[This post isn’t to debate why our education system is this way and in other countries it is different. This post isn’t about giving everybody the same opportunity or outcomes. This post is about how we can work in the current system to increase our odds at a higher quality of life.]
Student debt looms over many young Americans’ lives. It is delaying young people from building wealth, starting families, and is overall weighing them down. The irony here is that formal education should be propelling young people up, not chaining them to high-interest high-principal payments. There is this notion that more schooling = more income = higher quality of life. In reality, there are many factors to consider when weighing schooling decisions.
How do you envision your life? Where do you want to live? Do you want a family? What lifestyle will you be most comfortable in? What are you willing to give up to achieve this life? What are you not willing to give up?
The most important task here is to be honest with ourselves about what we want out of life. Every choice has tradeoffs, and you need to recognize them lest you be left bitter for ignoring the truths of your situation. Certain career paths may prove intellectually stimulating yet do not lead to adequate employment and hence, lower quality of life. If you go into these fields, make peace with this and ensure that other areas of your life compensate for such poor financial prospects. Certain career paths, although high-prestige, may not necessarily lead to high quality of life. Certain career paths, although leading to high incomes, may still lead to lower quality of life due to stress and overworking. Whatever you pick, be honest with yourself. What will make you most content? What will bring you the highest quality of life?
What is the prognosis for your career path? With the wealth of information around us, there is no excuse to go into life-altering decisions blindly. Read about career opportunities in your given path, talk to professionals in your field, ask them not only about the career itself but also the nature of the personal lives as affected by their jobs. No career path is perfect, but must be a good fit for you.
Can you afford the full costs? If you come from a comfortable background in which working or not working or choosing low-income, low-stability endeavors does not adversely affect your life, then you can pretty much choose whatever path. But if you are not in such a position, you will have to consider the return on investment (ROI) of your career path. You are not only investing money but also time and opportunity. With all that you are putting in, how much are you getting out? Is this the highest and best use of your skills and talents? Will this give you the quality of life you aim for?
If you are going into debt for schooling, how realistic are your repayment plans? How long will you have to make payments for and how much every month? What will you have to delay/sacrifice to make these payments? How much do you have to make at your job in this career path to afford each payment and still live a decent lifestyle? Are you willing to make this commitment?
Ego is the enemy. In our society, prestige in educational attainment goes like this: graduate degree (highest) -> undergraduate degree -> high school -> GED -> dropout (lowest). Within these levels are sub levels relating to school choice (Ivy League vs state schools) and field of study (hard sciences vs soft sciences). Those who seek high prestige careers must be aware that high prestige does not mean high quality of life. Many students get captured by the allure of titles and acronyms after their names that financial solvency and quality of life is ignored. Remove your ego from the equation. All that matters is your personal outcome. Although validation from others can be reassuring, even intoxicating, they are not living your life. At the end of the day, you will be dealing with the consequences of your choices, not them.
May we make informed decisions.
This we manifest.