Mental trickery wreaks havoc on college planning

March traditionally is the snowiest month of the year in Colorado. We know this! In our eagerness to welcome spring, however, we often forget. We plant seeds, pack away our parkas and buy those cute new sandals. Then, a snowstorm like the record-breaker we experienced in 2003 happens, which dropped 32 inches of snow on Denver, and we are completely caught off guard. But why? We know better.

Sadly, this mental trickery also wreaks havoc on college planning. We know that college is expensive and that paying for it requires long-term planning. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a 4-year undergraduate college education ranges from $65,000 to $168,000. And these numbers vary based on residency, school choice and major. Yet, for far too many young people, the cost of college tends to be a huge surprise. In fact, many teenagers apply to schools with no knowledge of tuition fees, and exit college with an average of $37,000 of debt.

When I went to college, it wasn’t uncommon for peers to use college to explore different educational and career paths. Young people today simply can’t afford to wait. Helping students identify their interests and aptitudes and plan for college early helps make their education more relevant and allows them to avoid racking up unnecessary college debt. In addition, students who decide early on a career path are often able to gain college credit at no or low cost while they are in high school.

Through programs such as JA Finance Park, JA Career Success, and JA Business Week, Junior Achievement is helping students identify interests and aptitudes, chart college and career paths, understand the cost of college and gain skills in money management. JA Career Success, in particular, helps students explore different colleges, understand their fees, and investigate related scholarships and financial aid.

Another tool that JA has been proud to support is Launch My Career Colorado – an online planning tool that allows students to explore different careers and learn: how many years of school are required; what tuition costs are at different colleges and universities; what different careers really pay and what the non-monetary perks may be for certain jobs. Students determine the “ROI” of any given career path by comparing educational costs with long-term income potential. Launch My Career Colorado was created through a collaboration among the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, Gallup, Inc., and the American Institutes of Research.

So, the lesson to be learned here is… if we do a little planning, and keep our boots by the door, there is no reason why college expenses − or a record-breaking March snowstorm − should ever take us by surprise.