MONEY College

How Can I Make Sure My Ex Pays Her Share of Our Kids’ College Costs?

split cake and cake toppers
Jeffrey Hamilton—Getty Images

Failure to take immediate action is risky.

Q. I’ve had an ugly divorce and I think my wife will refuse to pay her part of college costs for our kids. The oldest kid starts in September, and I can’t afford to pay the whole thing. I’m also not sure I want to go through another fight and go back to court. Plus, I can’t really afford an attorney again. What are my options?

A. What you need to do is act quickly.

Failure to take immediate action may be interpreted by the court, in the future, as you having waived your right — and your child’s right — to seek financial contribution from your ex-wife toward the satisfaction of your child’s college costs and expenses, said Kenneth White, a divorce attorney with Shane and White in Edison, N.J..

White said for starters, he makes it a point never to convince anyone that they need an attorney to appear in Family Court, and nearly 50% of those who appear before the court in New Jersey do it without an attorney. (And while this is specific to New Jersey, no matter where you live, it’s important to find out what the rules and deadlines are so that you can advocate for your child.)

Whether to hire an attorney or not often rests upon just how comfortable the non-attorney individual is appearing before a judge, coupled with how competent that individual is. However, you often only get one chance to correctly present an issue before the Family Court, he said.

“After the fact, if you did something wrong or otherwise failed to raise a specific point it will be 10 times harder and more costly for an attorney to try to undo something you did wrong and that attorney, after the fact, may not be able to undo something done wrong,” White said.

So back to acting quickly.

Specifically, White said, there is case law in New Jersey allows a judge to deny an application by one party against his/her ex-spouse for contribution toward the satisfaction of their child’s college costs and expenses if that application is made after the actual costs and expenses were incurred.

“Therefore, it is essential that you file your application with the court to compel your ex-wife to contribute to the satisfaction of your child’s college costs and expenses before the same are incurred — this fall,” White said.

He said another reason to file your application sooner rather than later is that it will likely protect you from many additional defenses that your ex-wife could raise.

“For example, she will be unable to claim that she was unaware and otherwise kept in the dark about your child’s intentions, such as wanting to attend college and where, and perhaps that she was denied an opportunity to have a say in the matter,” he said.

Moving sooner will allow everyone involved — your ex-spouse, you and your child — to look at all the relevant financial considerations, such as if it’s practical for your child to attend his/her first choice of college, he said.

Unlike divorce litigation that can take a year or perhaps longer depending upon what county your case was heard in, White said a post-judgment application to address an issue such as satisfaction of college costs and expenses may be filed, argued and resolved by the court in as quick as a 24-day cycle. Post-judgment motions must be filed 24 days before the return date, i.e. the date the judge is to have a hearing regarding the issue. Therefore, White said, you shouldn’t be intimidated by the potential of additional litigation because it will not be as complex as your entire divorce was.

“Unfortunately, absent confirming an amicable resolution directly with your ex-wife, your only option is to file an application with the court as soon as possible,” he said. “Alternatively, you — and more importantly, your child — may lose the opportunity to have your child secure a college education that he/she may be entitled to.”

So you should consider consulting with an attorney who can review all the circumstances of your case and offer you an opinion, even if it’s just a consultation.

More from Credit.com:

TIME Education

The Next Great American Scientists Will Not Graduate From Harvard

beaker-liquid-lab
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Small classes, intense mentoring, and hands-on research make liberal arts colleges scientific breeding grounds

In response to billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson’s recently announced commitment of $400 million to support the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, the journalist Malcolm Gladwell summed up many people’s reactions in a single facetious tweet: “It came down to helping the poor or giving the world’s richest university $400 mil it doesn’t need. Wise choice John.”

That reaction is understandable—and wrong. This gift should be saluted, not derided.

If history is a guide, both cutting-edge science and Harvard University may be better long-term investments in “helping the poor” than almost any other philanthropic alternative.

The lifting effect on all humanity of research that successfully addresses intractable societal challenges of disease, nutrition, climate change, and poverty cannot be underestimated. With government and industry research dollars shrinking or plateauing, America’s competitive success in science and technology depends more than ever upon the excellence of our great research universities. And 21st-century science facilities and research do not come cheaply.

