Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stress Free Fridays

Four years (and a few months) after I landed on the campus of a private university in my rusty, lemon-yellow hatchback, I walked away with a Bachelors degree in English, about $20,000 in student loan debt, and not the foggiest idea of what I was going to do next. Nevertheless, I assumed that I would get a job right away and that the salary I earned would be far more than I had made working as a waitress.

I did land a job shortly after graduation, but then the block cracked in my car on the way to that job, just about the time that my student loan payments were set to begin and just as I was settling into a new apartment. I quickly realized that the salary I was making wouldn't be enough to cover my financial obligations, so I got a part-time job-- waiting tables. My life wasn't at all what I had imagined it would be.

At eighteen, I honestly hadn't given much thought to my future; I just assumed I should head to college following graduation, take out student loans to cover tuition shortfalls, get a degree (any degree), and expect to earn enough money to pay all my bills upon graduation. Neither of my parents had attended college, and my two older sisters were themselves in varying stages of receiving a secondary education. We had all excelled academically, participated in various school and volunteer activities, scored well on the standardized tests, and rode on the notion that there would be substantial scholarships available to help us pay for college.

I'm certain I wasn't (and won't be) the only high school graduate who sent off applications, operating on a hunch that this was the school I wanted to attend and the major I wanted to pursue. Other people choose a college or a degree program because it's expected of them. College is too expensive of a proposition to use your hunches or to follow expectations to make decisions-- the average tuition for a public four-year university was $6,585 in 2008-2009.

So if you're at a crossroads, no matter if you've recently graduated from high school or are considering returning to school later in life, (or if you're coming alongside someone who fits into these categories) I suggest that you carefully consider how you can maximize your education dollars. One way to do this is to take a formal inventory of your aptitudes before you even consider enrolling in college courses.

Yes, you will pay for aptitude testing, but you will be able to validate and confirm your strengths through an objective and unbiased source. You'll be able to differentiate your interests, which typically change over time, from your aptitudes, which are talents and special abilities that come naturally to you and that generally remain stable. At the Johnson O'Conner Research Foundation, for example, you can receive in-person and comprehensive aptitude testing for $600, less than you'll pay for tuition and fees for one class at many colleges.

This kind of testing is not only appropriate for a new high school graduate, but also for working adults who may be considering starting a new career or opening a new business. Even prospective retirees may want to consider aptitude testing, as a means of finding ways to make retirement as successful and productive as possible.

Getting a handle on your aptitudes can help you make more informed work and school decisions and can make it easier to choose how and where you spend your education dollars. If college is ultimately in your future, you can determine if the career you want to pursue will be adequate to help you repay the loans you plan to take out.


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