How Do I Compare Education Programs?

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A degree or certification can be a great tool to increase your income and move forward in your career. However, it can also impact your finances.

Even if you don’t have student loans yourself, there’s a good chance you know someone who does. There’s no question that pursuing a degree or certification can turn into a financial burden. So it only makes sense to treat the decision to go to school as a major financial decision.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies to use and questions to ask to make sure you get the most educational bang for your buck. Here are a few:

Think about your career goals.

As a first step, investigate different career options in your desired field to compare education requirements and expected salary. You might be equally interested in two different careers, but find out that one offers a higher salary than the other.

You can also research a job’s educational requirements. Is a special certification required? Do employers show preference to applicants with a bachelor’s degree?

 Make sure you're getting a good return on your investment.

Once you know what kind of degree or certification you’re pursuing, there are a few strategies for getting the best return on your investment. Use these tools to compare different schools that offer your desired program:

o   Target colleges that can result in lower expenses and debts.

§  Some schools offer the same value for a lower cost, so check the price tags at different institutions. And don’t forget to check out state community colleges and universities.

§  Investigate whether the school offers any scholarships or grants that you might be eligible for.

o   Target colleges and programs that are likely to give you the results you’re looking for.

§  Check the school’s website or call their admissions office to ask about graduation rates. Out of the students who enroll in your program, what percentage graduate?

§  You can also investigate the employment rate of graduates. Do students who graduate from the program you’re interested in find employment in their fields?

Ask questions!

As you compare your options, here are a few more questions you can ask:

o   Does the school provide career placement services and/or counseling?

o   Is there an active alumni network? Can I speak to some recent alumni who are working in my chosen field?

o   What it the total (average) amount of student loan debt carried by graduates of this program?

Only you have the power to choose what school is right for you, but evaluating your options can be a big task. These questions and strategies can provide a guide for finding the best educational (and financial) fit. And there are always more resources to help you navigate the process, such as the ASA College Planning Center. There, clients can meet with an education advisor and get help with education planning through the ASA. You can take a look at their services here.

 As always, your Compass coach is ready to partner with you in this process, so feel free to reach out with any questions!