Before You Decide On a College

Despite some reports, there is little doubt that a college education can be a good financial investment -- if you can afford it.

However, thousands of students have signed onto the obligations of a college degree without thoroughly investigating the full financial impact.

Thousands of young people who can only find low-paying jobs after getting a college degree are now hopelessly in debt.

In fact, college debt today is greater than the country's total credit card debt.

Except for special technical areas that are in demand, a college degree doesn't represent what it once did. We know of at least one McDonald's franchise that only considers college graduates for jobs.

So before you or someone you know jump into the college experience, possibly tempted by initial promises of scholarships and financial aid, check out these five things.

1. What are your total expenses going to be? Not only do Freshmen often get more generous financial benefits than juniors or seniors, but with the financial crunch colleges are facing tuition increases that are apt to continue almost on a yearly basis.

2. What is the college's graduation rate? For any number of reasons you may find that many students are forced to drop out before they graduate. Why?  Could any of these things affect you?

3. Many professions require a graduate degree, but if your bachelor's degree puts you into major debt, college may not be a good option. You may be forced to take a low-paying job to start paying off your loans. Unlike other financial debts, college loans may stick with you for many years.

4. When projecting the cost of college don't forget "incidentals." Room and board are a major expenses, of course, but so are books and class fees that are not part of tuition.

5. Finally, college social life and extra-curricular activities are an  important part of the college experience, but if your budget is so tight that you can't afford this dimension of college life, you will miss a lot. Some people claim that "college life" is the most important part of the college experience.

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