Over the past few years, millenials have struggled greatly with educational and career decisions. The economic crisis, together with a dramatic national malaise, has cast a pall on youthful optimism. Tough decisions must be made about college and employment that could have a significant impact on a young person’s financial condition and future prospects for employment. This situation has caused severe anxiety among many young people. I have some expertise in this area after having been an adviser to several children as they prepared for higher education and the work force. During these enjoyable, and yet stressful times, I have made many observations, which I will present here.
I am a great believer in higher education for a number of reasons. Most important is that if a student is serious, he or she can become an expert in one or more fields. This could lead to great financial and intellectual rewards that will enhance their lives. Additionally, I am a strong advocate of liberal education that emphasizes the arts. Some ask, what’s the practical use of learning about art history or 19th century literature? Well, these experiences make a person more interesting, and most of us enjoy being around well-educated and informed people.
As a parent, I believe I have an obligation to send my children to the best schools possible starting in elementary school, where they can prosper and contribute to the community. This obligation is not inexpensive, and yet, I feel the investment is worthwhile. For those families who are unable to afford the tuition, there are numerous ways to obtain grants, scholarships, and loans, even at private elementary schools. Education expense can create a huge financial burden, but the payoff can be great.
Often, college students have difficulty choosing a college major. I recommend students take as many courses as possible in the arts, even if they are science or engineering majors. In recent years, financial institutions, which are, by far, the most prolific employers of business students, have begun to seek out more and more recruits with well-rounded educations. Their feeling is that they have an extended period of time to teach newbies about spreadsheets and corporate finance, and a more interesting person with a broader educational experience will be of greater value to the firm in the long-run.
Another major decision relates to graduate school. Is it worth the money and the opportunity loss? My answer is perhaps. During the current economic crisis we are now experiencing, fewer and fewer jobs are available. It may be advantageous to park oneself in a grad school and acquire more knowledge and skills as opposed to accepting an inferior position. The other advantage is higher education will increase your mobility when the environment improves.
Having just assisted a close relative who gained admission to a major law school, I am sensitive to the enormous financial commitment affiliated with this course of action. It should be noted that the best way to gain employment to an elite law firm and the attendant financial benefits is by gaining admission to one of the best law schools (starting annual salaries can be a high as $160,000). This will not guarantee a great position, but it will afford you greater opportunities. Regarding tuition, the number is huge and only the wealthiest families can afford to send their children to school with a “parental scholarship.” But there are options; I know. Significant grants are available along with loans. These obligations may seem overwhelming, but when you consider the starting compensation at the best law firms, the number is less daunting.
A young person’s decision to attend college should not be a burden; if you can make the grades and scrape together the tuition through grants, loans, and family support, do it. For grad school, you must consider the tradeoffs, which are incurrence of debt and opportunity loss of current compensation. These must be measured against the upside of employment with a high-paying employer.
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