly slogans. By the time you get around to pouring a bowl of cereal, they’re going to be roughly the same in what they offer.
Most undergraduate experiences are similar in experience and offerings but they come with wildly different price tags. You can go to Harvard to get a teaching degree and accrue $100,000 in debt to make the same wage as someone who went to a state school. The prestige of the University you attend is less important than what you study when it comes to your future earnings potential.