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Did you know that there are approximately 5 million borrowers who are either over 90 days delinquent or in total default on their student loans? I know, what a fun way to start an article. But seriously, let that sink in for a minute.

If you’re one of those people who are trying their best to stay afloat but can’t balance your loan payments with your necessary expenses, I’m truly sorry for the pain you’re going through, trust me, I know it stings…I’ve been there.

Coming out of college, I was one of the privileged lucky ones with a job, and like a lot of you new grads out there, I spent money faster than I made it without zero regard for my future. Racking up credit card bills consisting of mostly bar tabs was my second job. In hindsight, I was an idiot. And in my defense, like many other borrowers, I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was getting into when I made the decision to take the money to go to school. But in all honesty, it was all my fault. I was an ignorant big spender.

Coming out of high school and with my daily routine disrupted, I did what any confused, vulnerable high-schooler would do. I listened to my friends and family and enrolled in college.

I didn’t know this at the time, but in respect to school, my decision to study Accounting was the best decision I’ve ever made . I would of never guessed that my hasty, careless decision to study a boring field like Accounting would allow me to have a future as well as fuel my general passion for business and marketing.

It’s sad to say, but I have to be honest here folks. My choice to study accounting wasn’t carefully thought out at all. In fact, the only analysis that went into it was a blink of a thought that went something like this, “I like business, my dad is a small business owner, maybe I should give this language of business a try”. To put it into better perspective, the amount of effort and thought that went into writing this very sentence was much greater.

My point is, I got very lucky. I chose a STEM field that I had no clue was even part of STEM. And more so, I chose a field that historically always has demand. Even after a brief stint dropping out of grad school,  it would still allow me to retain and grow my value.

Unfortunately, other graduates are not as lucky.

If you’re thinking about college and need a nudge in the right direction, my advice to you is to stop listening to anyone who’s telling you what to do. Mainly, because people are full of shit. They’ll pretend to know what to do and sound very convincing, don’t fall for it.

But let’s assume for a second that you fell for the whole peer pressure thing and are now attending the same school with your BFF.

Guess what? Both of your bachelor’s degrees will cost the same amount of your hard earned future money. The only differentiation factor that’s worth a shit is going to be your chosen area of study. And another thing, there’s a high chance you’re going to fucking hate your job anyways so chose a field that’s in demand and pays you well. In other words, get a piece of paper that can’t be substituted for toilet paper.

Now that you’ve tuned out the noise, it’s time to get to work on what potentially may be the most important decision of your life. So how do we value something so intangible and subjective as an area of study?

Truthfully, there’s no easy way to value this. Mostly because technology and automation is a threat to every possible job out there. We’re all on the chopping block.

Hint: I’m no genius, but if technology and automation is the enemy of traditional professions, it makes sense to pick an area of study that will give you the technical skills to kill off other professions.

But I’m not here to tell you what to do, instead, I’m here to offer a system to your college degree decision process. Which I hope works well enough to discourage you from making a stupid, costly mistake. If I graduated yesterday, this is what I would do;

How To Valuate The Worth Of Your College Degree and Choose A Valuable Occupation

This is going to be a two part process. First, we’re going to choosing the right school and then we’re going to learn how to narrow down career choices based solely on market demand.

Choosing A School

Step 1

Head on over to the US Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center

Step 2

Click on College Navigator. There you’ll be able to compare all the schools in your state as well as any schools you’re thinking of attending out of state.

Step 3

Next thing you want to do is generate the appropriate results which will contain your schools of choice. For example, I’m in Michigan and I attended Wayne State University. But I was also thinking of going to a Community College and Oakland University, both of which are located 30 minutes driving distance from my parent’s house.

To get my desired results, I’m going to select Michigan and click off the Bachelor’s, Associates, 4-year, and 2-year type fields. Click on Show Results.

Pro Tip: 2-year Community Schools cost much less and you can transfer some of the basic class requirements to a 4-year institution. Additionally, 4-year schools have a limit to the amount of credits you can transfer. I’d max this out. 

Step 4

Click through the pages until you find your desired schools, and add them to your favorites. Once clicked, the icon will turn grey.

Step 5

Go to My Favorites and select all your schools. Click on Compare.

Step 6

Expand the Estimated Student Expenses before aid section. I lived at home and commuted so I’m going to look at the Off Campus with Family section and right away I can see that I could of saved an average of $1,755 per year if I would have chosen to go to Oakland University instead of Wayne State. This translates to about $7k over the course of 4 years. Additionally, I could of saved even more by going to a Community College for a year and transferring my credits. The difference in cost is staggering!

At this point it’s a no brainer. I should be attending a Community College and Oakland University.

Going with my well planned educated decision, the estimated cost would is expected to be about 8k+16k+16k+16k= $56k

But I didn’t do any of the above analysis and instead enrolled in the most expensive out of the three. Attending Wayne State University cost me 18k x 4 = $72k. I effectively and foolishly, overpaid by $16k.

Both schools offer Accounting degrees. If I was a little wiser or got better advice from my parents and friends, I would have an identical degree, but at a much lower price tag.

Choosing An Occupation

Step 1

Go To The Bureau of Labor Statistics and locate the Occupational Employment Statistics Data. This information comes out in May. At the time of me writing this article, the only data that was available was from May 2015. This will give you a better understanding of Demand VS Pay of y our chose profession. For my example, I’ll be using Accounting.

Step 2

Click On All Occupations

Step 2

Find your profession and locate the “Employment per 1,000 jobs column”. Higher numbers are favorable, lower numbers are not. Look at the accounting profession. There are 11 jobs for every 1000 jobs available. This number is good, but not great.

Now let’s take a look at some of the lower numbers and see how they compare. I had a bunch of friends who received political science degrees. I’m sure you know a few, and chances are they’re in law school because they couldn’t find a job. Let’s see why.

And finally, let’s explore some occupations that have a large demand and see if we can spot any winners. Notice how there are a number of high demand and high paying occupations available, likewise there are occupations that are in high demand but also offer low pay. The focus here should be on high demand/high pay. I’ve highlighted the ones I’d consider pursuing if I were to do it again.

Conclusion

 After you narrow down your searches, take a week and let it simmer. Also, consider calling professionals in your chosen fields and ask them probing questions about the profession. Another great idea is to set up a few days to shadow them at work.

By immersing yourself in this process, you’ll be much more confident in your studies once in school. While others are walking around and wasting time wondering if they made the right choice, you’ll be almost certain that you already have.

Did you find this useful? If so, please share with all your peeps!