Our culture tells us that we must attend a university right out of high school, whether or not we know what we want to do. However, wouldn’t it be better to have an idea beforehand since one of the main purposes of higher education is career preparation? Society says, “It’s okay, go discover yourself at college.” But is that smart? Or could that mindset actually hinder—and prolong—our studies? We can’t afford to base our decisions on the “cultural thing to do,” especially now that we’re seeing more and more graduates falling into a post-graduation what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life stage.

So, how do we avoid that stage? By planning.

2.      Plan

Choosing a degree starts with figuring out what you want to do. Too many of us wait (or waited) to determine this during college. This can cause us to change our major so often that our schooling is extended an additional year—or years! So, first and foremost, try to narrow down what you want to do before you apply to colleges.

We often jump into choosing a degree when what we really need to focus on is our career. We need to think ahead to what we are going to do with our degree once we graduate. If you’re unsure, then consider volunteering, interning, or job shadowing to get a taste for the job. Nothing could be worse than waiting to experience your field until after you’ve graduated (as many people have done) and then learning that you don’t even like it.

If you are still undecided after exploring different career options and asking the opinions of your parents and school counselors, consider completing your general education at a community college and waiting to transfer until you discover the field you would like to work in.

Once you’ve decided on the career you want to pursue, here are some other questions to consider:

1.      What kind of degree do I need for this?

2.      Where would I have to live for this job? Do I want to live there?

3.      How many of these jobs typically open each year? (If you have to wait for someone to die or retire for a job to open up in that field, it might not be the best career path…)

4.   Will this job allow me to use the gifts/abilities God has given me?

5.    What’s the average salary? Can I support my family with that? Can I pay off my school debt with that salary in a reasonable amount of time?

6.      If I want to move up the corporate ladder, what kind of education will I need (i.e. Bachelors, Masters, additional certificates)? Will I be able to achieve these degrees?

3.      Apply your Research

Now that you have a career and degree program selected, it’s time to look for a school. Remember that, as Christians, our basis for selecting a college should be different. We shouldn’t be concerned about impressing people but with obtaining the best education possible in a financially responsible way. When I first considered attending junior college, I honestly thought, “No way! That’s definitely not for me. It’s for kids who can’t get into a good school. Plus, it’s not really college; it’s more like 13th grade. For a real education, I need to go to a university all four years.”

Looking back now, I am so glad I attended junior college for the first two years. Not only did I save a ton of money, I received a quality education with one-on-one interaction with my professors. Instead of being one of several hundred in a lower division university lecture hall, I was one in a classroom of thirty students. Am I glad that I saved all that money? You bet, but that was only one of the ways I learned to cut costs during my journey through higher education. Here are some additional tips on how to save: