College Hunting A Lot Like Looking For Jobs

Saturday was shopping day at our house, only this time the list wasn’t groceries but colleges.

So Saturday afternoon we gathered along with a room full of proud and anxious parents with their sleepy-eyed high schoolers tow in a conference room at the Kauffman Center. On this day, Tigers were on the menu as a group of recruiters from the University of Missouri was on hand to walk us through the college search process.

I have to hand it to the Mizzou folks, they were fair and even-handed in providing general information about the college search and application process. Heck, they even had nice things to say about Johnson County Community College and that school over in Lawrence.


As I was driving home with my teenage son, I recalled a conversation television financial whiz Suzie Orman had about the college search process and more importantly how to pay for the college experience.

While the MU folks assured the crowd that they shouldn’t be put off by price, I was reminded of the benchmarks that Orman had spelled out as a way of deciding which school to send little Julie or Johnny to.

Orman suggested a little reverse engineering when it comes to selecting a college. She said college shoppers should go out and look at the beginning salaries of the people in the field the student is interested in. This number should serve as a benchmark for the amount of student debt the individual should take on, she said.

If memory serves correct, Orman suggested a student not take on more than one year’s gross salary in overall student debt. This might force some families to curb their appetites from steak to hamburger, but at least at the end of the day the student won’t be taking on a lifetime of paying down student debt.

A friend told me recently about an acquaintance whose student loan payment was almost as much monthly as his mortgage — and good luck getting a mortgage with that much student debt.

But this doesn’t mean you have to scrimp on quality. In many fields, good college grades at a more affordable state school will go much further with employers than simply having a diploma from a top tier school.

One of the best tips the Missouri folks gave was to have students get their resources laid out. Build a resume. Contact references that you’ll need to provide letters of recommendation. And most of all, be realistic about your school choices.


One Response to “College Hunting A Lot Like Looking For Jobs”

  1. Jenn Kepka Says:

    Yay college search!

    I think there might be one extra step to this: find the salary range in the city where the student wants to live/work for graduates of the school he’s attending. There’s a big variation in how certain an MU or KU grad is of finding work in, say, KC, where certain departments are known quantities around town, versus what can be expected as a starting salary in a town where you’re struggling with every application to explain the quality of your engineering program against the local favorite. (Knowing who’s got the best alumni network in the field is a big help, too).

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