USAA Tips: How to make good choices in higher education

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

The challenge for military affiliated students — active military members, members of the Guard or Reserve, veterans or military spouses — is to find good, cost-effective, and sought-after degrees from respectable higher education institutions that will professionally and financially advance their careers and their family happiness.

Assess Your Life & Family Stage.

Getting a college or advanced degree needs to start with an honest assessment if you have the time, energy, and passion to get a degree when viewed with all of your other work, family, and life commitments. If you have small children, are getting ready to move, or have an elderly parent, now might not be the best time to get a higher education degree. This personal assessment of your readiness to complete a degree is vital to your financial success. Educational debt among people without a completed higher education degree can leave you worse off financially.

Find Some Educational Role Models.

For a degree to become meaningful, military affiliated students need to have a person or persons they can model their educational aspirations around. Educational role models point the way to higher education institutions that can help develop military affiliated students into the leaders and professions that they want to have.

Extensively Plan Your Financial Readiness for Education.

Meeting with the college registrar, educational counselors, financial aid counselors, student career office, and academic advisors takes a great deal of time, but all of these meetings are necessary. The goal is to discover a school and a major that has a strong marketplace need, is something that you are passionately interested in, and to see if your academic career can be completed in as short a time as possible. Financially, you should complete your educational goal with a financial goal of no more than $3000-$4000 in debt a year and no more than $15,000 educational debt for your degree. Educational debt is a killer of post-college success because it hurts your ability to truly find a career that you like and to finance after graduation items such as a house.

Apply to 3 to 4 Schools That Meet Your Criteria With a Focus On Educational Outcomes.

A focus on higher education outcomes that schools actually produce is the only way to cut through the school’s marketing and advertising information to determine what your expected financial outcome will be from your degree.

There are eight critical data elements to focus on to assess how well a school prepares you for an improved professional and financial life. They are:

  1. Educational Complaint Count — the number of educational complaints against the school that may signal collapse or accreditation issues.

  2. Retention Rate of BA Students — the percentage of students who continue their education at the college.

  3. Tuition Levels.

  4. Undergraduate Enrollment — Higher is better to the larger size of alumni in related career fields.

  5. Average Salary Following Graduation.

  6. Average Student Loan Debt.

  7. Graduation Rate of All Students.

  8. Student Loan Repayment Rate All Students.

The goal is to find a collection of physical schools that meet the majority of the criteria above. In short, you want to find the school that costs the lowest amount, graduates their students on time, gets students employed, and then has graduates leave school with a low amount of debt. This is a tall order, but one that numbers of colleges through the United States perform on an annual basis.

Stay The Course & Graduate On Time.

College is hard, graduating school is hard, and so are other professional programs. When you make the choice to start and / or finish your degree, make that commitment that no matter what happens, you will finish. Degree completion is the secret to post college success.