College isn’t all keg stands and pep rallies. It’s actually a pretty important steppingstone to your future. Remember, depending on where you want to end up, the traditional 4-year university isn’t your only option. Consider these 5 questions before daydreaming about decorating your dorm room.
WHAT DO I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP?
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook gives a good overview of the salary, skills, job market and required education for a wide variety of jobs, including everything from accounting to zoology. Search by job type or look up top-paying jobs and fastest-growing job sectors. Also see the Career Search section of StudentAid.gov.
WHAT TYPE OF SCHOOL DO I NEED?
Once you have a ballpark idea of whether you want to be a nurse or an astrophysicist, narrow down your school choices:
$ — Community college. Great for flexible scheduling and a diverse student body including people of varying ages and work experiences. Off-campus living means fewer social events, but it may be worth it if you get to your career faster. Many people take core curriculum credits at community college and then transfer to a university to finish their bachelor’s.
$$ — Vocational/technical school. If you want to fast-track your career, this is a hands-on way to skip all the extra stuff you don’t need. Programs can be competitive, but often include apprenticeship and job placement services.
$$$ — 4-year public university. A big university is appealing if you are looking for that classic college experience. Social perks include dorm living, sports, frats and sororities, and student groups. It’s not so appealing if you feel you’re wasting time and money on core classes that get you no closer to a career.
$$$$ — Ivy League and private colleges. You pay big bucks and have to compete to get in, but once enrolled, you can expect rigorous academics and killer networking opportunities. Just be sure to take advantage of them.
WILL I GET MY MONEY’S WORTH?
Great question. How much money would you need to borrow, and how would you pay it back? Use this calculator from StudentLoans.gov to play around with your options. Then check the graduation rates and other vital stats on your potential schools with tools like the government’s CollegeNavigator.gov and the nonprofit CollegeResults.org.