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  • Jenn Steliga

How Much is College Going To Cost: Part 2 of 3 - getting into the details

Welcome back to the series on how to talk to your kids (or yourself, if you’re considering college or further training) about college. The first post focused on ways to overcome your hesitations about talking to your kid about college. It was also designed to encourage you to learn more about your child’s interests – what sparks their curiosity? What are their strengths? Where do they want to go? In this second post we’ll dive into more detail about how to pick the best path based on their interests. Finally, in the third post, we’ll discuss ways to fund their dreams, debt-free.

I’m assuming you’ve already started the conversations I suggested in the first post. If not, check out that post here before moving on. If you have done the hard work of beginning what can often be a tough conversation – congratulations! Now that you at least have a working idea of what your child is interested in pursuing, it’s time to start brainstorming the various paths that could lead them to their ultimate goal. I say that in the plural because there are usually multiple ways to arrive at the same destination; life rarely unfolds in a linear fashion, so it’s worth exploring various options and designing our way forward to find the best fit!

Regardless of what profession your child seems interested in, it’s helpful to now begin shifting the conversation from the abstract to the concrete. You’ll still be in a fuzzy area, but you’re starting the move toward painting in the rough outline of the picture that’s beginning to emerge. Here are a few tips to move into this next stage of planning life after high school:


Ask your kid to envision what life will look like as a doctor, teacher, engineer, high-school coach, etc. Do they want to have a family? Stay at home, or travel a lot? Help your child envision what life might look like based on their profession of choice.

  • Activity to consider: Encourage your child to create a vision board. Hard copy or electronic is just fine. The goal is for them to gather images of what they think they’d like their life to look like as a teacher, welder, doctor, chef … whatever it is they’re interested in learning more about! Once the vision board is done, have them place it in a prominent place where they’ll see it every day. If it’s an electronic vision board, maybe it becomes their screen saver. Be creative and find what fits for you. The goal is simply to keep in awareness and develop the envisioning process. Goals that are more clearly defined (i.e. can be envisioned) are more likely to be achieved. Get crystal clear!

  • Challenge your child to envision beyond the walls of work. What does life outside of work look like when they choose this profession? This is where you as the parent can mentor and guide them; help them learn from your experience or the experience of another family member, friend or colleague. This is a developmental process for your kid, and they can benefit greatly from your wise counsel in expanding their view of the work/life connection. Maybe this is a time to start introducing them to people in your network who have similar interests. Encourage mentoring relationships that will help your child learn more about their interests and life in general. Tap into your network and resources to begin connecting your child to other folks you know and trust who can be a positive influence in their life. You’ll not only be expanding their knowledge of career and life connections, but you’ll be teaching them how to reach out for wise counsel when needed throughout life.

  • Encourage informational interviews. Maybe you don’t know someone in the field your child is interested in. It’s time to do some research and grow connections. Not for you as the parent, but for your kid. Help them learn how to research the profession and identify a few specific people or companies they could contact to learn more. The goal is to ask for a short (15-30 minutes) informational interview with a professional whom you want to learn from. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee, and meet them at a (safe) location convenient for them. Come prepared with a list of questions you want to learn more about. This is never a time to ask for a job. You’re in curiosity mode during an informational interview. You’ll find most people who love their work will be eager to connect with you and help you learn more. And who knows … maybe this connection will lead to a job one day.


Getting to the details

  • How much does someone in this profession make? Take a look at ranges, from entry-level to seasoned professional. Following are two resources to begin your search in gathering data

  1. Career One Stop

  2. Occupational Outlook Handbook

Both of these websites, sponsored by the US Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics provide comprehensive data on potential careers, from salary ranges to education and licensing requirements (Career One Stop will provide great state-specific data). Make these your starting points for gathering more information. Don’t rely on them (or any source for that matter) exclusively for all of you information, but let the numbers lead you to digging deeper and expanding horizons wider when figuring out what’s possible and what makes sense.


Start with the end in mind and work backwards

If you know that your kids’ goal is to become a teacher, and they’d like to live in their home state of California, it might be helpful to know that the median salary for high school teachers nationwide in 2018 was $60,320 and in California is closer to $80,000. But, you’ll also have to contend with a higher cost of living in California so that higher median income isn’t necessarily a reflection of greater discretionary spending power. Hint: This is a great opportunity for a refresher math lesson too: the median salary isn't likely the amount you’ll earn in your first job. The median simply marks the salary point where about half the teachers make more than that amount, and about half make less than that amount. These are the types of numbers your kids need help walking through, exploring, and trying on because ultimately these numbers have a significant influence on their final decisions.

I’ve worked as a career coach, and my greatest joy in the world of career coaching is career exploration. I would never encourage anyone in a million years to pick a career based solely on its projected growth in the next 10 years or salary range. Nowhere in that formula is a person’s heart, values, purpose … whatever you want to call it … taken into consideration. That's why I caution you to take numbers in stride; understand their usefulness but don't place them in control. The point I'm trying to make is that if you or your child have your heart set on a career that doesn’t make much money or isn’t projected to grow significantly in the next 10 years, then you need to be smart about how you go about entering that career. Don’t pick a college that will put you $60,000 in debt when you may only make $35,0000 a year. Notice what I didn’t say: I didn’t say don’t pick that job, I just said don’t go into debt for it. This is where you tap into your creativity – what are other ways to get there? Could I go to community college first, then transfer to a 4-year college? Could I get experience in the field by working right away? Finding an apprenticeship? Or, maybe that particular job isn’t exactly the best fit: maybe it’s the skills, experiences, or something else that are attractive to me but I can use the same skills or get the same experience in another, related field that happens to either make more money or require less cost in training requirements.


Check back for Part 3 of this series and we’ll get into the topic of staying debt-free on your path to life after high school. In the meantime, if a coaching session would be helpful for you, your child, or your family, schedule a free consult here! I use the strengths assessment as a base for all of my coaching sessions and bring the experience of career coaching and financial coaching into my conversations with families exploring their options for their child’s life after high school. MBTI assessments are available as well. Let’s give them a chance to start life on a path they love, without the shackles of debt.

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