The Adventist Way to Financial Success, Part 4 – How to Make the Best Education and Career Choices

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The Adventist Way to Financial Success, Part 4 – How to Make the Best Education and Career Choices

 

“We make decisions, and then they turn around and make us.” E.M.B

Financial decisions rarely are dramatic or life-altering when you make them. Instead they steadily accumulate over a lifetime and by the time you really begin to focus on them, it’s often too late. The single most important lesson you can learn from this article is that there are no neutral financial decisions. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that there are no “good” or “bad” financial decisions, just results. However the results of these decisions can range from good or bad, to catastrophic. We will focus this article on the practical aspects of education and careers. If you are just starting out in college or are considering a career switch. This article is for you.

 

There are seven decision points in a typical person’s journey through life with significant financial ramifications of these decisions. Overall, these life journey decision points are:

  • Education and Career Choices
  • Dating and Getting Married
  • Investments
  • Dealing with Risk
  • Having a Family and dealing with Parents and In-laws
  • Achieving Financial Independence and Retirement
  • Building a Legacy

Education & Choice of Career

In the western world, we have come to take for granted the opportunity to get educated. Yet, just over one hundred and fifty years ago, education was the privilege of the rich. Despite the lack of access to quality education, some individuals persevered and gained the skills and ability through self-study. For example, President Abraham Lincoln, and Seventh-day Adventist church co-founder Ellen White, had very little formal education. Lincoln was unable to stay in school because of the lack of teachers and his extreme poverty, while Ellen White’s childhood injury prevented her from gaining formal education.

Today, many parents are pushing their children beyond their limits so that they can craft the kind of admissions “package” that admissions officers at Ivy League institutions are purportedly looking for. With the intense pressure to compete, some unfortunately stoop to less than honest means to gain admission.[1][2] In other countries, some parents start as early as age five to push their children towards elite schools. [3]Even without the hyper-competitive academic environment, the decisions that center around education and the choice of career are significant and potential life-long ramifications. We will consider the earnings capacity of individuals after high school, college, and graduate school. There are three logical choices in this area. I will list them here and then we will look at each one separately.

  • Choice Number One: The very first and logical decision is whether or not to go to college.
  • Choice Number Two: Go to College and Decide on a Major Early on
  • Choice Number Three: Continue on to Get an Advanced Degree

Choice Number One: To Go or Not to Go to College

Most parents and young adults consider going to college as a the only option. Great sacrifices are made so that these young adults can attend a college and get a four-year degree in some field of study. And the financial reasons for going to college are sound. There is a large body of evidence (frequently quoted by college recruiters) that shows that college graduates and advanced degree holders do, on average, make double the money than high school graduates and those who have less than a high school diploma.[4] And data shows that the gap is widening after the Great Recession of 2008.

“College graduates, on average, earned 56% more than high school grads in 2015, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute…Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, college-educated workers have captured most of the new jobs and enjoyed pay gains. Non-college grads, by contrast, have faced dwindling job opportunities and an overall 3% decline in income, EPI’s data shows.

College grads have long enjoyed economic advantages over Americans with less education. But as the disparity widens, it is doing so in ways that go beyond income, from homeownership to marriage to retirement. Education has become a dividing line that affects how Americans vote, the likelihood that they will own a home and their geographic mobility.”[5]

But is higher earnings potential justification enough for everybody to go to college? In short, no.

Four out of every ten college students drop out of college without completing a degree.[6] Often these dropouts leave college having accumulated student loan debt that can be difficult to pay off with a low salary job. The financial ramifications of student loan debt, a lack of a 401K investment plan, job-subsidized health insurance, and other amenities that college graduates can expect, can be crippling for these dropouts.

The alternative to college is what Mike Rowe made famous during his 8 season-long “Dirty Jobs” TV show.[7] These jobs do not require a 4-year college degree. They are cheaper and have a shorter timeframe for launching into the workplace. Technical jobs in construction such as building contractor, electrician, plumber, welder, etc. have starting pay at close to or above $100,000. Many of these jobs do come with healthcare, a 401K, and other financial incentives. They also have the added bonus of being less likely to be completely taken over by artificial intelligence machines or out-sourced to other countries.

