Career Planning: Is a $100K Education Worth It in the Long Run?

When you chose your college, did you factor the payments that you would owe into your career planning objectives? At age 18, when your biggest concerns were a high school dance or sports game, were you in a place to commit to $100,000 in loans. Did you know what interest was? Did you believe that you could pursue your dreams and still make ends meet. Did you --idealistically--believe that you should pursue the best education possible, even if you didn't have the money to pay for it?

When it comes to the topic of student loans, society is torn in a number of directions, blaming banks, the government, the parents, and the 18-year-old borrowers. "They should have known better," is a common bigger-picture argument. What this argument fails to do is answer the bigger-picture question-- what are students supposed to know, and who is responsible for teaching them? It doesn't help society to put the blame on creative art majors who borrowed $100,000 to pursue a career as a photographer. Instead, it is in the public interest to examine the phenomenon of America's student loan epidemic.

It is undeniable that student loans can cause substantial damage. When you begin your life in debt, you hurt your ability to buy a house, save for retirement, or even have children. Until now, educational debt has been perceived as healthy debt that can help advance a person's career. Now, student loan debt is likened to the failed mortgage industry and irresponsible credit card borrowing.

For some social commentators, the days of ignoring money to pursue your dreams are over. The bottom line: don't borrow $100,000 if you're going to become an art major. Don't go to an expensive private school when you can attend a less expensive state school because ultimately, your work experience is responsible for your long-term career growth.

Even in light of student loan debt, others believe that more expensive schools have tangible rewards such as name recognition, alumni connections, and higher starting salaries. When you read an article about student loans, you may notice the pages and pages of generated comments with conflicted opinions and heated discussions. Each argument is valid: you shouldn't borrow more than you are able to pay, and you should understand the implications of your debt. At the same time, a student who earns admission to an Ivy League school deserves an Ivy League education. After all, places like Harvard shouldn't be limited to the wealthy. Even if you aren't wealthy, scholarships are few and far between -- especially for middle class Americans.

Your decision to attend a school should be more nuanced than the big picture arguments. Not all expensive schools are created equally. Not all Ivy League schools are created  equally. Not all professional programs are created equally, and not all work experiences are equal either. Without name recognition and alumni connections, you may not be able to get that first job in the first place.

So what should you look at?

The answer to that question is in three letters: ROI-- return on investment. When choosing a school and career planning, students tend to pay attention to rankings and average starting salaries as opposed to ROI. Those who do look at ROI look at a monetary value instead of the big picture. Yes, money is important, but so are alumni connections. The value that you place upon your education may be a value that exceeds money. Yes, you want to pay the bills, but you also want a rigorous academic program.

At 18, it's hard to know exactly what you will want out of a program. Regardless, it's important to articulate your educational and career planning objectives, and yes-- money should be something that every student considers.

Even if borrowing $100K is a bad idea, it's wrong to blame the student who just wants a good education. After all, the desire to learn is, in nature, different from the desire to pursue materialistic ends.

What do you think? Is a $100K education worth it?

Photo Credit: Alancleaver_2000