Those who decry “the rich get richer” phenomena of big-time philanthropy miss the point. The follow-up to magnificent gifts such as this, after applause, should be to ask who will produce the human capital to make use of the opportunities the gift will facilitate. Where will the future scientists who achieve the breakthroughs at Harvard, Stanford, and other research centers begin their careers as undergraduates?

One answer to that question: Small liberal arts colleges, which already provide a disproportionate share of the “seed corn” of students for graduate and post-graduate science. This includes not just national schools such as Amherst and Swarthmore, but lesser known (and much less well-funded) regional institutions such as Augsburg, Lawrence, and the 155-year-old private school where I was president, North Central College.

These schools have a remarkable record of inspiring careers in science that lead to important breakthroughs at the National Institutes of Health and the top research universities, and to numerous Nobel Prizes. In a recent 20-year span, according to former Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, of the 70 Americans who received their undergraduate education in this country and won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and medicine, 16—more than one in five—attended liberal arts colleges.

Former Howard Hughes Medical Institute President Tom Cech, himself a graduate of tiny Grinnell College and a Nobel Laureate, has noted that despite offering no doctoral programs of their own, “liberal arts colleges as a group produce about twice as many eventual science Ph.D.’s per graduate as do baccalaureate institutions in general.” And while private research universities such as Princeton, Stanford and Chicago are “more selective than any of the liberal arts colleges,” Cech has said, “their efficiency of production of Ph.D.’s, while excellent, lags behind that of the top liberal arts colleges.”

In a memorable speech to college presidents a few years ago, Tilghman, who is a molecular biologist, posed what she referred to as “the $64,000 question”: Why are liberal arts colleges so successful in producing this result?

The answer to her question is to be found in both the character of liberal arts education and the location of these small colleges. Many talented American students like to go to smaller colleges near home. Much to the consternation of academic elitists and economists who cannot understand why all the “smart” students don’t choose to attend the most selective universities as undergraduates, much of American higher education is regional. Many top students remain reluctant to go far away or to big universities—and, historically, it has been these students whom liberal arts colleges have nurtured and inspired and provoked into careers in science. A glance at the biographies of the Nobel Laureates referenced by Tilghman suggests how important proximity to these regional institutions has been to their growth and success.

But there’s a harder and more important question for the United States and the world that needs to be addressed. Will this seed corn of science—produced by small classes, intense mentoring experiences, and hands-on research opportunities at small liberal arts colleges—be there in the years to come?

Even though cutting-edge science facilities and opportunities on liberal arts college campuses are smaller in scale than major universities, they still don’t come cheaply! The more regional the institution, the more likely it is that it lacks the funding base that goes with national prestige and visibility.

There is an immense opportunity here for philanthropists who care as much about the future of American science as John Paulson. Why not establish a data-driven challenge grant program inviting liberal arts colleges struggling with the cost of upgrading their science facilities and programs to re-engage this vital element of their historic mission and societal role?

The great research universities such as Harvard would be the first beneficiaries of the seed corn that results from such a program. And eventually, thanks to the discoveries that would follow, the beneficiaries would include everyone.

Harold R. Wilde is president emeritus of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

5 Things I Learned From Writing Other People’s College Essays for Money

laptop
Getty Images

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

"I didn’t charge enough"

xojane

The year 2009 was a year of big changes for me. I graduated with my M.A. in Professional Writing. My husband and I moved across the country from Georgia to California. And the economy fell off a cliff.

I know what you’re thinking. Someone with a degree in “Professional Writing” should probably expect to have a hard time finding a job regardless of what’s happening in the economy, but I swear I thought this out.

Graduate school gave me tangible skills with classes in document design and editing. I had a great experience and you should all shake your heads sadly and learn from my choices.

I wasn’t worried because I have had a job since I was 15. So what if nobody’s hiring? Convenience store, call center, restaurant, doesn’t matter. I’ve worked them all and I have no shame.

After a few weeks I realized just how competitive the job market actually is in Los Angeles. Restaurants asked for head shots with my application. My master’s degree made every retail store give me the side eye. I was suddenly unqualified and overqualified for everything.

Aside from being underemployed, I quickly learned that LA is a super expensive city. Like $7 for a domestic draft beer expensive. My part-time job and unpaid internship kept me firmly at home watching television and eating ramen noodles every night while interest added up on my student loans.

My husband suggested that maybe I could make some money offering college students help with their college essays. Sure! After 19 years of school, I was definitely qualified to help someone with their homework.

