As I ran to the lobby to make a phone call during the awards dinner at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention in Boston last week, one of our student members followed me down the escalator for some advice.
The young lady will soon graduate from college and told me she wanted to attend Howard University to obtain her master's degree for teaching. But she wants to first go into the media business for some experience.
Horrible series of decisions you're about to make, I told her.
Anyone who understands media knows that getting a master's degree won't add a single dollar to your beginning salary. Sorry, folks. Don't believe the hype. This is an industry that is about experience, skills and know-how. What is taught in the classroom is great, but what is learned in the field is something altogether different.
I then asked her: Why are you trying to get a master's now when you want to teach later? She said, "Because I have the motivation now and I may not have it later." So what about that student debt you have now?
This young lady is going to finish her undergraduate career with student debt, and then go to a private school to accrue even more student debt without having started her first job. That, folks, is a recipe for disaster.
I reminded her that she could get a job with a program to pay for a master's degree or assist with the cost. What she needs right now is experience. Going to school for another two years just doesn't make sense."
The look in her eyes was one of devastation. But she should have been elated that someone was trying to tell her the truth.
Student loan debt today exceeds $1 trillion. And I strongly believe a lot of students are in debt because they are making bad choices that aren't based on common sense and real information.
It's not all about a four-year school. So you want to be a culinary chef. Fine. You don't have to go to a four-year college. A lot of community colleges have great culinary arts programs where you can learn your craft. It's a lot cheaper than a typical four-year college.
Skills, skills, skills. Hey, book knowledge is great, but you better have some skills walking in. Too many students get stuck focusing on theories, and not what's happening in the real world. Spending big bucks on a college education and coming out with no skills makes no sense. The two go hand-in-hand.
Go where your money can afford for you to go. Look, forget that stuff about you can go anywhere. Theoretically? Yes. Practically? No. If you don't have the money saved up to go to that private school, don't go! Coming out of college with $100,000 in debt as a teacher is crazy. You will forever be in debt, and it will impact other parts of your life. Make sound decisions.
Staying close to home is smart. I get that most kids want to get away from mom and dad. But staying home and going to school makes a lot of sense financially. Dorm/off-campus living, food and travel eat up a lot of money for students. If you don't have it, expect to struggle. You'll be in a better situation financially if you stay at home.
Be decisive in your decision-making. Switching majors is costly. Taking the time to really think about a career choice is vital, even in high school. That clarity will make it easier for you to finish on time.
Seek advice from industry professionals. You don't know everything at 17 or 18. Neither did I. But what I did was spend lots of time talking to professional journalists about college and career choices. I listened to their stories and how they made decisions, good and bad. That made it a lot easier for me to make my own.
Today's generation has at its disposable tons of tools, gadgets and information. But it boils down to knowing how to use it. I fundamentally believe a lot of students have gotten themselves into financial trouble due to lack of information and knowledge. Apply some of these tips and, trust me, you'll be thankful years later.
Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin." Please visit his website at www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.