The other alternatives are two year degrees in fields such as allied health for nursing, X-ray Tech, CT imaging, Ultrasound, Cardio-Neuro Imaging, Pharmacy Tech, and other fields such as Accounting and business specialties such as Enrolled Agent (IRS), Actuarial Science, and Real Estate agent, etc. These two year degrees offer jobs starting at $35,000 to $50,000 and allow graduates to continue on to get bachelors and graduate degrees debt-free.[8]

The key here is to understand that a career choice is not just about money and at the same time it cannot be considered to be a “calling” but rather as a means through which to earn and contribute in a meaningful way to society and one’s self and family. By taking an intermediate step, students can develop skills that are to a large degree recession and outsource proof and provide for themselves a market-ready valuable skill to fall back on whenever needed. Often these jobs are portable and are in demand everywhere, so one can move from state to state and with very little effort get the requisite state license to continue their work in their new locale.

A further excellent but non-traditional choice is the military. While many Seventh-day Adventists have mixed feelings about serving in combat roles, and the scope of that important discussion is beyond that of this column, there are a plethora of military service jobs in non-combat roles that offer excellent pay, college credit, opportunity to get a degree, and money for college. The military offers active duty and reserve options for service. Active duty is a full-time commitment while reserve units offer weekend service and two weeks of active duty service on a military base in the United States or around the world. State national guards and other federal jobs also offer competitive options and excellent healthcare benefits.

Choice Number Two: Going to College and Deciding on a Major Early On

Many medical school admissions essayists claim that they decided to be a doctor when they were toddlers. Whether or not that claim is true, many college students are pressured into deciding a major early on in their college years. Due to a high degree of specialization of knowledge and skills, many accredited degree pathways have long pre-requisites that need to be taken in order for an adequate theoretical foundation for advanced level coursework. This poses a problem for all those individuals who didn’t decide on a medical or science career when they were toddlers. Parental pressure and private ego can also have an effect on a student’s determination of their “calling” in life. The biggest classes in college are the Pre-med Biology, Physics, and Chemistry classes. Large throngs of students crowd in to the classroom and within one or two quarters more than half of them find another “calling” as their grades take a nosedive.[9]

Take your time getting your general education classes out of the way. Audit online courses in degree specializations that interest you. This will give you a feel for what a day in day out class in biochemistry or corporate taxation will feel like. Ask yourself if you can picture yourself doing this coursework every day. If your attention suffers in your audited online or in-person course, then consider other fields of knowledge. I have included some sample career pathways in the endnotes of this article.[10]

Choice Number Three: Continue on to Get an Advanced Degree

These days most competitive careers require at a minimum a graduate degree. Careers in accounting or business, and some STEM areas require at a minimum a graduate degree. Careers in areas such as Medicine, Architecture, Engineering, law, etc. require more advanced training or terminal degrees. Some decide to enter the work force and then after a few years of experience go to business school or law school. This allows for time to apply yourself to learn the trade you are in and get experience in applying theoretical frameworks to practical problems of daily business. Most graduate programs prefer students who have had 3-5 years’ experience in the workplace because the case-study and cohort based curriculum requires deep analysis rather than a mere just a recitation of facts.

The downside of entering and then leaving the workforce for several years is opportunity loss and a major financial commitment. It is important to consider the market growth outlook for your chosen field and to weigh the risks of studying a long time in a field that might be obsolete by the time you finish your advanced degree. Graduate schools often cost $100,000 or more for tuition and another $150,000 for living costs. While job placement after graduate school may be assured at Global Conglomerates, the job chances at mid-tier firms, may not be a given. This uncertainty combined with the ups and downs of the market can add to the stress of the graduate student. Lack of tenure track jobs for STEM and other post-graduates can lead to depression and anxiety.[11] The career choices are more flexible for advanced degree holders and allow for significant cross-market migration.[12]

Career Switches That Work

Programming

Programming is different from Computer Science. In programming, the combination of SQL and Python is an excellent fast way to switch into a different but financially rewarding career. Depending on your aptitude, Python is fairly easy to pick up and SQL development skills take about 3 to 9 months before you can you pick up a $30,000 – 50,000 remote job. Learn Python the Hard Way and Learn SQL the Hard way, online as well as numerous free courses on IBM, Coursera and other online courseware sites can get you started. Certifications in IT or a bachelors in IT can enhance your career prospects but are not necessary. You can self-study your way into a Data Science Open Source Masters certification and get into a rewarding career in Data Science or in Machine Learning.

Accounting/Bookkeeping/EA

Enrolled Agent with the IRS is excellent choice for getting a high paying job right out of high school. Bookkeeping is a job that can be done from home and with sometime of study, accounting can provide a recession proof career.

Nursing and Allied Health Professions

A two or three year course in nursing is the fastest way to a rewarding $100K a year job. It is an excellent second job to have alongside your primary one. It also allows for the greatest flexibility when you have young kids and is a perennial immigrant favorite for going from poverty to upper-middle class.