I put together a Craigslist ad detailing my credentials and the responses started rolling in. But instead of “Could you edit my paper?” I was getting “Hey, just do my assignment” or “Could you take my online class?” Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so from 2009 to 2013 I wrote dozens of papers and took several online classes. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. People who buy papers come from every walk of life.

It’s easy to assume that all students who buy papers are 20-somethings using mom and dad’s money so they can spend more time being hungover. Sure, there are plenty of those, and those are the ones who were the most demanding and difficult to work with. 20 pages by tomorrow? I’m not a wizard, kid.

But aside from the ne’er do wells, there were non-traditional students who were having a rough time balancing work, family, and a full class load. These students often expressed a lot of guilt, and I have a lot of sympathy for the pressure they were under.

Finally, there were those who were simply overwhelmed and unable to do college level work. Students who bought papers from me went to community college, online programs, USC, and UCLA.

2. I didn’t charge enough.

I loved school, and I even had fun doing a lot of the assignments. Who has two thumbs and had a great time researching a paper about the religious symbolism in the movie Groundhog Day? This gal.

But I also cared too much. I got the same worried knot in the pit of my stomach every time an assignment was due, and I stressed over the work as if I were the one getting the grade. If I had to do it over again I would realize that $75 for a four-page paper that required research and MLA formatting was practically giving it away.

3. You probably won’t get caught.

In the beginning, I would tell students that it would be a good idea to take the paper I wrote and put it in their own words. You’d think it would be a glaring issue for a student who’s had trouble the entire semester to turn in an “A” paper that doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve written. You’d be wrong.

I know a handful of adjunct professors, and as long as the paper is original (meaning chunks of the writing isn’t being recycled from other papers or online sources) they often don’t have the time or support of the administration to accuse someone of plagiarism. I would also add that they don’t get paid enough to weed out people buying papers, but that’s another essay.

4. You really are only cheating yourself.

Do I feel guilty? A little, but mostly for the other students who are working hard and giving it “the old college try” and getting lumped in with people who are buying assignments. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.

People who avoid work in college will find other ways to get through life and it will either catch up with them, or they will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to find people to do their work.

5. We should really stop herding people into college.

I can’t tell you how many students couldn’t compose a simple email that told me what their assignment was and when it was due. Red flag right? Not for “for profit” colleges it isn’t. You got a pulse and qualify for student loans? You’re in!

These students lack basic skills and aren’t ready for college, but that doesn’t stop schools from signing them up for thousands of dollars in student debt. These institutions have much lower graduation rates than the national average and students from for-profit colleges are much more likely to default on their student loans. It’s still a tough economy out there and most of these folks will end up in the same position I was in 2009 — but without the skills to do other people’s homework for cash.

Beth Seaver wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

How to Make the Most of Summer College Courses

students-group-outdoor
Getty Images

Seek out unusual electives

There is something magical about college campuses during the summer months. The physical space is unchanged from the traditional academic year, but a feeling of quiet possibility infiltrates the empty lawns and unused classrooms. There are, of course, a hardy few who brave the summer term, and perhaps you are among them. If so, here are several basic considerations to help you maximize your summer college courses:

Remember that the summer term is compressed

Most American schools utilize the semester system, where each class you take is typically 15 weeks in length. Summer classes, however, are much shorter – often just four or six weeks long. This compressed schedule is ideal for introductory courses, so if you need to complete a prerequisite class or a general education requirement, the summer term can be an excellent opportunity to do so. For those courses that develop a theme over a period of weeks, and that benefit from in-depth discussion and writing, a shortened summer semester can sometimes be harmful.

Ultimately, learning takes time and practice. Before you register for a class, consider the course content, and decide whether you can master it at an accelerated pace. Remember that one effect of this compressed schedule is that falling behind in class becomes even more problematic. For example, in the summer microbiology courses that I teach, we still meet twice per week, but we cover 18 chapters of the textbook in 16 class sessions, rather than in 26. Begin studying on the first day of the semester, and stay current with your homework and reading.

Also be aware that this shortened schedule makes multitasking more difficult. Take a college where 15 semester hours is normally a full course load. During the summer, a 15-hour load might mean meeting for 22 hours, with all the extra work that entails outside of the classroom. My advice? Take a lighter course load during the summer.

