– Time to do some soul searching.

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Before graduating from high school you will hopefully have a game plan as to how you are going to lead your life. Maybe you sought advice from your parents, a trusted guidance counselor, a teacher or a close friend. Perhaps you also attended a college recruiting session, visited a campus, a trade school, or a military advisor. And hopefully you started investigating these options in your junior year or earlier. Unfortunately, some people do not. Their path is perhaps dictated by their parents, or you have no lans at all and will likely drift aimlessly away.

A lot of this depends on your maturity and an understanding of who you are and where you want to go. Because parents typically guide us in our journey, there are many who just go on autopilot and do not really think about their future. Back in the days of the draft, you either knew where you were going with your life after high school or the military would make the decision for you. Going in the military is not a bad option as many young people have no sense of direction following graduation. The service can give them a sense of purpose, structure and organization. For example, I had friends return from Viet Nam who finally knew who they were and what they wanted to do, and pursued their dreams with passion.

We also must be cognizant of the fact our career paths may very well twist and turn over time. Regardless of what we initially set our sights on, conditions may change and we may find ourselves following a completely different track. Some of the best systems analysts I’ve met over the years did not graduate with a degree in computing or I.T. Instead, they had backgrounds in Library Science or music.

It is usually during the senior year when our elders admonish us to “shoot for the stars”; translation: push yourself, which I agree with. However, our dreams must be tempered by reality. For example, I know a young man who wanted to pursue a music career. It was his dream to play in a symphony and, in the end, he was perfectly capable of doing so. However, it didn’t exactly work out that way for him. He received a Bachelor’s degree in music before going on to graduate school where he earned a Masters degree. Today he works at a Men’s Wearhouse and is saddled with a substantial college debt. He hasn’t given up on his dream yet, but the reality of a limited market and the economics of a college loan altered his plans.

When making your plans, consider both the costs involved and the benefits derived from these different career paths:

No costs, other that you will likely become a ward of the state or a drain on your family. It’s also hard to find a job that pay’s well without a High School or GED diploma.

Again, no costs involved, but your career path is limited to modest jobs unless you happen to start a business of your own.

TRADE SCHOOLS Trade schools are a viable alternative for a lot of people who do not have the economic resources for college but know precisely the type of job they want, such as: technician, machine tools, automotive service, plumbing, computers, heating and air conditioning, golf, hotel management, etc. There are actually a lot of certification programs to choose from, and most pay well. Costs vary based on the program and location, but figure approximately $10K for a two year program.

See: http://tradeschools.weebly.com/

There are no costs involved here other than your time. You won’t become a millionaire, but you can earn a decent wage. According to militarypaychart.us, the average serviceman is paid $18K-$25K depending on rank. Of course, this will go up if you make a career out of the military. Officers make much more, which is a good reason to attend Officer Candidate School or a military academy (ROTC in college isn’t bad either). The Post 9-11 GI-Bill also provides the means to pay for your college tuition if you are so inclined. A 36 month hitch in the service will pay 100%. In the meantime, you will learn new skills, discipline, organization, and gain a sense of purpose.

Community Colleges offer the ability to obtain an Associate’s degree, which carries less weight than a Bachelor’s degree, but isn’t bad either. It’s also a good way to determine if you are college material, and relatively inexpensive to boot. According to the The College Board, in-state students currently pay $3,131 a year on the average ($6,262 total). The professors and instructors are certainly qualified to teach but are likely not of the caliber of a full four year institution. Fortunately, your credits earned here can be transferred to a four year college if you are so inclined, but check with the institution for details.

Again, according to The College Board, the cost for a four year college education for in-state students is $8,655 annually. Basically, you are looking at a $35K investment. Out-of-state students will pay more, $21,706 annually (approximately $87K). The next question is, how will this be paid? By your parents or are you going to need a college loan? In other words, this is becoming an expensive proposition. Can you honestly justify why you want to go to this school? If you are going to pay a lot for your education, do not go into it half-hearted.

Four year colleges offer good instruction and allows the student to focus on their studies without having to move from one campus to another.

Again, according to The College Board, the average cost for a four year degree in a private college is $29,056 annually (that’s right, in excess of $116K). In addition to a good education, attendance at private schools look better on a resume and can help you network with the right people. Again, big bucks are involved here. Who is going to pay, and are you really up to the task?

Should you wish to pursue a Master’s Degree, P.A., or a Ph.D, be prepared for substantial costs. Most Master’s and P.A. degrees costs approximately $50K. Medical physician degrees can cost upwards to $100K-$200K, if not more depending on the specialty. You better be confident of what you are doing if you are pursuing such a career path. In addition to paying such exorbitant fees, many big businesses offer assistance as they want to help their employees grow and develop into better workers. Such programs are definitely worth checking out.

Your continuing education is not an inexpensive proposition. Many young people do not understand the economic implications and find themselves shackled in debt for years. So much so, college debt recently exceeded credit card debt in this country, which is mind-boggling. In other words, as a graduating high school senior, it is time to do some serious soul searching: Do you really know where you want to go? Something you should be cognizant of at all times, it is YOUR life, not your parents or anyone else. If your family can help you, great. If they cannot, where do you want to go and how do you plan to get there? Ideally, everyone must lead a worthy and meaningful life. It is also more important to find a career as opposed to a job, but necessity may dictate you do otherwise, which is why people find themselves moving in another direction as opposed to their original goal.

One last note, there is nothing requiring you to pursue higher education. Attending school in your youth may have been mandated by the state, but now you are grown and legally on your own. Whereas the taxpayer had been footing the bills for your education, it is now up to you. This means attending college or a trade school is not a right, but a privilege. Don’t blow it.

As an aside, be sure to check out my book, “Morphing into the Real World” – the Handbook for entering the Work Force; a Comprehensive Survival Guide for Adulthood.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), KGAB-AM 650 “The Morning Zone” with host Dave Chaffin (weekdays, 6:00-10:00am Mountain), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News with Dave and Lance” with hosts Lance Tormey & Mike Bastinelli (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.

Also look for Tim’s postings in the Palm Harbor Patch, The Gentlemen’s Association, and throughout the Internet.

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