Plumbing & Welding

Plumbing is an excellent skill to have to get through college or to pay for one. Welding gigs offer high pay in a short amount of time. Both have some time for ramping up but overall they are solid “blue collar” careers that can vault you into low to high six figure income brackets.

Summary of Career Choice Principles

There are a few principles to consider when thinking about your choice of career:

  1. Do it for the Glory of God: Everything we do, we are to do to the glory of God. Where you start does not mean is where you will end. Joseph in Scripture started out as a sheepherder with his brothers but he finished as Prime Minister of Egypt. Moses started out the future Pharaoh of Egypt but ended up as a leader of God’s people.
  2. Skills Development: The skills we learn at the beginning of our careers such as critical thinking, numerical calculation, writing, collaboration, strategy, and synergy, can transfer from job to job. The greatest asset you have is your own mind. Feed it with books, seminars, new skills, and idea frameworks. The world can build better tools such as faster computer or a faster calculator. It cannot build a creative mind. Tools cannot match the ingenuity of human beings. Focus on building skills that can serve many over here, and the world to come.
  3. Debt Free: Try as much as possible to keep your debt near zero. You do not lose anything by acquiring an intermediate vocation or job. Going into debt for education increasingly is making less and less sense.
  4. Don’t be afraid to switch: If your chosen career is being outsourced to machines or the Third World, find another career. No one was “born” to do anything. We can learn, adapt, and change. It is what separates us from the animals.
  5. Work ethic: You may be lucky to find something that you can lose yourself while doing it. For the rest of us, work is work. But what separates the indispensable from the rest are those who go the extra mile for the customer.
  6. Market Value: There is nothing wrong in having a job that pays less as long as you can live within your means and are happy with that lifestyle. The danger is when we marry ourselves to a job or a career that has no prospects for taking care of our personal financial needs and we are forced to rely on the government or on the charity of others.[13]
  7. Invest: Your lifestyle should not match your earnings. A significant portion of your earnings should go to investments so that your money can start making money for you. There will come a time when you will not be able to earn any more. It is possible to have a retirement plan that provides for you and your family long before you actually retire from work. This requires frugality and financial or fiscal discipline.

Click here to read the rest of Adrian’s series on Biblical Finance

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Notes.

[1] Anemona HartocollisHartocollis. Anemona, “They are not fact-checking: How Lies on College Applications can slip through the Net.”

“Sally Goebel was working in admissions at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania when an applicant submitted a moving essay about his mother’s death. He was admitted. Just before school began, someone from the university called his home and a woman answered the phone. She was the student’s mother, alive and well. “It was kismet,” Ms. Goebel, now head of Selective Admissions Consulting, said, still shocked by it years later. “There wasn’t any strategy there, and we didn’t suspect him.” His admission was revoked. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/us/college-admission-applications.html

 

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/01/cv-five-year-old-boy-goes-viral-highlighting-fiercely-competitive/  and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46071811. Compare with an essay on admissions requirements for Harvard, written in 1892. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1892/05/the-present-requirements-for-admission-to-harvard-college/526005/and at present https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/19/us/harvard-admissions-affirmative-action.htmland the experiences of a college counselor https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/09/confessions-of-a-prep-school-college-counselor/302281/

 

[3] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/01/cv-five-year-old-boy-goes-viral-highlighting-fiercely-competitive/  and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46071811. Compare with an essay on admissions requirements for Harvard, written in 1892. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1892/05/the-present-requirements-for-admission-to-harvard-college/526005/and at present https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/19/us/harvard-admissions-affirmative-action.htmland the experiences of a college counselor https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/09/confessions-of-a-prep-school-college-counselor/302281/

 

[4] Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers age 25 and older were $909 in the second quarter of 2017. Full-time workers without a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $515, compared with $718 for high school graduates (no college) and $1,189 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Full-time workers with advanced degrees (professional or master’s degree and above) had median weekly earnings of $1,451.

https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/high-school-graduates-who-work-full-time-had-median-weekly-earnings-of-718-in-second-quarter.htm

[5] Rugaber. Christopher S., “Pay gap between college grads and everyone else at a record.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/01/12/pay-gap-between-college-grads-and-everyone-else-record/96493348/

[6] Ibid.

