Heading to college can be a daunting experience.
Worries about picking a major, about being academically ready and about moving away from the security of home are natural.
But, unfortunately, adding to the stress is a lack of knowledge among young adults about what college will cost and how it will be paid for.
A recent survey by Junior Achievement and Citizens Bank shows that as many as 52 percent of high school juniors and seniors and 34 percent of college freshmen feel they are under-prepared to pay for or manage the costs of higher education.
The data show how important it is to focus more effectively on this major financial decision, which will affect the rest of the students’ lives.
Ultimately the responsibility to fill this preparedness gap belongs to the students and their parents, but the education system could apparently do a better job.
To its credit, New Jersey’s curriculum standards include the requirement that students receive some form of financial education. The detailed standards for financial literacy include a student being able to “identify a career goal and develop a plan and timetable for achieving it, including educational/training requirements, costs and possible debt.”
That sounds good, but in practice, not every classroom is succeeding in applying that goal when it comes to knowing what to expect about college.
Half the teens who participated in the Teens & College Savings Survey said they expect to use savings to help pay for college, but between 30 and 40 percent had less than $1,000 put away.
One area student said she took a financial class as a senior but wishes she had more lessons on savings, budgeting and filling out financial forms. Those are some good suggestions — along with information about college loans, scholarships, grants and tax-free savings opportunities — that school districts should make available to students interested in college.
The reported lack of financial knowledge by students does not mean those surveyed are not smart. The overwhelming majority, including 83 percent of college freshmen, know the value of a college education when it comes to securing a better job and standard of living.
The Pew Research Center reports young adults with just a high-school diploma earned only 62 percent of the typical salary of college graduates. Such numbers remain attractive even when you factor in the ever-rising cost of college and the frightening debt load many students face when they leave school — about $25,000 for those who earn a bachelor’s degree and $20,000 more for a post-graduate degree.
Learning about how to put yourself in a position to better handle those sorts of financial burdens can be as important as any Advanced Placement college-prep class.