student debt
High schoolers can rise to the challenge and still affordably pursue their dreams without accumulating large amounts of student debt. Source: Adem Altan/AFP

There’s no doubt this is a strange time for high schoolers looking at colleges. The college road trip, a long-awaited milestone, no longer exists in the same way it did before the pandemic. That feeling of home, of belonging, that students get as they set foot on campus for the first time can’t be replicated by the virtual tours many schools are now offering.

With the average cost of tuition coming in at 10,116 US dollars for an in-state public college or US$36,801 at a private college, students might be asking themselves whether it’s worth the loans many will need to make it feasible.

There is a bright side, however. Before COVID-19, the allure of a particular college campus might have been the deciding factor, but this time has given students the ability to go into the process clear-eyed about true value of their education and the school they choose to attend.

The high unemployment rate and an uncertain job market might still cause high schoolers, and their parents, to worry about how they’ll pay for college. Fortunately, there are ways for students to still affordably receive an education beyond high school. Here are a few things to consider:

Think seriously about a degree’s ROI

 high schoolers

Will a particular degree put you in good stead upon graduation? Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

A lot of students have a vague idea of what they want to do when they enter college. In a competitive job market and with enormous college costs, “vague” won’t cut it. It is often too expensive to stay in school an extra semester to “figure it out.” Every credit counts and students should be ready to prepare for their future from the moment they set foot on campus, virtually or in person.

High schoolers should spend time thinking about their interests and how those could translate into a career. This means researching current job opportunities in potential career fields to get a sense of the salary range and qualifications. Often students discover that a career that previously required a four-year degree no longer does.

Connect with potential employers and postsecondary programmes

Students should connect with potential employers and postsecondary programmes early. Many businesses, programme directors and professors are more than happy to talk to high school students or incoming college freshmen about what makes their organisations and programmes unique. Booking a range of informational interviews can guide a student in the right direction; recent high school graduates should consider joining platforms like Tallo or LinkedIn to help research different career paths and connect with professionals.

High schoolers should start researching scholarship opportunities now

Utilise apps that connect scholarship candidates with relevant opportunities. High schoolers should learn to navigate these apps before their senior year, as many college scholarships are given to those in their junior year or younger. Most scholarship application deadlines fall between September and May, so beginning applications early allows students to mitigate the stress of juggling these applications alongside schoolwork and other activities.

For students who currently work or plan to do so in college, keep in mind that some companies offer tuition assistance programmes. Chick-fil-A, for example, provides employees with tuition discounts of up to 30% at 100 schools across the country, while Starbucks covers 100% of tuition for eligible employees to receive a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. Many other companies provide similar educational incentives that could help finance part, or all, of your degree, making the prospect of getting a part-time job that much more attractive, and worth considering.

Now is the best time for high schoolers to plan for their future by creating a list of educational opportunities, scholarships and career paths. Narrowing the list down early to those that are the best fit and dedicating this time to research will make the application process much more manageable and maximize a student’s odds of earning financial support for their future endeavors.

Affording post-high school education may be more challenging this year, but by doing these three things, high schoolers can rise to the challenge and still affordably pursue their dreams.

By Casey Welch, CEO and co-founder of Tallo