 

[7] Mike Rowe Congressional Testimony on Technical Careers and Job Protections. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NwEFVUb-u0

 

[8] One thing to keep in mind with intermediate degree jobs, like what I mentioned above, is that the pay levels often start at higher level than jobs for a college graduate but rapidly reach a pay ceiling. Often that pay ceiling is somewhere between $50,000 and $130,000. This is a comfortable pay scale range, if you follow sound personal finance principles. You can continue on to get more specialized training that can make your skills even more valuable in your field and with time and experience open up your own business or consulting firm and earn far more than your starting job salary. College degree graduates do have a greater earning potential and may top out at a higher salary range due to more room for expansion in their careers. Still,  intermediate degree jobs can offer a rapid way to earn financial security, savings for further education, and a near recession proof fall back option that should make it a compelling consideration.

[9] Many (Adventist) high schools offer advanced placement courses and some community colleges offer high school juniors and seniors college credit classes. In my opinion, the advanced placement courses are not as valuable as getting college credit for classes taken. Advance placement courses generally seem to have more merit at Ivy League Schools but most of the feeder schools for those institutions have rigorous enough classes that assure admissions officers that the prospective applicant has the mental capacity for a demanding college experience.

A better way to go is perhaps the one that I followed. I finished nearly a semester of college for free before I graduated high school. I took English 101, Sociology, Psychology, and PE. Other more enterprising and forward thinking classmates of mine finished two years of college courses while they were in high school and graduated out of college in two years or less after finishing their high school. You don’t have to commit early to a degree pathway. Most College general education courses can be taken in high school, taken online, or taken at a community college near your parents’ home. You can also qualify for in-State tuition which can significantly cut down on your student debt load. In the meantime, while you are acquiring your general coursework, which applies to all degree pathways, and you can take some STEM or business courses on online for free to see if you truly have the aptitude and desire to go down those pathways for learning.

[10] Here are a few sample career pathways. Obviously each situation is unique, but consider how these may apply to your situation.

  1. Your parents have saved for your education: Congratulations. If you can go to school debt free because your parents invested for your education, then do it. Find the college that matches your education allowance and develop your course pathway. Start investing money early for your kids.
  2. You have no money from parents: Consider getting an intermediate degree like nursing, X-Ray, or a vocational job like plumbing etc. This will allow you to save up money fairly fast for college and graduate school. After studying for two or three years, you can save up and go finish up your education. Even while you are studying and working in your vocation career, you can take a class or two online. An online accredited college like Western Governors University or a local community college might be an excellent financial choice.
  3. You can solve a Calculus Textbook on any given Sunday: Consider a STEM degree. Study hard for the SATs and/or ACTs. Get as many scholarships as you can get and apply for a STEM degree. Add programming skills like Python, SQL, C, R, etc. to your repertoire. Build projects that you can showcase your abilities. Chances are that you might get hired out of school to work at Google or Telsa. Resist the urge to make money and get your advanced degree. The job offers will still be there and your job portability will be an asset to you and your employers.
  4. You like debating ideas: Consider getting a humanities degree and applying to the Seminary, Law, or Public Policy etc.
  5. You have a heart for missions: A medical degree and a graduate degree in public health, business, or theology would be an excellent combination.
  6. You like working with your hands: Consider getting your welding certificate. Learn scuba diving and combine the two for a great career diving off oil-rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or offshore elsewhere in the world. After a few years, add a business minor degree so that you can open up your own shop and hire others out to work.
  7. You are self-taught: Teach yourself programming, accounting, statistics and get some professional certifications in finance like Enrolled Agent with the IRS, Credit Risk Engineering, etc. Get a degree in accounting or finance online. Take the series 65 test with FINRA and get a job at a hedge fund. Or open up your own investment firm.
  8. You are an international student: Stick with the major that you declared on your visa. Finish it as soon as you can by taking extra classes if you can afford it. Get practical training opportunities in your field to build expertise and to network. If your firm offers an H1B visa, apply for it as soon as possible, if you want to transition to work in the United States.

 

[11] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/06/new-study-says-graduate-students-mental-health-crisis

 

[12] The flexibility of advanced degrees is a bit more limited but the subject matter base is more specific and the starting pay is usually much higher than that of intermediate degree or college degree hires. Academia jobs are extremely competitive but most advanced graduate degree holders can find jobs in professions that mirror their expertise. For example, a statistician can work in healthcare, business, in government or at a hedge fund as a research analyst. While a physician can work at a hospital, a clinic, in management, or in academia.

[13] I know of individuals who have been writing their novel(s) for ten years without having sold a single copy. Or an artist who paints but the art doesn’t sell enough to pay the bills. These activities are not jobs, vocations or callings. They are hobbies and should be treated as such.

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About the author

Adrian Zahid is a senior partner at a management consulting firm in southern California. A recent survivor of advanced-stage cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the cofounder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping nonprofits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission.