Why college is not for everyone

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While college is a good option for many people, it isn’t for everyone — and not going to a four year college doesn’t mean you can’t have a meaningful career.

 

More people than ever before have a college degree, but a four-year program isn’t the only way to be successful. College isn’t for everyone, and even employers are realizing that there are many skills that can’t be captured in a degree program. In fact, some major employers, including Google and Apple, no longer require applicants to have a four-year degree for positions in which a degree was once a prerequisite.

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There are certain jobs for which you need a college degree, like engineering or counseling, but there are plenty of careers out there that don’t require additional degrees.

 

Related: How to know if trade school is right for you

Reasons You Should Not Go To College

College isn’t right for everyone. Employers are beginning to recognize that a college diploma may not necessarily be the best job-screening prerequisite for hireability. There can be valid reasons to delay college — or put it off entirely. Reasons to consider taking a year off can be valid, helping you save money while you learn more about yourself, such as:

  • You’re not excited about your options. Maybe you didn’t get into the schools you expected or have second thoughts that came up when you tried to imagine yourself attending the schools you did get into. Taking a year off, reassessing, and considering different options can be a good strategy if the thought of college fills you with dread or doubt rather than excitement.
  • You’re unsure what career you are interested in pursuing. You may want to explore different options by being exposed to college-level courses at a community college or spend time volunteering, working or traveling.
  • You’re already working. If you already have a job, you may be wanting to lean into your current job or save money to go to school in a few years.
  • You’re exploring non-degree avenues. There are many high-paying trades that don’t require a degree but may require an apprenticeship.
  • You have a plan for a gap year. Some people like to take a year to travel, work or otherwise take a break in between high school and college to further explore their identity and what they want to do in the future.
  • You feel you’re going to college only to please your family. If you feel pressured to go to college, it may be a sign that college isn’t the right option for you, right now.
  • You have essential family obligations. Some students may need to help their family and may not be able to take time off to go to school. These students may consider community college or a part-time degree program. Speaking with your current high school counselor may also help you find avenues to navigate multiple responsibilities.
  • You want to take time to pursue a talent. From sports to the performing arts to a creative path, some people make the decision to explore a talent more seriously, focusing time, energy and resources prior to going to college. This can be a decision that’s made with your family, coaches, teachers and yourself to navigate an untraditional option.

Reasons You Should Go To College

College can be a great time to grow and learn and for some, it’s a natural step. Here are some other reasons why college may make sense:

  • You’re excited and realistic about college. You recognize college may have ups and downs and feel confident that college feels “right” as your next step — not just something your family or teachers expect from you.
  • You’ve done your research and are confident that a college degree will be helpful to achieve your career goals.
  • You’ve talked with alums and people working in potential future career fields and feel like college makes sense for your career goals.
  • College fits into your overall financial plan. Whether it’s saving for college, scholarships, financial aid, student loans you feel comfortable paying back, parental help or all of the above, how you feel financially about going to college can be a good gut check to see if college is right for you right now. It’s easy to forget about student loan payments during undergrad, but take a look at the terms and consider how those payments will feel when you’re out in the working world.
  • You have a ‘Plan B’ in case you realize that college isn’t the right fit. Sometimes, people realize one semester into school that college may not be what they need at that moment in their lives. It can be helpful to talk about what this may be so that you don’t feel trapped if school doesn’t feel like it’s a good fit.

Alternatives to a College Degree

Just because you aren’t interested in a four-year degree doesn’t mean you need to forgo higher education entirely. Alternative educational models, like trade schools and community colleges, offer many practical certifications and two-year associate degree programs that can help you get ahead.

 

It is important to know that even if you’re not planning to pursue a four-year degree, you still have options when it comes to creating a career that is right for you.

1. Trade School

Sometimes known as technical or vocational schools, trade schools can prepare you for a specific job, such as a dental hygienist, electrician, cosmetologist, or nurse. These programs are normally much shorter than four years, and certain programs may allow you to finish in only a few months. There are both public and private trade schools, with some operating on a for-profit basis.

 

Trade schools don’t award bachelor’s degrees. Instead, when you graduate from a trade school, you typically receive a diploma or certificate indicating that you are trained and certified to perform a specific job. Some trade school programs do offer associate degrees, which are the same type of degrees offered by many community colleges.

