Build a plan for making the most of college

College and tech schools just started a new semester. Seniors in high school, often with the help of their parents, are getting close to finalizing their post-high school plans. Many will look to college or tech school. Some college students are starting to think about grad school. Whatever the next step, this is a critical time for students to make clear plans about their future. Even students not looking to pursue secondary education will find value in planning ahead.

I personally think it’s not really the school but the student who makes the educational experience worth the price of tuition. One person can go to a fourth-tier college and be a tremendous success in life, while someone else can go to Harvard and provide little value to the world after graduation. Beyond college, it’s the student or employee who makes the most of his or her career through hard work, attitude, aptitude, and some luck.

I recently came across the book Get a Job, Build a Real Career, and Defy a Bewildering Economy by Charles Hugh Smith. It was a challenging read in many ways, but it was also thought-provoking. The book discusses the skills and mindset the next generation may need to be economically valuable in society and how society and the economy may change. The chapter on college planning was enlightening. 

Smith essentially encourages kids and/or their families to emphasize the importance of having an actual plan for optimizing college and then making a place for themselves in the working world. Personally, I can attest to the value of this because I went into college with a very detailed and disciplined plan, making the most of my time in school and then graduating with a positive place in the world.

I spent my college career taking advantage of resources and mentors who could help me get where I needed to go. I also enjoyed working during school because I had to cover for most of my college costs, and my parents were crystal clear: Once you’re out of school, you’re on your own financially! Having skin in the game made the experience all the more important and serious. I’m grateful for the combination of the grand plan and the fact that my parents instilled in me a sense of responsibility at an early age.

My professional advice based on my own observations is that college can either be a great investment or a colossal waste of money. College costs can run anywhere from $30,000 to $300,000. That cost should bring you some level of economic return on investment. As I’ve written a couple of times before, the student debt market is now more than $1.2 trillion, and delinquent payment rates remain high at a time when recent graduates are experiencing high unemployment and underemployment rates. In the aggregate, college could become a losing proposition for a large number of students. At a minimum, advance planning could help avoid this potential problem, and Smith’s book seems to offer a great template for making the most of one’s education. 

(Continued)

 

The book offers a lot of tools and insight, but if you don’t read it, at least take time to reflect on Smith’s recommended “8 Essential Skills of Professionalism”:

  1. Learn challenging new material over one’s entire productive life.
  2. Creatively apply newly mastered knowledge and skills to a variety of fields.
  3. Be adaptable, responsible, and accountable in all work environments.
  4. Apply a full spectrum of entrepreneurial skills to any task, i.e., take ownership of one’s work.
  5. Work collaboratively and effectively with others, both in person and remotely (online).
  6. Communicate clearly and effectively in all work environments.
  7. Continually build human and social capital, i.e., knowledge and networks.
  8. Possess a practical working knowledge of financial records and project management.

This could be the basic outline of a plan for students during and after school. Again, the author offers some challenging opinions/prognostications about the future, but the crux of the advice for building a plan to be productive beyond school is sound no matter what the future holds.

Michael Dubis is a fee-only certified financial planner and president of Michael A. Dubis Financial Planning, LLC. He is also an adjunct lecturer at the University of Wisconsin Business School James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate. Mike can be reached at financialperspectives@gmail.com.

 This article contains the opinions of the author. The opinion of the author is subject to change without notice. All materials presented are compiled from sources believed to be reliable and current, but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products or services described in this website or that of the author’s. Mike Dubis does not guarantee the relevancy, appropriateness, or accuracy of any outside information or links. Mike Dubis does not render or offer to render personalized investment advice or financial planning advice through this medium. All references that might be made to an investment or portfolio's performance are based on historical data and one should not assume that this performance will continue in the future.
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