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How (and Why) to Make the Most of Business School The unemployment rate for recent college graduates is higher than the general public's. Here's how to avoid joining that majority.

By Peter Gasca

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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It has long been the case statistically that those who earned a university degree made more money over their lifetime than individuals who did not complete college. For the most part, college was one of the best investments of time, energy and money a young professional could make. Today, however, that is becoming less and less the case.

Part of the reason for the diminishing return is the meteoric rise of college tuition prices. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and adjusted for inflation, the cost of tuition from 1995-'96 to 2016-'17 rose 178 percent at public four-year institutions and 157 percent at private four-year institutions. At two-year schools, tuition during this same time has risen over 124 percent.

According to the NCES, during the 2016-'17 academic year, the per-year cost for undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board was just over $17,200 at public institutions, $44,500 at private nonprofit institutions and $25,400 at private for-profit institutions.

The stats were not much better for graduate schools. In just the 10 years from 2007-'08 to 2017-'18, the cost of tuition of a master's degree rose 45 percent in public universities and 16 percent in private institutions, according to CollegeBoard.org.

Making matters worse, the New York Federal Reserve recently reported that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is now slightly higher than the general public, something that has not happened in decades. For those recent graduates who have been able to find employment, two out of five are employed in positions that do not require a college degree and earn an average of $25,000.

Related: Top 25 Best Graduate Programs for Entrepreneurs in 2020

This trend does not seem to be changing soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy is estimated to continue creating these lower-paying jobs that do not require a degree, with the fastest-growing occupations forecast to be those with average salaries from $24,000 to $26,500.

That is not the whole story, however. In fact, there is a significant shortage of people for "new collar" business industries, or those jobs that require non-traditional business skillsets, such as data analytics, computer science and engineering. Why are so many students not pursuing these abundant and high-paid business jobs? Simply put, business schools are not keeping up with the rapidly evolving curriculum needs and, maybe more important, students tend to avoid non-traditional and more challenging classes.

So how do young students — and middle-aged professionals seeking a career change or to "upskill" — get the most of the university expense? Here are a few tips to get the highest rate of return for your college tuition.

Find Your Purpose

Before even thinking about university, students need a plan. This includes a serious and conscious effort to identify and understand why you want or need to go to school. It starts with a personal vision (purpose) and a series of specific and measurable goals. It is also worth researching which skills are needed for the job you are seeking, then pursuing only those classes that help you achieve your vision.

And, in the end, if you determine that college is not needed, or there are faster and less expensive ways to achieve your academic goals, you should consider them.

Prioritize Experience

More recruiters these days are looking for pertinent experience over academic achievements. Why? Because what differentiates new graduates is a proven capability to perform. For young students or career changers, this can be a frustrating conundrum: How do you get experience if nobody is willing to hire you?

Seek out jobs and internships during school that pertain to your career path over jobs that simply pay well, such as a server in a popular tourist area. Understandably, students need to pay bills and eat, but real experience will provide longer lasting benefits if you are willing to make the short-term sacrifice.

Take an Active Role

There is no shortage of college clubs and organizations available to students, from the finance club to the marketing association to the rock-climbing group. The problem is that many students join groups but never take an active role. They attend meetings from time to time, thinking that having the club listed on a resume will help. In reality, recruiters look for involvement, not membership.

Also, choose your university organizations wisely. Seek out those that offer events, networks and opportunities that connect you in your industry. And, if a student group does not offer these opportunities, or perhaps does not exist, take a leadership role and make it happen.

Related: Top Colleges and Business Schools for Entrepreneurs

Network, Network, Network

There are few opportunities better than college to build a professional network. By meeting and engaging with faculty and instructors in your field of interest, you can build a list of people who can promote you and speak to your initiative and ambition. Attend recruiting and guest speaker events and make a dedicated effort to meet the individuals personally. After, reach out and connect on LinkedIn or send a personal note of gratitude. Great professional networks happen over time, so start building early.

Finally, do not overlook the value of your classmates. Someday, your network of classmates, who shared the same experience, will end up being your support system, whether starting a business and seeking a co-founder or simply seeking a job. And generally speaking, these people will end up being friends for life.

Peter Gasca

Management and Entrepreneur Consultant

Peter Gasca is an author and consultant at Peter Paul Advisors. He also serves as Executive-in-Residence and Director of the Community and Business Engagement Institute at Coastal Carolina University. His book, One Million Frogs', details his early entrepreneurial journey.

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