2. Community College

And that brings us to community colleges, which, as we mentioned above, usually offer two-year degrees called associate degrees. These degrees can either stand alone or be a stepping stone to obtaining a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school.

But many community colleges offer career preparation programs that are designed to help students jump into the workforce without the need for a bachelor’s degree.

 

Community college could also be a great way to test out college life and see if you want to continue pursuing higher education. They tend to be much less expensive than four-year universities, which means it won’t cost you an arm and a leg before you decide if higher education is right for you.

3. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are paid positions designed to teach the apprentice about a specific job or industry. They can help you learn how to use industry-specific tools and technologies and help you develop your skills over a period of time. This may be in fields as diverse as plumbing to transportation engineers to baking apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships can be a win-win for employers and employees because they allow those starting out to begin working immediately — that way, employers can fill vacant jobs and you can receive a paycheck right away.

4. Certificate Programs

Similar and sometimes overlapping with trade schools, certificate programs offer specialized training in a specific area. This may include coding, cybersecurity, or could be in things like yoga, fitness, a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or other places where specialized knowledge may be a prerequisite. These certificates may also be helpful in making job seekers eligible for positions with higher starting salaries.

5. Taking a Gap Year

A gap year is when a student takes a year off between high school and college. Some colleges allow accepted students to defer for a year, holding a place for them in the next year’s incoming class. Some people create a travel itinerary, others may work or volunteer for the year. There are some gap year programs that create opportunities for students, keep in mind that some programs may be expensive.

6. Starting a Business

If you are already passionate about — and have a lot of knowledge about — a specific field or industry, you might consider skipping college altogether and jumping into that business.

 

Starting your own business takes a lot of hard work, but it could mean that you get to be your own boss and work in an industry you love. And because you could quickly become an expert on the products or services you provide, you aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage because you lack a degree.

If You Do Go the College Route

There are plenty of options if you choose not to attend a four-year college. However, there are also options within the world of college: the type of college you choose, the major you decide to pursue, and how you pay for college.

 

There’s no denying it: Higher education is expensive. In the 2021-2022 school year, the average in-state college tuition and fees was just over $10,000, and for private school, it was about $38,000. This can be a big financial commitment, especially if you are on the fence about pursuing higher education.

 

That’s why it can be a good idea to begin creating a payment strategy early, which may include both federal and private student loans. Fill out the FAFSA to see how much federal aid — including scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans — you qualify for.

 

Federal student loans do have limits on how much a student can borrow each year they are enrolled in school. Some students may need additional funds to bridge the gap. In that case, some may consider borrowing a student loan from a private lender to help pay your tuition.

 

In general, it can be a smart idea to exhaust all your Federal loan and grant options before you consider private student loans. That’s because federal loans offer some protections, such as deferment options, that private loans do not. Private loans can cover up to 100% the cost of attendance, including money to cover books, room and board, and personal expenses.

The Takeaway

College can lead students on a new career path, but depending on your goals and other factors, may not be necessary. Some students may choose to pursue a trade or vocational program instead of a four-year degree.

 

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Should parents cosign on student loans?

 

If your child chooses to get a private student loan, they will most likely need to have a cosigner. Should parents cosign on student loans? That depends on your tolerance for risk, your child’s projected ability to repay the loan, and if it makes sense for your family.

 

Cosigning for a student loan has pros and cons. There are also alternatives that can help bridge the gap between education costs and what you’re able to pay. Here’s an overview of some key facts to know about cosigning on private student loans.

 

Related: Parent PLUS loans: Do you have to apply every year?

 

designer491/istockphoto

 

It’s no secret that the cost of college education has skyrocketed. The annual tuition for a private, nonprofit college has tripled to $37,200 in the last 20 years. And that doesn’t include room, board, or any other fees. Add those in and you can expect to pay an average of $53,949 a year for a private, nonprofit college. Prices for public universities have also increased, with the current annual in-state tuition at a four-year, public university at $9,580. Room, board, and fees average an additional $16,284, for a total average annual cost of $25,864.

 

And when savings, federal student loans, federal work-study, and scholarships or grants can’t fill the gap, students may look to private lenders to help them cover the rest. Unfortunately, students just starting out usually don’t have the credit history needed to get a loan from a private lender, so cosigners sometimes step in.

