FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- With all the talk about the sagging job market, is a college degree still needed to secure a long and fulfilling career? After all, tuition at most major universities is only getting more expensive. And with fewer jobs available upon graduation, should today’s students from Fairfield County take the chance of starting their careers with a ton of debt?
While everyone’s career goals and financial situations are different, a college degree gives every job seeker a leg up over a candidate who never attended college. For one, today’s job market favors the employer. Out of the hundreds of applications a particular company may review, it is almost always going to choose the candidate with the highest education on his/her resume.
Studies from the Bureau of Labor show individuals with higher education experience less likely to be unemployed, while earning more than non-college graduates. Even if a person is able to be hired in a position they enjoy, the lack of a college education is often a factor that inhibits their chances of promotion.
Non-monetary benefits of college are important as well. College plays a large role in the transition from teenager to young adult. College creates opportunities for young people to begin to experience freedom and responsibility in an environment that is still somewhat supervised. For young adults and older learners, college leads to an increase in educational and life skills while also creating a professional network that can be utilized throughout one’s lifetime.
In order to reap the benefits of a college education, parents and teens need to make smart educational and financial planning choices early on that will lower the overall costs and increase an applicant’s chances of being accepted at a school and program that best meets the student’s needs and goals. Discussions need to happen to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal.
Parents and students also need to meet with teachers and guidance counselors to state their goals and receive help exploring class and extracurricular activities that will enhance a student’s profile.
Paying for College
If your family has already begun a 529 savings account to use toward higher education costs, you are a step ahead. If not, it may still be beneficial to look into programs such as CHET (www.aboutchet.com), depending on the potential student’s age.
If there are no savings plans in place and a student is almost of college age, there are several options. State, federal and local grants may be available for graduating high school seniors, and student loans are also accessible for many college bound students. Many colleges also offer financial assistance and student work-study programs.
To apply for grants, scholarships and student loans, look to local resources in the community (such as Family Centers), community fund programs, community action programs and schools. Having a conversation with the school that a student currently attends may yield information about scholarships. There are also national resources available such as fastweb.com.
It’s also extremely helpful to speak directly with prospective colleges regarding the scholarships or grants that they offer. Most grants or scholarships require that a student first apply for Federal Financial Aid through FAFSA (www.fasfa.ed.gov). This free application will show if the student is eligible for a Federal Pell grant of up to $5,500 per year and make an offer for student loans, if applicable. Students and their parents should focus their energy on securing grants and scholarships before accepting any educational loan offers.
Remember, grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid but student loans do, with interest. Most important, there are options for those who choose to further their education and the benefits in the end far outweigh any reason for not taking this path.
So, before you completely dismiss the notion of attending college, think twice. Your career (and peace of mind) will thank you later on in life.
Jessica Herlihy is the coordinator of Family Centers’ Reaching Independence Through Employment (RITE) program. The RITE program free provides vocational counseling, training, educational enhancement opportunities, referral services, resume-writing and interview assistance, ESL/literacy classes and bilingual computer training for residents of Fairfield County. For more information, visit www.familycenters.org or call 203-324-3167.