Research possible instructors

Many summer classes are taught by adjuncts on short-term contracts. Most adjuncts love to teach, and they typically know their subjects very well. However, some adjuncts are hired mere days before the semester begins, and they are forced to make do with just a textbook and a copy of last summer’s syllabus. Before you enroll in a course, check the department website to see if the instructor is a full or associate professor. If the instructor is listed as an adjunct – or not listed at all – it is perfectly acceptable to contact the department office to ask about a teacher’s credentials and whether they have taught that class (or one like it) before. You may find that an adjunct with experience teaching a given course is the best possible scenario. Tenured professors are sometimes promoted based on research and publication record, with teaching performance a lesser consideration. Adjuncts, on the other hand, live and die by their abilities in the classroom.

Consider your long-term needs

Most departments schedule their core requirements in a way that encourages students to take them in a certain sequence. You will generally benefit most by following this sequence. If you are pursuing a double major, or if you are interested in a rarely-taught special topics course, summer may be your chance to complete an essential class. To be clear, courses offered in the summer are usually compressed versions of core requirements, but by taking a core requirement during the summer, you may be able to resolve a conflict with a rarely taught or specialized class during the regular school year.

Summer is also an excellent time to repeat a course (if necessary). If you did not do well on your first attempt, you may find that the summer section is taught by a different instructor with a teaching style that better suits your learning needs. The smaller class size, and your familiarity with the material, may also help you improve. Either way, the summer semester can be an important step in graduating on time.

Seek out unusual electives

One of the best uses of the summer semester is taking unusual courses that do not otherwise fit into your schedule. In biology, for example, the summer is an excellent time for classes focusing on ecology and field work. Multi-day expeditions do not work well during the regular school year because they interfere with other academic obligations. The summer session is also a great time for short courses in unusual settings, such as an art class in Rome, a literature course at the University of Oxford, or a science class in Hawaii.

You may find that the best use of your summer is to rest, or to complete an internship, or to work to save money for the regular academic school year. But if you do decide to take summer courses, a little planning can go a long way in maximizing your college experience.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

More from Varsity Tutors:

TIME Innovation

Why Religion Isn’t Good for Politics

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Religion in America is disappearing. That’s great for politics.

By Michael Shermer in Politico

2. What should we do if ISIS wins? Live with it.

By Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy

3. To get rid of Dengue fever, we’re modifying the mosquitoes that carry it.

By Marc Zimmer in the Conversation

4. Putin’s warlords are slipping out of control.

By Adrian Karatnycky in the New York Times

5. Don’t get a degree in a “hot” field.

By Peter Cappelli in Money

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY College

6 Financial Musts for New College Grads

New college grads on procession
Spencer Grant—Getty Images

Nail these moves and you're on your way to financial success.

You did it! You passed your finals, you graduated from college, and you even landed the coveted job you have been working so hard to get. So now what?

Many grads are carrying student loans that will be weighing them down for years to come. Since you’re facing plenty of new expenses—moving, rent, furniture, a suitable office wardrobe—now is a great time to make a financial plan. Here are six things every new graduate should do:

1. Make a budget

A good starting place for your monthly budget can be easily remembered as “50-30-20.” When you receive your first paycheck, sit down and figure out what your monthly take home pay will be. Out of that, put 50% toward needs such as rent, utilities, and groceries. Thirty percent goes toward “wants” such as shopping, entertainment, restaurants, and fun. The final 20% goes to your savings and debt repayment. If your student loans are substantial, you may have to flip the percentages so that 30% goes towards debt repayment and 20% toward wants. By following this plan, you can quickly put a dent in those loans.

2. Manage your debt

Student loans often have multiple tranches with varying interest rates that can be fixed or variable. Your best option is to pay off the loans with the highest interest rates first, though that practice is far less common than you might think. When the time comes to start repaying, access your student debt details online to figure out the interest rates for each tranche. Pay the minimum towards the balances with the lowest interest rates and make your largest debt payments on the balance with the highest interest rate. The biggest mistake you can make is paying the minimum into each loan and waiting until you “make more money when you’re older” to deal with them.

3. Prepare for emergencies

An emergency savings account is the best way to plan for the unexpected. What would you do if your car breaks down and you need $800 to get it fixed? If your laptop stops working and you need one for work, how will you buy a new laptop? What would you do if you lost your phone? People often go into debt to cover unexpected expenses, but it’s a problem that can be solved with a little planning. By contributing a small amount of each paycheck into a conservative investment saving account, you can be better prepared to pay for life’s inevitable emergencies.

