On average, college graduates make more money than high school graduates. In fact, a recent report issued by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (*www.bls.gov*) not only found that income levels climb with one’s education level, but that those with college degrees are far less likely to be among the unemployed. *Yet, despite all its rewards, college is time-consuming,stressful and increasingly expensive.*
Whether you are a first time college student or someone going back to school after a long break, you will have a lot of decisions to make. Prospective students must determine not only what and where to study but how to pay for it all. Here are some questions to consider before making this important investment in your future:
-Why are you doing it?
Are you considering more school because it will help you get a better job, or are you just bored with your current career and don’t know what else to do? Clarifying why you want and need more education will help you pick the right school and the right program. It is important to determine whether you actually need another degree or whether a class or a certificate program will give you the skills you need to advance to the next level.
– What do you want to accomplish?
The answer to this question will help you decide whether you need a couple of classes offered through a community education program, a certificate of mastery, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a more advanced degree. Talking to others who currently occupy the career you are interested in is extremely useful in learning about the pros and cons of the job, as well as the necessary education.
-Which school is right for you? Which program is right for you? We can all think of people who bounced from one college to another and changed majors a half dozen times. Though life as a perpetual student is appealing to some,it is expensive and most people just don’t have that kind of time. One way to avoid making the wrong choice is to learn as much as you can about a program before you apply. In addition to gathering written materials and looking at websites, talk to professors, students and/or graduates of the program.
-How will you pay for it?
Community education programs, community colleges, trade schools, on-line degree programs, public and private universities give prospective students a wide-variety of options to continue their education. In these challenging economic times, community colleges are booming and it is easy to understand why. According to *www.collegeboard.com*, the average price of community college tuition is $2,402 a year, compared to $6,585 for in-state tuition at a state school and more than $25,000 per year at a private university.
While some people manage to pay for school as they go, many more need to finance part of their educational costs. When it comes to paying for school, there are also lots of options. They include: Scholarships and grants, work study programs, teaching assistant positions, federal and private student loans, and employer paid tuition benefits. For more information on how to fund your or a loved one’s education, *visit wwww.studentaid.ed.gov*.
### Erika lives in Milwaukie with her husband, Alex, and son, Owen. She teaches writing and communication courses at the University of Portland. *