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How to Get the Best Bang for Your College Buck

August 28, 2017 at 5:00 AM

I am a big believer in college education, and an even bigger believer in getting a return on your investment. But I don’t know any financial advisor who can guarantee that a $180,000 investment in a private four-year college (according to the College Board) will provide positive returns. It is up to you to help your child know what they are paying for and understand how to get the most out of their college experience.

That means your child may have to walk away from their dream school (and your dream school too). First, they should know when to turn down a college that they can’t afford. Second, they should attend a college that will help them “go to school the right way” and get a job when they are done.

I want you to know that your child will not get a job simply because they were the best student or because they attended a top university; it will be because they can walk into a job interview feeling powerful. That power will come from the meaningful experiences they have during college.

As your child begins their college search, teach them how to do their homework beyond scanning a website for the best photos or the catchiest tagline. They should dig deeper: How will the school prepare them for their first job? Because that first job will have a big impact on their financial future.

I do not advocate choosing a career based on dollar signs. In fact, one mistake that college graduates make is taking the highest paying job rather than the job they actually want to do. According to Gallup, fewer than one-third of workers are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” If your child goes after the money first, they are dooming themselves. They can’t afford to be in a job they dislike.

Choosing the right kind of job and showing up prepared to do it right (which will make them valuable to any new boss and thus more powerful) is easier when they have experiences to draw on. Building these experience has to begin in college.

new book by Bentley University President Gloria Cordes Larson explains how the opportunity for success is driven by how you go to school, not where. She advocates for a hybrid model of education that blends in-classroom and hands-on learning. For your child to get the most out of their college experience—and ultimately land a job they love and get the best bang for their buck—they should consider a school that:

  1. Blends in-classroom and hands-on learning. Theory is important, but it is the hands-on experience that will land your child a job and make them an asset to their employer. 

  2. Requires courses outside of the major. Simply put: Diversify! Students should take at least one business course (even if they major in art history) and one liberal arts course (yes, even business majors). 

  3. Connects them with faculty and alumni mentors. Networking is valuable; your child needs to start early and do it often. 

  4. Gets them career-ready. The goal of a college education is to get a job. Career skills should start the first year of college and continue through graduation, and be a part of a student’s course of study. 

  5. Requires internships. This is a no-brainer. Would you prefer to hire someone who already has relevant experience or someone who will have a steeper learning curve? (A company saves money if less training is required!)
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