4. Take advantage of a 401(k) match

Most employers offer 401(k) retirement plans and many offer some form of a match. A traditional 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows you to save and invest a portion of your paycheck before taxes are taken out, thus decreasing your tax liability. When an employer offers a match, they are matching your contributions, often up to a certain percentage of your income. By choosing not to fully participate in these programs, you are effectively turning down free money from your employer.

Some employers also offer a Roth 401(k), where your contribution is made with after-tax dollars (meaning that you pay the taxes now) and the funds grow tax-free for retirement. The Roth 401(k) is often seen as the better option for younger investors who are typically in a lower tax bracket and who would not get as much benefit from a tax deduction today as they would in retirement.

5. Open a Roth IRA

Similar to a Roth 401(k), a Roth IRA is an individual retirement account allowing you to invest up to $5,500 for the 2015 tax year. These accounts are often considered ideal for younger investors, who may benefit from decades of tax-free compounded growth. Investing $5,500/year from age 22 to age 30 may create an account of more than $1 million when you’re using those funds in your retired years. If you invested the same amount annually but waited until your 30s to start, your account might be worth half as much. For Roth IRA contributions in the 2015 tax year, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $116,000 if you’re single (or a combined $183,000 if married.)

6. Automate your savings

By setting up automatic transfers from your checking account to your Roth IRA and emergency savings, you’re effectively drawing money straight from your paycheck. This allows your plan to be put into action with minimal maintenance and oversight on your end.

Congratulations, graduate! With these six tips you could be on your way to a successful financial future.

Voya Retirement Coach Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

MONEY College

More Parents Say They Won’t Pay Their Kids’ Tuition Bill

150609_FF_ParentsWontPay
Tim Robberts—Getty Images

The reason: they can't afford it.

As the cost of attending college continues to dramatically increase, parents of college-bound students are rethinking their role in helping their children earn degrees. Sixteen percent of parents with children ages 16 to 18 who plan to attend college said they will not be helping their kids pay for school, up from 12% in 2013, according to the latest edition of an annual survey from Discover Student Loans. That 16% figure is the same as it was in 2014.

Parents who do plan to pay for college may not be paying as much as parents used to: 24% said they couldn’t afford to pay anything (compared to 21% in 2014 and 2013), but the most common answer (31%) is that the parent plans to cover up to 25% of education expenses. Only 9% said they can pay for all of it (down from 11% in 2014 and 2013), 8% said they could pay for three-quarters of it (down from 11% last year and 12% the year before), and 18% think they can cover half the cost (19% in 2014 and 18% in 2013 said the same).

The trend continues: This year, a greater share of parents said their children will borrow student loans to pay for school (54%, up 2 percentage points from last year and 4 points from 2013), though 20% aren’t sure if their kids will need to take out loans, which is a lot of uncertainty for students so close to the traditional enrollment age.

Based on the responses to the survey, money is a huge concern for these parents: 58% said they are very worried about that student loan debt will affect their children’s ability to buy a home, a car or another large purchase, up slightly from 55% in 2014. It seems they want their kids to get a grip on their future finances, as well: 47% said earning potential after graduation is more important to their children’s education than their major (up 7 percentage points from 2014), and 44% said they would be more likely to fund education expenses if their children majored in fields with a higher likelihood of getting a job — just 33% of parents said that last year.

So, college students of the near future, take note: You might want to talk to your parents about how to approach paying for college, because it looks like you’re going to be responsible for some of it, if not bearing the vast majority or all of the expense. Using student loans to finance your education isn’t an inherently bad choice, but if you’re not careful about anticipating your expenses and future earnings, you could end up in a very difficult financial situation upon graduation. Student loans must be repaid — they’re rarely discharged in bankruptcy — and falling behind or defaulting on the debt will seriously damage your credit standing, which you need to buy or rent a home, get a car or even access utilities, without having to pay a hefty deposit. If you’re not sure where you stand credit-wise, there are many ways to get your credit scores for free.

This is the fourth edition of the Discover Student Loans survey, which includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults with college-bound 16- to 18-year-olds. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

More from Credit.com:

MONEY

Why You Shouldn’t Get a College Degree In a “Hot” Job Field

Advertisement for Baruch College of CUNY on the side of a NYC transit bus
Frances Roberts—Alamy Advertisement for Baruch College of CUNY on the side of a NYC transit bus

Do you really want that degree in international tourism? Probably not, says Wharton professor Peter Cappelli.

