The Top 4 College Questions Answered by the Experts

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If you’re a parent, it’s your job to help your kids make smart decisions about where they are going to college and how much they’re willing to spend.

Think about it: A college education is one of the more expensive things you’ll ever buy—so you can’t expect your 18-year-old to have the experience to make the best decisions.

We’re here to help you navigate the overwhelming college/financial aid/scholarship world. Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze recently discussed some of the most frequently asked questions about paying for college on The Dave Ramsey Show. Whether or not you have a soon-to-be college student in your family (yourself included), we believe you’ll appreciate this conversation.

Here are some of their answers to the top four questions we all wonder about college.

1. Is College Worth It?

Rachel Cruze: Having a two-year or a four-year degree does make you more marketable. You rise a little above the rest of the crowd. But keep in mind, it doesn’t guarantee you a job when you graduate.

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Too many students focus more on the name of their school than what they’re actually studying and what they’re doing that’s applicable to a future career. If you go to college, your goal should be to just get a good college education that will benefit you when you graduate, whether that’s at a community college or a state school.

Dave Ramsey: Get a degree that actually matters—in other words, a degree that there’s a market for. There’s nothing wrong with getting an art degree, but the marketplace has a thin appreciation for your art degree in terms of what they’re willing to pay you. Keep that in mind.

Rachel: I just talked to a girl a few months ago who has a master’s degree in Women’s Studies and she’s $120,000 in debt. She told me she doesn’t know what to do with that degree. And I’m thinking, How did you not think through this degree you were getting yourself into?

Dave: They’ve been told the lie that if they get a degree, they’re guaranteed to win. And that’s just not true.

So is college worth it? Yes . . . if you select the college carefully so you don’t overpay. And if you choose a field of study that’s useful and relevant in the marketplace. Then it’s definitely worth it.

Video: More of Dave and Rachel’s discussion about college being worth it.

2. How Do I Avoid Student Loan Debt?

Rachel: My first piece of advice would be to go to a school you can afford. You might not be able to go to a school you want to go to. But if you look at in-state schools or community colleges, they’re much less expensive than stepping over a state line. With out-of-state tuition, you’re paying as much as three times what you’ll pay in-state.

Some students have this urgent feeling that “all my friends are doing it” so this is what I have to do. I encourage them to step back and take a look at all their options. It’s okay to take a semester or a year off and work and save money for college.

Related: 6 Questions to Ask Before Going Back to College

3. What About Scholarships?

Rachel: Many people discount smaller scholarships, and that’s a mistake. If you think about it, you write an essay and fill out a form, and, if you get the scholarship, you can make $200 in a few short hours.

Dave: You could apply for a thousand scholarships and only get 40. But if you get 40, and they average $1,000 each, you just went to school for free at an in-state college.  

The more obscure the scholarship, the better chance you have of getting it, especially if it applies to you or your situation—like your ethnicity, the area of the country you are from, your field of study, family of origin, or even that your dad’s a pastor. There’s all kinds of weird little nuances that are guidelines for scholarship.

Related: Being All He Can Be: This West Point Cadet Could School You on Money

Rachel: You do have to apply through FAFSA to get scholarships and grants, but be careful. The language is tricky.

If you’re a parent, help your child understand the FAFSA because people accidentally sign up for student loans all the time. They get this money and they don’t realize that it’s debt. So as you fill out a FAFSA, be sure you’re just applying for free money, like scholarships and grants.

4. Can You Really Work Your Way Through School?

Dave: Work ethic is harder to find than education. That’s character. If you’ve worked 30 hours a week with a full load and graduate within four to five years, then you’ve worked your butt off.

Rachel: When I ask an auditorium of college students to raise their hands if they have a job, maybe one-fourth will raise their hands. When I speak to an older crowd, maybe over 30 or 40, and ask them the same question, probably 90% of them raised their hands. So it’s a generational difference. But the idea of working while in college is still a possibility. Make money. Go to school. Live inexpensively.

Video: Part 2 of Dave and Rachel’s discussion about making college affordable

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Take some time before your kids go to school to discuss the long-term effects of how college and debt don’t mix. Believe us, the time you spend educating your kids on debt will be well worth it.

What if there was a gift that would prepare graduating seniors for their college experience? We have what you're looking for. The Graduate's Survival Guide is a book and DVD gift set in a stylish gift case. Check it out now!

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