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In a Recession, is College Worth It?

USA TODAY

August 31, 2009

Graduates of elite schools contend that attending such a school gives them an edge in a tough job market.

Michelle Talbert, 39, has more than $90,000 in student loans from her undergraduate studies at Cornell University and law school at the University of Pennsylvania.

She recently was laid off by a law firm in Fairfax, Va., where she was a corporate associate specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Talbert says the connections she made in college helped her obtain contract work. Her current salary varies from month to month.

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“I’m really enthusiastic about not letting circumstances that could appear to be a hurdle stop you from achieving a dream,” says Talbert, a mother of two who got her undergraduate degree when she was 30. “For me, my dream was to go to college and go to law school.”

College financial aid specialists say students should take a hard look at average salaries in their chosen profession before taking out student loans.

“If you think you want to be a preschool teacher, you should be more hesitant about borrowing than if you think you’re going to be an engineer,” Baum says.

Darla Horn says that if she had to do it all over, she would have taken a year off to figure out what she wanted to do with her life before attending college.

“Some kids know what they want — they want to go to medical school, or become doctors or lawyers,” she says.

“But for someone that doesn’t know what direction they want to head in, I would say, take a break, get to know yourself a little more, before you spend thousands of dollars on an education.”

Should you take a year off to travel before college?