A big move on many college campuses has been the proliferation of degrees and majors that sound just like job titles: Golf course operations, screenwriting, pharmaceutical marketing, you name it. There is no official count of these majors, but websites like mymajors.com list more than 1,800, along with the colleges that offer them. Ads on the street in any major city make the pitch that you can get a job in healthcare records administration, construction management, or something equally specialized with a degree from the advertised school.

There have always been degrees that seemed aimed primarily at getting the graduate a job. “Business” has been the most popular major in the U.S. since the 1981 recession. As I discuss in my new book, Will College Pay Off?: A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make, what’s different now is that these degrees and majors target specific job titles rather than occupations or broad fields. A number of studies find that students do chose majors based on their guess of where the jobs are. Currently students are following the advice to get so-called STEM (for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degrees.

There are many good reasons why attending college to prepare you for specific jobs is a bad idea. The first one, which is pretty basic, is that it’s almost impossible when picking a college to predict what the job market will look like years later at graduation, especially recognizing that only 40% of full-time students graduate in four years. What will you do with that casino management degree if gambling is down the year you graduate and casinos aren’t hiring? You might well be better off with a broad, liberal arts degree.

The unpredictability of the job market even applies to STEM fields. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it turns out math and science degrees per se are not and have never been particularly hot. A recent Texas study found, for example, that sociology grads made more money than biology grads. Instead, it has generally been applied science degrees like engineering that have been gone through periods of huge demand—but even within those broad fields, what’s hot at any given moment varies sharply over time.

In the past few years, for instance, the hottest job by far for new grads has been petroleum engineering, which had a dead job market until fracking unexpectedly revived it a few years earlier. Unfortunately, as new students follow advice to pursue hot jobs, graduates have been pouring out of petroleum engineering programs just as declining oil prices are smothering new exploration. Of course, freshly minted petroleum engineers can’t necessarily transform themselves into the next hot kind of engineer, so they very well may be stuck.

The general point about these engineering and tech jobs, as economist Richard Freeman observed decades ago, is that they are highly cyclical. As new technologies develop, they boom; and later they bust, partly because students pouring into hot job markets helps cool them off.

Nor do people stay in these technical fields for long, in part because possibilities for advancement are limited. In the peak of the dot.com era, for example, only 29% of grads with science and engineering degrees were in those fields two years later.

Most tellingly, employers don’t seem all that interested in vocational degrees. When asked about new grads, employers report that they are probably overqualified with respect to the job skills the employers expected them to have and underqualified in the areas we thought college was supposed to address: communication skills, interpersonal abilities, and self-management.

When asked what they look for in new college grads, a recent survey shows that employers are overwhelming interested in experiences outside the classroom, such as any kind of work experience students have had. (Of their top five criterion, “college major” is the only academic attribute.) This isn’t very surprising given that only 25% of new grads report getting a job in their major—not unexpected if your major was philosophy, but a disaster if it was fire prevention management.

The truth is, it isn’t necessary to have a degree in a field to get a job in that field. Most computer programmers, for example, have no IT-related degree. A few specific classes and some real-world experience, even if as a volunteer, may be enough to get a job in most fields, and those actions can be taken much closer to graduation when it is possible to tell where the jobs are.

How about the long-term, after that first job? Taking all the practical courses for a vocational major means there are other courses one cannot take that might be better preparation for the long run. Economist Ofer Malamud did an interesting study comparing English college grads, who typically study only one subject in college, to Scottish grads, who take a broader mix of courses before focusing on a specialization. He found that the English grads changed careers more often (possibly because they knew less about alternatives) and had more difficulty making those changes (possibly because of narrower preparation) than did their Scottish peers.

So is it worth getting that degree in international tourism? The college course in probability (that you wouldn’t have time to take) says “no.”

Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources. He is also the author of numerous books, including his most recent, Will College Pay Off?: A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make.

TIME career

How to Talk to New Grads About Finding a Job

college-grad-standing
Getty Images

Be there in a productive way

It can’t be easy watching your beloved, talented, educated money pit child walk off that graduation stage, diploma in hand…and move back home with no job prospects. Last summer when I graduated with a couple of freelance jobs but looking for something full-time, I was lucky that my parents mostly employed the strategy they had been using with me since the fourth grade: “She’s got it.” They were always supportive but never pestered me about what progress I had made that day, where I was applying, who I had reached out to, because they knew I was on top it. And guess what? Their trust in me gave me much more confidence in my job search than constant nagging would have.

