do not go into debt without a very specific plan about how you are going to use your degree to pay off that debt.
This sounds shitty because it’s basically saying “only rich kids can go spend 4 years in pretty brick buildings studying classics”, but guess what? While no one will stop you up front from doing this if your family doesn’t have the money–loans will be made available, departments don’t meaningfully limit admission–you had better believe you will be punished for it later.
Do not assume you can get a degree with loans and “figure it out later”. Maybe this is what your parents’ generation managed, but costs were very different then.
Assume everyone at your educational institution is incentivized to lie to you to make your future sound rosier than it is. Assume that, even when you can tell they don’t mean to lie, any “examples” that aren’t comprehensive data are misleading1.
Information specific to your program at your institution is the most valuable2. The second-most valuable is major-specific, like this stuff. Consider unemployment rates, but also underemployment rates. Make sure you know the employment outlook of someone with only a four-year degree if that’s what you’re going for; many majors (yes, even in “STEM”) require further study to make you employable. A lot of people wish later on in life that they’d picked a higher-earning major; don’t let that kind of regret be something you stumble into by accident.
If you plan to pursue something competitive, make sure you know the magnitude of the competition and have a fallback plan. Don’t assume hard work and talent are enough.
There is no shame in a day job. There is no shame in pursuing a degree that “doesn’t make money” gradually over time as you can afford it. There is no shame in self-study and nontraditional paths into industries. To pretend these things are inferior to the “committed” path is how people with tens of thousands of dollars to shove at universities convert wealth into prestige.
A major flaw in much scientific and academic career advice is survivorship bias. This is a common logical error, involving drawing conclusions based on those who have ‘survived’ a process — and are thus more visible than those who did not. In the case of science careers advice, the bias arises because those who manage to stick to their chosen career path are there to advise the next generation of researchers on how to stay in their field.
Do graduates of the program come back to speak to students? That’s nice. Are they really representative? Does the program have people who ended up having to get jobs unrelated to their credentials? I bet they’re not coming back to speak there, huh. Do the people who run the program even have data on how many of their graduates get jobs? Good jobs? When they give you their impression of students’ prospects, exactly what is it based on? ↩
Many of the comparisons here don’t land like they should since they’re not comparing paths relevant to each other. Should pursuing XYZ art program really be compared to median non-art non-college educated career earnings? What if you conditioned it on the choice to seek employment within a particular field – e.g., how does an ag degree compare to working in ag without one? That said, I support anything calling out these institutions that callously suck money out of students… students who bank on the overall reputation of the school and who don’t realize their specific program is screwing them over. The gulfs between the numbers here should be enlightening to folks who’ve not dug into it before. ↩