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JENKINS: Some practical advice for the class of 2013

Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins

Congratulations -- you've just graduated from high school. Now what are you going to do? Besides go to Disney World. Or Panama City. Or wherever. What about after that?

Many of you have already decided to continue your education. Good decision. Most jobs that pay enough to support a family require some training beyond high school. You probably will want to have a family one day, and, speaking for taxpayers everywhere, we would prefer that you support them.

You might be tempted just to skip college and get a full-time job, assuming you can find one. Nine or 10 dollars an hour probably sounds like a lot of money. Hey, you could buy a new Camaro and party hardy on Friday nights. Until you get married, that is. And have kids.

The problem is, low-skilled jobs that pay $9 or $10 an hour tend to top out at not much more. Even $15 an hour, at 40 hours per week, translates to just a little over $30,000 a year. Think you can support a family on that?

Better to forego the Camaro for now and go to school instead -- a principle known as "deferred gratification." You should try it sometime.

Going to school doesn't have to mean getting a four-year degree. We're blessed to have some fine technical colleges in our area, where you can learn a skill that will enable you to make a very good living--in some cases, better than a person with a four-year degree.

On the other hand, studies continue to show that, generally speaking, the more education you have, the more money you'll make over your lifetime. You should definitely consider that, if you hope to get married AND have kids AND feed them AND drive a Camaro.

If you've already decided to earn a four-year degree, good for you. Just be sure to choose a college you and your family can afford without taking on too much debt. Borrowing money to fund your education is fine -- a legitimate investment in your future -- as long as you have a realistic hope of paying it back. You don't want your student loan payments interfering with your Camaro payments.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Don't borrow more money, total, for all four years of college, than a typical starting salary in your chosen profession.

Need to borrow $100,000 to become a doctor? Fine. You'll probably make that back in the first year. But taking out $100,000 in loans to become a school teacher is just plain crazy. Teachers start out at about $35,000 a year.

Fortunately, we also have several inexpensive state colleges nearby, where you can get your core courses out of the way while living at home, thus saving thousands of dollars. Then you can transfer to UGA or wherever.

Just a few things for you to think about as you cruise down to Panama City this week in your dad's Camaro.

Rob Jenkins is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrenceville. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.