Any expert and anyone who has been there can tell you that self-esteem is the thing that takes the biggest hit during unemployment. Trust me, your kids are just as eager to find a job as you are for them to have one. They know you’ve just spent thousands of dollars on their education, and (I hope) they are endlessly grateful. They desperately want to have an answer to the question, “Where are you working?” Social media is there with unrelenting reminders of what isn’t true but certainly feels like it is: “EVERYONE HAS A JOB EXCEPT YOU, LOSER.” In short, they’re downright terrified. (For confirmation on that, just read this piece I wrote last year, “Fears of a New Graduate.”) From talking to many friends who have been through this difficult situation with their parents in the past year, here is some friendly advice for being there for your child in a productive way during the job search.

1. Don’t micromanage.

You know your kid, and maybe he or she is someone who needs an extra push to get things done. But either way, trying to micromanage your adult child’s career is ill-advised. I just read a truly horrifying anecdote in Aliza Licht’s new book Leave Your Mark about an insistent mother who called DKNY repeatedly seeking a job for her daughter. She literally sent an email with the subject line, “A job for my daughter.” While I doubt that most parents reach that degree of desperation (God I hope), it is an extreme illustration of the difficulty in watching your college graduate look for a job, and your natural desire to help in any way possible. Don’t go down that path. At this point, the kids are officially raised—you have to trust they’re equipped to find a job on their own.

2. Trust their unconventional choices.

I have written about nine successful millennials who did something after graduation other than start a full-time job. Your child’s career path might not look like you expected it to. In fact it almost certainly won’t, given the rapidly changing job market. One of my friends said one of the things he appreciated most about his parents was that they never questioned his unusual career choices, in particular one summer when he took an internship at Sesame Street. This may have seemed crazy at the time, but the internship turned out to be an eye-opening experience that motivated him to go to law school. The paths to success are many, and multiplying every day.

3. Be realistic in your expectations.

When that same friend found himself applying to law schools two years later, his dad insisted that he apply to all of the Ivy Leagues, despite my friend explaining that his GPA was below the threshold they even considered. Not very productive. This goes double for your sons and daughters seeking jobs right now. Sure, it’s getting better, but it’s tough out there. You can’t expect them to send applications one week, have an interview the next, and be sitting down at their new desk the week after that. Asking, “have you heard anything yet?” every day will only make them frustrated and demoralized. You also can’t expect them to be searching for a job eight hours a day–yes finding a job is a full-time job, but other goals or even social events can be equally essential.

4. Don’t throw their financial status in their faces.

I’m not in a position to tell anyone how to parent, but I am in a position to determine whether someone is being rude. If you agreed to let your child live in your house and they are obeying the terms of that agreement, it is unfair and wrong to throw that fact back in their face if they are clearly making an effort to find a job. Yes, they live in your house again and you’re allowed to impose whatever rules you see fit. You can make them do the dishes every day, shovel the driveway, hand wash your unmentionables, whatever. But using “well you’re living here for free!” as an angry or passive aggressive jab is not only cruel but insanely counter-productive. (Pro tip: Making someone feel like a loser is not conducive to that person rocking an interview and landing a job).

5. Don’t make comparisons to “when I graduated.”

“When I graduated I had four six-figure offers…” Stop right there. You’re different people, you have different paths in life. But even if your child is in the exact same profession as you, that comparison is flat out untenable. Most millennials graduated during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and this year’s graduates are still feeling its effects. During our Great Recession, the unemployment rate for those over 34 peaked at about eight percent, but unemployment between the ages of 18 and 34 peaked at 14 percent in 2010 and remains elevated. According to Pew Research we are the first generation ever to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same age. We all know it’s not the same, so don’t make the mistake of acting like it is.

6. Support them, love them…

…in the same way you’ve been doing for the past 22 years. Thanks for that by the way. I hope that I speak for my generation when I say that we appreciate it more than you know.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com.

More from Levo.com:

MONEY Student Loans

Students With Highest Loan Debt Are The Least Likely to Earn a Degree

150608_FF_InequalityStuDebt
Yuri Arcurs—Getty Images

Debt levels vary greatly by race and socioeconomic status.

