How To Avoid College Debt: Take Control of Your Career and Education

America’s youngest workers—Generation Z, just now replacing millennials as the newbies in the labor market—want to save the world more than anything. Their ambition is inspiring. They’re hopeful; they’re chomping at the bit. But what’s concerning is just how grueling it is for this new generation to enter the labor market.

Because of debt.

Student debt is already the brutal ball and chain of millennials, hindering and even controlling their life and career decisions. “Salary—not fit, happiness, or career advancement—becomes the driving decision in choosing a job,” writes Jeff Selingo. Many young grads have opted not to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams because they have years and years of debt to manage. As a result, one in four students graduating with more than $25,000 in debt chooses to forgo creating a start-up.

Simply put, millennials are prisoners to debt. And Generation Z can’t afford to follow suit. The good news is that plenty of Gen Zers are still in high school; in fact, they’re still being born, which means there’s still time to fix this problem.

So if you’re one of the thousands of Zers thinking about college now, what should you do?

Step 1 – Evaluate Your Education

Selingo points out that taking out a loan in your freshman year might seem like a good deal, but many students don’t realize that the costs go up quite a bit in your sophomore, junior, and senior years. “The student loan you take on your first year is likely to be the smallest of your undergraduate career, especially because federal limits on loan amounts increase as you go through college (they are $5,500 for freshmen and $7,500 by the time you reach your junior year).”

So here’s what you should do. Think about the relationship between the debt you are willing to take and the potential employment opportunities that relate to that education. Are there careers related to this major that will help you pay the bills? Are there employers looking for the knowledge and skills you’re developing? Does the city you plan to live in actually need the skills you have?

These are questions you need to answer before you enroll at a college. Not after. The assumption that you can just “figure it out” once you get there is a bad habit to inherit. It’s kaput. It flat doesn’t work. So let’s create a new one!

Step 2 – Find Careers That Fit

Before you pursue any career, get to know yourself and explore the career opportunities that fit who you are at your core. Are you a creator? A helper? A doer? What career opportunities match your strengths and interests?

We live in an age bursting with data that can help you answer those questions. So use that data! Find Your Calling offers a two-minute Discovery Questionnaire that measures your strengths and matches them with careers that you’ll find engaging and energizing and that will also help you pay the bills. Many of these careers you’ll never guess even existed. Once you discover careers that fit your personality and desires, you can create the right career plan with more confidence.

Here’s a quick look at my interests and career recommendations on It totally nailed me! I love arts and photography and video, and I’ve spent years working in both business management and marketing.

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Step 3 – Compare the Costs and Benefits

Now that you’ve researched and found a few cool options for yourself, it just comes down to simple math: The benefits need to outweigh the costs. How much can you earn? Is your career in high demand? How much time and money will it take to go through the necessary education? If the benefits (the pay and the demand) are greater than the cost (the tuition and the time), then green light! If not, red light.

For example, here’s a marketing career in North Carolina. It pays between $36K and $98K per year (depending on your experience). Not too bad. There is also strong demand, since the job has grown 4% of the last year.

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Now look at the cost of the marketing programs offered by North Carolina’s schools. Education isn’t cheap! If your family income is $75-$100K, tuition is almost $34K each year at High Point University. However, it is significantly less expensive at Campbell University: $27K per year. So what you need to do now is compare schools to find the best option, because naturally you also want to consider the school’s location, acceptance rate, enrollment numbers, and the like.

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What about community colleges? These schools can often equip you with the education you need for much cheaper. The cost of tuition is a lot less for marketing programs in North Carolina:

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Knowing your ideal career changes where you go to college because it allows you to compare your future salary with the cost of education. So don’t make the mistake of assuming you can finalize your career goals once you get to college. That is the slippery path leading all too easily to aimlessly going through the motions of an expensive education, switching your major multiple times, and being forced to prolong your education by several years which saddles you with even more debt.

Our mission is to help you make smarter decisions about your career and your education. We want to help you be free—free to create businesses, free from debt, free to live the life you want, free to find your calling in this world.

Take the Discovery Questionnaire on FindYourCalling.comGet career tips and education advice by following Find Your Calling on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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