1. Identify the targetDon't start by choosing a major. You should look past that and envision what career you hope to pursue. That choice will drive both the cost and the eventual reward of your investment in education.
2. Review past performanceThe Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website is a good source for recent data on average earnings by profession, so you can see what people in your chosen field typically earn.
3. Assess future prospectsThe BLS produces an Occupational Outlook Handbook that projects the expected job growth for various professions. This can help you decide whether there will be strong demand for your prospective occupation.
4. Decide how to make the investmentFind out what qualifications you need to get a job in your chosen field, including what type and level of degree is required, and whether there are certain schools that are favored by hiring managers in the profession. Don't just choose a major that sounds related to that profession -- look at some employment ads to see what employers actually want. Also, while the specifics of your education ROI will depend on a number of factors unique to your situation, a good starting point for identifying promising degrees is PayScale's College ROI report.
5. Define the priceOnce you know what qualifications you will need, you can start to find out what getting those qualifications will cost.
6. Examine ways to lower that priceYou can enhance ROI in one of two ways: by raising the return or by reducing the cost. Go to the federal government's financial aid website at fafsa.com to see how you might reduce your costs through either grants or low-cost loans.
7. Assess the risk of leverageAnytime you borrow to make an investment, the financial leverage that results makes the investment riskier. An investment in education is no different. The more you borrow, the more you risk taking on a burden that exceeds, or at least erodes, the eventual return.
Saving in advance rather than borrowing will reduce your long-term cost, and thus enhance your ROI. As low as today's savings account rates might be in historical terms, it is still better to be earning interest than paying it.