Real Life 101
Recently, on a road trip with my daughter, we caught up with each other’s lives. I told her about the opportunity to write this article. “Sweet!” she said, “What are you going to write about?”
“Not confusing getting a college degree with getting a career or with earning a living.”
“Amen!” she responded. “Look at me, through my education, I’ve gotten the career I want—but I’m barely earning a living.”
My daughter is a fully licensed family practice doctor in her second year of a three-year residency program. After 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school, her salary is a little over $40,000* a year. She had just informed me that after paying her bills, she had $250 to live on for the rest of the month.
“What? Family practice docs are always listed in the 10 highest paying careers,” I joked.
“In my dreams, Mom. Or, maybe by the end of my career… but not for years. If I wanted to earn $100,000*, I should have become an EKG or ultra sound tech. They make that kind of money and the training is only two years.”
Like many young people, my daughter has student loans. She had a scholarship for medical school, but it didn’t pay for everything. She lives in an area where housing costs are extremely high. Her car’s “Needs service” light is always on. She’ll get it checked when she has some extra money. That will be a while.
No matter what your son or daughter studies in college, they will only have a career if they can get a job in that field. They will only be able to earn a living if their starting salary exceeds their expenses. While some degree programs will qualify for good salaries right out of college, it often take grads several years to find good-paying jobs that use their education and interests. Today, only one-third of recent university grads are able to find work that needs their level of education.
Student loans, for academic or technical colleges, aren’t “free money.” Typically, loan repayment begins four months after you leave school. If students borrow more than two-thirds of their likely starting salary, they won’t be able to pay their bills, much less afford a place of their own. Many young workers have been surprised by how negatively debt has affected their lives. Over 40% of students who borrowed money for their higher education didn’t think the debt was worth it. You can find out more by doing an Internet search using the phrase “student loan debt.”
In most cities around this country, it takes a salary between $17 and $19 an hour to be able to rent a place by oneself. That won’t be enough in the high rent districts of Manhattan, San Francisco or Beverly Hills. But, that will be enough in most cities around the country. A salary of $17 per hour equals $2700 a month or $32,600 a year*. That’s assuming a full-time job. Which is no small assumption. Only 40% of today’s employees work salaried, full-time jobs.
At $17 an hour, a young adult may be able to rent their own place, but it won’t cover the payments of the student loans ($21,000+) and credit card debts ($3,000+) of the average college grad*.
Don’t like this scenario? Then help your teen plan ahead. The student loan trap can be avoided by learning high demand skills while in high school. Being able to qualify for jobs that pay well above minimum wage means young adults can support themselves while they gain additional education or qualifications.
For example, I met Mike, a recent high school grad. He’s working at a restaurant while waiting to get hired at a local shipyard. He’s smart, ambitious and wants to go to college. But he is very leery of student loans. So, first he plans to work and save money. Mike took four years of welding training, for free, at his high school. His beginning pay will be about $12 an hour. Top pay in this field is $20-25 an hour*.
You can also help your student create an education ladder. Nick Mitchell is my poster child for education ladders. I profiled Nick Mitchell at age 19* in What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens (p. 152). After high school, Nick got a technical degree in two years that qualified him to be a network administrator. His starting salary was over $50,000. Nick used his salary to finance earning a bachelors degree in business administration and is now studying for his master’s degree. He has no student loans.
And, don’t forget to help your high school student learn effective job search techniques. Your son or daughter can have the best education or training in the world, but if they can’t get hired in their chosen field, they won’t have a career in that field. Job search techniques aren’t taught, either in high school or college. It will be your teens responsibility to learn this adult survival skill.* Salaries in article reflect 2012 economy.