Don’t act on headlines

I keep seeing articles referencing the most lucrative college majors, colleges with the highest average starting salaries for graduates, and other headlines focused on a purported measurement of the return on a college investment. Given the rising cost of college and the alarming levels of student debt, I think it’s wise for any family to treat it as you would any large investment. Investigate the options. Think hard about what you hope to gain from it. Don’t assume that spending more will automatically pay more back. That’s what truly savvy college shoppers do.

But as you apply rigorous research to your college process, please don’t use these headlines to drive it.

Just because you major in x or attend college at y doesn’t mean you will necessarily reap the reported benefits mentioned in a 300-word article. If it did, those colleges would be singing from their Ivy-adorned rooftops about how much happier and richer and more successful their graduates are.

No matter what your future career, your college and your major are just two items on a very long list of things you’ll need to be successful, including drive, aptitude, experience, talent, and maybe even a little luck. The college-related items are not as responsible for the outcome as their disproportionate price might make them appear.

I’m not suggesting that your college and your major aren’t important—your odds of becoming a successful engineer decrease to almost zero if you don’t (1) attend a college with an engineering program, and (2) choose that as your major.

But you likely wouldn’t risk up to $150,000 on a stock you learned about from one short online article alone. And you probably shouldn’t do so with your college, either. Headlines make for enticing news, but not always for informed choices.