 

But do students have to have a cosigner for a private student loan? Almost always. Since many lenders won’t lend money to young adults with no or little credit history, they typically require cosigners. Roughly 91% of all private undergraduate student loans have a cosigner.

 

Darren415 / istockphoto

 

If you’re looking to privately fund your child’s education costs, it means they likely need the help to pay for college, just like many Americans do. But cosigning for your child’s private student loan is not without potential repercussions.

 

One of the chief considerations before cosigning concerns your relationship with your child. If something goes wrong—missed payments, extended unemployment, or worse, default—the potential for financial stress could create the possibility of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If your relationship with your child is already tenuous, bringing financial stress into it will likely not help.

 

In addition, cosigning could put your own finances at risk. You may have the most responsible young adult in the whole state, but if something goes awry and the loan goes into default, the lender may sue you or hire a collection agency to try to recoup the debt.

 

default might also tarnish your credit score. Simply signing the loan also affects your score. Even if you’re not the one making payments, you’re still responsible for the loan, according to the major credit bureaus.

 

William_Potter / istockphoto

 

Do parents have to cosign a private student loan? The answer in the previous section was “almost always.” The “almost” part of that answer is “not if they can find other sources of funding.” Scholarships and grants, which don’t have to be repaid, are a good place to start, but they often don’t cover the entire cost of an entire college education. The first source of funding that should be exhausted before any others is federal student aid.

 

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step to figuring out how much federal (and frequently state) financial assistance your child is eligible for. You’ll add your financial information that will determine the amount of federal assistance, which includes Direct Subsidized Loan, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and other student aid from the federal government, like grants and work-study. Some states and colleges also base merit aid on FAFSA information, so the application is an important one for all types of financial aid, not just federal.

 

designer491/istockphoto

 

There are also some other pathways to consider when trying to find loans without a cosigner. One good idea is to have your child start building their credit history. A credit score is typically enhanced over time as the record of their successful payments grows, along with other factors like their outstanding debt, credit mix, and more.

 

Your student might start by either getting a secured credit card at a credit union or other financial institution, then showing they can make timely monthly payments on a purchase.

 

If your student is trustworthy and mature, you could also consider adding them as an authorized user to a credit card you already have. You’ll be responsible for making the monthly payments, but they could benefit from your financial behavior.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

Like the real estate mantra concerning location, the college payment mantra might be, “Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships!” Money you don’t have to pay back? Yes, please.

 

The FAFSA will help colleges determine what federal student aid, scholarships, and grants your child might qualify for, but don’t let your student stop there.

 

Scholarships come in all sizes and from diverse sources, including local and national organizations, heritage associations, and various writing and other contests sponsored by nonprofits and other organizations. It might help to look at groups that your family might be closely associated with, such as unions, professional associations, or alumni organizations.

 

Keep in mind that your child can apply for scholarships while they are still in college, because some are tied to college majors, and your student is likely to have settled on a major after the first year or two. This could open up scholarship options that couldn’t be considered before they declared a major.

 

Picsguru / istockphoto

 

You might also be able to forego cosigning a student loan by making strategic decisions about education costs. Can your student reduce the overall cost of college by ditching the meal plan, living off campus, or even attending a significantly less expensive college?

 

Or, instead of paring down expenses, maybe your student could consider boosting their income to avoid the need for a cosigner on a student loan. One idea might be to take a year off to work—this may be enough to close the gap, avoiding the need for a loan altogether.

 

designer491/ iStock

 

Parents who don’t mind shouldering more of the cost can also take out their own federal student loans with the Direct PLUS Loan, sometimes referred to as a “parent PLUS loan.”

 

Even though your student benefits from the loan, they are not the borrower and you’ll be solely responsible for paying it back. Some parents may consider working out a repayment arrangement between themselves and their student. If this will be the expectation, however, it’s a good idea to discuss the arrangement with your student before taking out this type of loan.

 

Direct PLUS Loans can also be taken out by graduate or professional students. Whether a parent or a graduate student, there is a downside for the borrower. The interest rate for Direct PLUS Loans  is often higher when compared to other federal student loans—6.28% for the 2021-2022 school year. But you won’t be asking yourself, “Should a parent cosign a student loan?” because you’re helping fill the gap without depending on your student to pay the loan back.

 

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There are options available to eligible students before considering a private student loan. However, if all other options have been exhausted, a private student loan can be a good choice to help your child complete their college education.

 

Learn more:

 

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

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