Do you really need to go to college? - The Buffalo News
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Do you really need to go to college?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid has officially gone live, so if you need help paying for college, the clock is ticking. FAFSA applications aren’t due until June 30, but some funds are available on a first come, first served basis, so get cracking.

While you’re thinking about paying for college, it’s a good time to really educate yourself on the risks of student debt and consider what alternatives to traditional college might suit you.

Not to turn this into an after-school special, but have you ever really thought about the dangers of borrowing such giant sums of money? Despite what well-intentioned career counselors or your parents may tell you, college does not always pay off. Not everyone gets a job right out of college, and not everyone gets a job in their chosen field. In fact, a lot of people don’t do either of those things, and plenty of clever people make a good living without a traditional degree.

Take my husband. He started busing tables in restaurants as a teenager and tended bar all through college. His dad talked him into getting a master’s degree and a teaching degree. Both credentials, which we are still paying off, were useless. But all those years in restaurants gave him the experience and contacts he needed to build a career in the wine industry, which he loves.

If you’re not on fire for school or aren’t yet sure what to study, there are a few options you might want to consider.

• Maybe don’t go. College is not for everyone, and it isn’t supposed to be.

“There’s not enough support for people who say no to college, but they should know it’s OK to say no,” said Amy Jo Lauber, a West Seneca certified financial planning professional and author of the book, “Living Inspired and Financially Empowered: Aligning Our Spiritual and Material Lives.”

“There are big financial consequences for young people, and they come at precisely the time they are least prepared to deal with them,” she said.

With the huge, recent crop of college graduates paying off mountains of student loan debt on minimum wage salaries, more people are finally beginning to understand that concept.

If you’ve decided college is your best move, there is no rule saying you have to go full time, or that you have to go to the most expensive college that will accept you.

• It’s OK to wait. Another piece of well-intentioned but misguided advice: “If you don’t go to college right away, you’ll never go.” If that’s the case, you may not belong there anyway.

Why waste tuition money trying to figure out what you want to do, when working or volunteering in different fields could help you figure it out even faster?

• Consider an apprenticeship or trade school. The number of people who can rebuild an engine, fix their own toilet or replace a home’s wiring is dwindling. Demand for those skills will only get stronger.

For a list of available apprenticeships and how to apply, visit www.labor.state.ny.us/apprenticeship/appindex.shtm.

Work it. More than half of 2014’s college graduates are working jobs that don’t require a degree, according to a survey by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder. If you’re going to work an entry-level job anyway, you might as well do it without the $30,000 in debt the average student graduates with.

It is still possible to “work your way up” at a company, and some employers, once they see how awesome you are, will pay for you to get your degree later.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

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