Education funding looms large among the financial goals of many families. From diligent saving to strategizing about how to cover increasing costs, the topic can become a central focus in the years before college. But as recent graduates and their parents know, paying the bill is only part of the challenge—you have to leverage your education to build your future.
To get the greatest value from the education funds you’ve accumulated, it’s important to plan ahead and proceed with the end in mind. If you ultimately want to use your education to qualify for a career that offers personal satisfaction and financial security, that’s what you need to be thinking about – before, during and after you pursue your degree. Here are some suggestions to help you get the most from your education to be prepared for the world ahead:
- Plan, Plan and Plan Some More
Start as early as possible to identify careers or academic majors of interest and think about what life beyond studies might be like. Investigate trade schools, community colleges, colleges, or universities that will help that vision fall into place. Talk frankly about the financial aspects of each choice so you have a clear game plan on what parents and students will commit to: this should include savings and loan repayment, as well as summer employment and student employment.
- Call on All Resources
Take every opportunity to learn about different career options and opportunities, and discuss your areas of interest with professionals in the field. Guidance counselors, career fairs, college placement offices and trade associations can be tremendously helpful with contacts, seminars and experts to help students find and pursue a direction suited to them. It may feel uncomfortable at first to network and consult with subject experts you’ve never met, but doing so can give you an edge in knowledge and confidence as you enter the job market.
- Consider Your Degree a Tool, Not a Guarantee
Recognize that a college diploma is just one of many tools in the job-seeking arsenal, and you’ll need to make a positive impression on many fronts to get the job you want. Though there are no guarantees in a competitive job market, U.S. Labor Department statistics show there is a lower unemployment rate than average among those with college degrees, and the higher the education, the higher the earnings.
- Build Skills Beyond the Classroom
Having experience with collaboration, problem-solving, leadership and entrepreneurship can add to your capabilities and enhance your résumé. While you may build these skills in classroom projects, you also can practice and learn them through part-time and summer jobs as well as involvement in student organizations and volunteer initiatives. Internships, such as the financial representative internship at Northwestern Mutual, can be invaluable in providing work and industry experience in your chosen field.
- Communicate Professionally
Surveys show that interpersonal, written and verbal communication skills are among the most important qualities that hiring managers look for in recent graduates. Polish your skills and plan some key things you want to say to professionals you may meet. Your “elevator speech” should summarize your interests, the type of job you are hoping for and some points about your background. Also think about questions you can ask to learn more and engage a new contact in conversation. Be sure to present yourself in a professional manner wherever you may be seen, including online.
- Network Profusely
The contacts you make in your chosen field, as well as in your school and local community, can be invaluable for opening doors to new opportunities. Be ready to talk about your interests and goals whenever you have the chance, and you may find unexpected introductions that lead to positive outcomes. Attend networking events and educational programs to learn more about your chosen industry, and identify leaders and hot topics. Take advantage of social media opportunities to explore organizations you might want to work for and connect with people in the field. Follow interesting people or companies on Twitter and use LinkedIn to find groups and contacts in your area.
Completing your education is an important early step on your path to a successful life and financial security. By leveraging your education and the resources and opportunities available to you, you’ll increase your potential and set yourself on a solid path to the future. Contact a financial representative to help you create a personalized plan to save for your education and set the course for your future goals.