Go to college, they say. It will improve your career prospects and ensure that you’ll make more money, they say. You’ve thought about pursuing a higher degree after high school, but in the back of your mind you have doubts as to how a poor kid like you is going to pay for the education and still manage to survive. While it’s true that some employers require a college degree, not all do, so you can do away with the notion that it’s an all-out requirement for getting any kind of job.
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What’s more, college isn’t always all that useful and this is especially true for people who don’t have family members who can afford to bankroll their education. In order to make an informed decision about going to college, you need to consider all aspects of the matter. To help you out we’ve compiled a list with five ways college can be bad for a poor kid, but we’ve also come up with solutions to those problems, so that if you’re determined to get a higher education there’d be nothing to stop you!
1. It Puts you in Debt
When you’re poor, the last thing you need is to have more financial obligations. Sure, your family’s financial status may make you eligible for more student loan money, but someday, you or someone else is going to have to pay that back. If you don’t, you’ll be in default on a very, very bad type of loan to default upon; lenders don’t typically look kindly on not paying back your student loans.
Sure, starting your adult life with a loan is not the best of ideas. However you could find ways to make college less expensive. Starting at a community college is an option, as is tracking down every tuition assistance and scholarship program known to man. If you’re successful in emerging from college as debt-free as possible, then the possibilities for your future career will be far better.
2. It Can Require Slaving Away
If you’re not planning on paying for college with student loan debt, you’ll have to find other ways to pay for it. Getting a scholarship based on need, or based on merit is one avenue, but those are going to be highly competitive and even if you are lucky enough to get a scholarship, they don’t always pay for all of your tuition, books and living expenses. Barring a fairy godmother who will swoop down and save you, a poor person who wants to go to college is going to have to work to pay for it. Since you don’t already have a degree, you’ll have to work an entry-level job to get started, and entry-level jobs don’t always pay great. Because of that, you may have to work long hours. In case you haven’t heard, going to school all day and then working all night is not the best way to spend the next four or five years of your life. If you’re into quality of life (and studies for that matter), this may not be the way to go.
But there’s no one to say you can’t go to school part time, and who knows you might even find that you enjoy your work so much that you’d much rather focus on that than on school.
3. Reduced Earnings Potential
Say you start working that entry-level job to pay for college, and over time you begin to earn more, that would be great, wouldn’t it? However, you won’t be seeing any of that money, as it will be going straight towards funding your studies. Imagine that you could be investing that money in the stock market instead, and making a fortune out of it. However, the real trouble would be if you decided to drop out! That would mean that you slaved away for nothing.
As you’re planning for college, take a look at how much the tuition costs at the school of your choice. Then multiply that number by four. How much could you make if you invested that money? You might find that it makes more sense to use that money for the future, rather than gambling it on an education that might leave you unemployed for years.
But, if your heart’s set on college, good for you, focus on school and make sure you’ll see your degree through.
4. No Good Advice
If you’re from a poor family, there’s a good chance that your family members didn’t go to college, which means that they might not be able to give you much sound advice about what to do, what to major in, how to behave or how to finance your education. If you can’t get that type of advice from your family members, you’ll have to get it from someone else. You’d think that the person named your college "advisor" would be the person to turn to when you have questions, but sadly, that’s not always the case. In many colleges, appointments with your adviser are cursory formalities meant to ensure that you can navigate the labyrinth of classes the college is offering and not to actually help you plan out your career.
The same goes for the career services offices at many colleges. They have good intentions, but they simply don’t have the time to work closely with you to help you overcome challenges and anticipate the problems you might encounter in pursuing the career path you’ve chosen. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t necessarily make the right choices. That could, once again, put you and your family in debt for nothing.
Good advice goes a long way in helping you be successful, and if you can’t rely on the more traditional advisors, then it might be time to get a mentor. Try internships and externships to identify areas that interest you, and then approach individuals working in those fields to ask about mentoring. Your high school, college or even your county or regional government may also have resources to match you with a mentor who can help guide you. That person’s advice can be invaluable in navigating college and making it work for you.
5. Your Efforts Might Be in Vain
Say you actually make it through college with minimal debt. Congratulations! But wait. Is the career field you’ve chosen one that is sure to land you a job? Do you even know where to look or how to market yourself? There are plenty of college graduates out there who are working lower-wage jobs. If they’d invested their time in working full-time at that coffee shop instead of working part-time while in school, they might be the manager by now, or they might have learned enough about the business to start their own shop. College gives you knowledge about something, but it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be just as poor, or even poorer, as when you started.
In order to avoid that make sure you use resources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics to find out what jobs are most promising for the future, how much they pay, and whether a college degree is even required. In some cases, it’s not a requirement to attend college in order to get a great-paying job.
Going to college is not a total waste of time. If you’re committed to going to, and finishing college, you need to take it seriously and to do everything you can to emerge from higher education at a higher level than you were before.
While college can be bad for the poor, when approached with good planning and organization, it can also help you rise above your current situation. Thus, choose wisely and make sure you do your research as you should always enter into any new situation knowing all the facts.