Beyond Tuition Costs Podcast Episodes

Making the Most of Your College Degree

Degree worth it

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We're often asked the question: Is college worth it? Phil Schuman joins Pete and Alex to discuss how to make the most of your college degree.


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We’re going to start off this lesson with an unfortunate reality:

Despite having your degree, the majority of you are not going to have everything you want when you graduate.

Take a moment to think about that.  You’ve made an investment in your future--perhaps borrowed money for it--and there’s a good chance that it’s not going to pay off--and least financially--immediately.  How is that going to make you feel?  Do you think you’ll regret coming to IU or going to college in general?

Now for the good news:

You have a lot of control over whether or not your degree will be worth it.

Allow us to explain:

  1. Play your cards right, and your degree will be an appreciating asset - You may not be able to control the job market and your starting salary (to some degree), but you do control how hard you work and what opportunities you make out of what you have.  Your job may start off paying you the bare minimum, but believe us when we say hard work tends not to go unnoticed and unrewarded.  If you want to take full advantage of your degree, work hard in whatever jobs you have, and watch that turn into a better life for you.  If you choose to only do the bare minimum, not to work hard, and not to take advantage of the opportunities around you in your professors and on-campus resources, then chances are your degree will never amount to that much because you haven’t put in the effort to maximize its full potential.

  1. Keep your expectations tempered immediately after graduation - We are like a broken record when it comes to talking to you about tempering your expectations after graduation, but it’s a very important point that needs to be hammered into your brain. Your degree will not be valuable if you are spending whatever money you make to fund a lavish lifestyle that is not maintainable.  What is going to make your degree more valuable is how you spend/save your money after you graduate.  By lowering your baseline of what your needs are, you put yourself in a stronger position to see the benefits of your degree much sooner.

  1. Keep your debt to a minimum in college - We all have read the stories about the increasing cost of tuition in college; and like you, we hope that the trend will reverse.  However, until that happens we have an important secret to tell you: Only 40% of the cost of college is tuition!!! This means that where you live, what you eat, how you get around town, the books and supplies you need for class, and any other personal costs of college (and yes - the university actually considers all these factors as part of your cost of college) make up almost 60% of college costs.  These costs are things that you can control.  You can choose to live in a less expensive place--whether it’s on or off campus; you can choose to dine out less; you could buy your books used and online; you can choose to make all sorts of decisions that will make your college experience less expensive.  Doing so will enable you to graduate with less debt and put you in a better position for after graduation.

  1. Have a good understanding of what your degree means in the career world and what you can do in college to boost its value - Your degree is not an automatic ticket to a job.  Instead, it is a ticket to a job market that you wouldn’t have access to without it.  Once you get your foot in the door, it will be your experiences and who you are as a person that will get you the job.  What you need to do is maximize your experiences in college (e.g., volunteer, get a job, be involved in clubs, etc.), so that once you’ve gotten the interview for a job, the employers can’t say no to you. 

  1. Do what makes you happy - If you truly want to make your degree worth it, don’t compromise your dreams.  If you have something that you want to do in life that will make you truly happy, then use your degree to help you get there.  When it comes to money, we are advocates of managing it wisely.  As long as you’re doing that and achieving what you want to do with your life, it shouldn’t matter whether or not you become a millionaire.  The moment you start compromising your dreams, you will start to think that your degree isn’t worth it.  Stay focused on your dreams, do what you can to achieve them, and we promise that your degree will always be worth it.   

As always, we are here to help you make the right financial decisions so that your degree will definitely be worth it.  Feel free to reach out to us on Facebook (IU MoneySmarts), Twitter (@IUMoneySmarts), e-mail (mnysmrt@iu.edu), or book an appointment with our MoneySmarts Team (http://moneysmarts.iu.edu/mentoring/index.shtml) so that we can help you take better advantage of the opportunity to live like a student while you still are one.

Season 4: 03/23/2015