It is sometimes easier to lump groups of similar people together under broad guidelines for comparison purposes. That is what we loosely do when we look at the generations – there are the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and now the Millennials. Generally thought of as those born between 1981 and 1997, the Millennials are quickly becoming the dominant cultural group. Their actions and beliefs will shape the direction of society for many years to come.
On the other hand, though, there can be wide discrepancies within these broad generational guidelines. Millennials who are over 30 have a very different outlook on money, college and life than their younger cohorts who are just entering college. In fact, “Millennials & College Planning,” a report compiled by Junior Achievement USA in collaboration with PwC, points out some very strong differences between the two age groups:
• Learning From Their Elders: While older Millennials blazed a path in computer access and social media usage, they didn’t always make the wisest choices when it came to money decisions. The result is that Millennials in their 30s are struggling with student loan debt, credit card debt, car loans and mortgage payments. The younger Millennials are taking notice, and giving more thought to where they will attend college and how they will pay for it.
• Number One Doesn’t Always Come True: More of the older Millennials decided to attend their number one choice of college, regardless of the costs involved, but the younger Millennials aren’t quite so sure. They are making choices based on the amount of financial aid available, actual out-of-pocket costs and student loans, and long-term value of the education received.
• They are Thinking Twice About Student Loans: Older Millennials might have gotten in over their heads with student loans by taking out the maximum amount and not thinking clearly about how they spent the funds. While still realizing that student loans are a useful way of helping to pay for the college dream, younger Millennials are thinking more about the long-term impact on their lives.
Despite some of the financial concerns, younger Millennials still agree that a four-year degree is a valuable investment, and is almost a requirement in today’s job market. Combined with internships and part-time job experiences, a college degree often results in students who are better prepared to enter the workforce and command higher salary levels.
The biggest takeaway for the youngest Millennials is to think very carefully about the actions they are taking when it comes to selecting a college and paying for it. They, and their parents, have learned from their peers who may have made some financial mistakes, that attending college is crucial, but they should also make smart decisions when it comes to comparing financial aid offers and taking on student loan debt. Perhaps the lessons they learn will be passed on to the next generation of college students, who will learn how to make even better choices.