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Paper baron's advice to college-bound freshmen

  • Mark Sutton, CEO of International Paper, discusses how he chose Louisiana State University.
  • To college-bound freshman, he says, "college is a great time to build for your future so make the most of it."

Mark Sutton, CEO of International Paper, the top maker of paper and packaging in North America, started near the bottom.

Sutton graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana State University. He joined International Paper in 1984 as an engineer at the Pineville, Louisiana, mill and has been with the company ever since. He became CEO in 2014.

Of his early days, Sutton said he chose LSU primarily because he wanted to get an engineering degree and stay in his home state.

For high schoolers weighing their college options, in-state schools can be far more affordable than a private university. Families with students in four-year private colleges spent about $43,900 in 2015-16; at four-year public colleges, it was less than $20,000, according to the College Board. (For in-state students at LSU, tuition is less than $10,000 a year.)

Still, Sutton recalls, the transition was overwhelming.

With more than 25,000 students, the school was "almost a city unto itself," he said, and at that capacity, Sutton's freshman dorm had to be housed in LSU's illustrious Tiger Stadium.

Mark Sutton, CEO, International Paper
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Mark Sutton, CEO, International Paper

In addition to the sheer size, the school, based in Baton Rouge, felt complete with a "culture centered around music and food," he said, "we lived that every day on campus."

For those on the cusp of their own school start, he offers this advice to college-bound freshmen: "Be an active learner," he said. "Regardless of the degree that you are choosing, explore different courses and things that you are interested in; college is a great time to build for your future so make the most of it."

"I enjoyed the entire experience," Sutton said of his college days. But the best part? "I met my wife at LSU."

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