The rising cost of attending college has had a serious impact on the finances of most students and their families, but the burden has been distributed unequally. Various studies point to the negative, long-term effects of taking on education debt, and considering debt levels vary greatly by race and socioeconomic status, there’s concern over how trying to get a college education actually exacerbates inequality in America.

Demos, a progressive public policy organization, published “The Debt Divide” in May to highlight research that points to growing inequality in higher education and how that translates to postgraduate well-being. The 30-page report covers a lot of ground, citing data from Department of Education surveys, the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances, Gallup polls and other existing research, and some of the figures may give you a different perspective on the state of education debt in the U.S.

1. Black and low-income students borrow more than others to receive a bachelor’s degree.

Among bachelor’s degree recipients in 2012, black graduates from public colleges borrowed an average of of $29,344, compared with $25,807 for white graduates and $23,441 for Hispanic or Latino graduates. For those who earned degrees from private nonprofit schools, debt levels were understandably higher (they’re more expensive, generally), but white students borrowed significantly less than the other two subgroups. Hispanic or Latino graduates took on an average of $36,266 in debt, black graduates had $35,477 and white graduates had $31,508.

There’s a similar gap when looking at the wealth of student borrowers. Students who received Pell Grants (which are awarded on basis of financial need) had higher education debt loads than those who did not receive Pell Grants. For public-school graduates, the difference in debt was $27,307 (Pell recipient) to $22,888, and at private nonprofits, it was $34,206 and $30,089.

2. White and high-income students are least likely to take out student loans.

At public institutions of higher educations, Latino students are least likely to have debt — about 63% borrow, the same as white students, and Latino students borrowed an average of $2,400 less than white students. Other than that, white students have the lowest debt burdens and are least likely to borrow in the first place.

The vast majority of black students use loans to pay for college. Among those who graduated from a public school, 81% had student loans, and 86% of private school graduates had student loans. Latino students at private schools were most likely to have debt, with 87% graduating with loan balances.

The difference is much more stark when you look at income level. At public schools, 84% of students who receive Pell Grants also graduate with student loans, compared to 46% of those who don’t receive Pell Grants, and at private schools, 91% of Pell recipients take on debt (60% of those without Pell Grants took out loans in order to graduate from a private school).

3. Black and low-income students are most likely to finance an associate’s degree.

Less than half (42%) of associate’s-degree earners take out student loans. If they do, it’s more likely they are black and have received need-based aid: 57% of black students who graduate with associate’s degrees have student loans, and 55% of Pell recipients have student loans from two-year degrees. Those students also take on more debt than other people with associate’s degrees.

4. A lot of education debt among Latino and black students comes from for-profit education.

If you attend a for-profit college, it’s highly likely you need student loans to do so: 86% of white students, 89% of Latino students and 90% of black students take out loans to get a bachelor’s degree from a for-profit college. The fact that blacks and Latinos make up a significant portion of the for-profit student population intensifies the debt inequality. Nationwide, black and Latino students account for 29% of college students, but they make up 45% of the for-profit student body.

5. Dropout rates are higher among poor students and black students.

While taking on a lot of debt to earn a degree has its negative repercussions, those people generally reap the benefits of having a college education, which helps with the high debt load. Most people who default on student loans are those who never got their degrees, meaning they have to try to tackle their loan payments without the benefit of higher earning potential. Not only are white and high-income students dealing with statistically lower debt loads, they’re also most likely to graduate.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are black and low-income students who take on the most student loan debt, and they’re least likely to earn a degree with it. Thirty-nine percent of black student borrowers drop out (according to 2009 data), compared to 31% of Latino borrowers and 29% of white borrowers. The greatest gap comes from where the students start financially: Those who are at 200% or less of the poverty line are much more likely to drop out (38% did), while those with family income more than twice the poverty level had a lower dropout rate of 23%.

Student loan debt is a concern among most people these days, but it’s far more burdensome for some groups. When taken on in affordable amounts and managed well, student loans can be a great investment in your future, and repayment can help you establish a good credit history. However, because loan payments can soak up a significant amount of borrowers’ resources, student loan debt can make the many years after graduation less financially productive. Because student loans are rarely dischargeable in bankruptcy, they need to be a top priority if borrowers hope to achieve financial stability and a good credit standing. As the statistics show, that’s a lot easier for some consumers than for others.

More From Credit.com:

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com