By Michael Garry
NEW YORK (
) -- The ever-escalating amounts of student loan debt make college students understandably nervous. So should you, the anxious undergrad, pick a college major by whatever pays the most? Only if you want a life of misery.
Nothing could be more shortsighted than choosing your major based on the earnings one year out. You might be paid well, but extremely unhappy in that field. Also, you can expect to work for as long as 50 years after graduation. How likely is it that the major you pick based on one year's earnings still pays relatively well for a half-century? The field might not even exist then.
Not too long ago, mail carriers and travel agents thought they had job security. Now, not so much. Some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs today didn't exist even 10 years ago.
Just pick something you love and find a way to make money from it. With the rise of the Internet, it is easier than ever to become an expert in your field and to make money from it as an entrepreneur.
There are people in every field doing that right now. You just need to plan for college and be creative. If you go to college for four years, take courses with no cohesive direction and start sending out your resume in the spring of your senior year, you are doomed to struggle for years.
You need to consider each course as an investment of time and money, and try to figure out how it helps you before you sign up for it. Figure out how to get the most out of mandatory classes, too. Maybe you can benefit from the content or the connections with the professor or other students.
If you aren't sure yet what to major in, take all of your required courses first and see what you like. You never know what you might be good at. I was an undecided business major for almost two years. Then I became hooked on finance and went with it.
In my masters of business administration program, I stuck with finance because it was familiar. In law school, I considered breaking away from business and finance, but I found out that it really was what I liked. So I took courses in finance, taxes and estate planning. I worked for a couple of years as a lawyer, and I hated every second of it.
I quit law 15 years ago and started working as a financial planner. The courses that I took in tax and finance didn't help me much as a lawyer back then, but they have come in handy ever since. Now I get paid very well to do a job I love and I get to help people every day. It's very rewarding for me and I can't imagine anything better.
Just like your choice of a major, have a plan for how you pay for college. You can't just go in and hope for the best. You might go to community college for the first couple years. You can always transfer up to a better college later if you feel you can learn more that way. Take a little longer if you need to.
Don't be afraid to take out student loans just because you don't want debt. It's hard to go to college now without loans, or affluent and generous parents. Debt is not evil. It's very useful sometimes.
The average student loan debt is about what a new car costs. But if you compare a college education to a new car, the one that provides greater lifetime value is obvious.
-- By Michael Garry, CFP, managing member of Yardley Wealth Management in Newtown, Pa.
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