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I Wish I'd Known This When I First Went to College!
“Why should I care about a college education? Look at all these graduates who can’t get a job in this economy! Plus they have all those student loans to pay off! The only reason to go is to party and put off the time when you have to become a responsible adult! Plus being a minority (or female), what are my chances of graduating, anyway?”
This is a common sentiment nowadays. While it’s popular to blame the government, people must consider that as recently as the 1950s, a college education was a privilege for wealthy children. Those who didn’t have a rich daddy to finance it pretty much had to rely on the community to scrape together resources, which they only did for stellar high school students. Since the 1960s, all sorts of options abound, and now virtually anyone can go to a university. On the downside, this has produced a lot of people who are “overqualified” for the only jobs they’re fit to do. Plus, look at the statistics; only 54% of entering freshman graduate within 6 years, 60% of college graduates don’t work in their chosen field, and two thirds of students today graduate with student loan debt, the average amount being $50,000.
Obviously, more opportunities do not guarantee success. So how can you make the most of your university experience? Here are ten things to do.
1) Make your plans and choose your major BEFORE you go. A main reason there are so many university graduates who can’t get a job is because they didn’t make serious plans. One of the worst mistakes you can commit is to go without a clear cut idea of what you want. You may not even need a university degree; depending on your career choice, a business or trade school may be more appropriate. If you really want to go and can’t decide on a major, it is best to take general ed courses at a junior college. They’re much cheaper, and they have counselors who can help you choose a career. (The difference between a college and a university is that a university is a collection of colleges, and you can obtain a 4 year degree there.)
2) Keep your high school grades up! No matter how good a high school student you are, you will need a new level of study skills once you enter the university, so the better you are here, the easier the transition will be. Also, high grades will get you more scholarships and grants, and make it easier to enter the university of your choice.
3) Get all the scholarships and grants you can. Universities are expensive. Besides tuition, there are books, student fees, meals, transportation expenses, dorm rent, parking fees, ad-nauseum. Campus jobs are part time and don’t pay well. The last thing you need is to be worrying about expenses while you’re trying to study; that can bring down your grades, and hamper your social life as well. Sure, there are student loans, but do you really want to start your post graduate life with a huge load of debt? So research your scholarship options carefully long before you go.
Many are based on grade point average, sports, or various activities you can take part in while still in high school. Others are need-based. You can even locate a number of obscure ones offered by various companies, or which reward according to your ethnic background, or if you’re related to a famous person from another century. Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships and grants are never claimed, either because no one knows about them, or they don’t bother to apply. Seeking them out may be difficult, but not nearly as bad as the results of not doing so!
P.S. Regarding part time low wage campus jobs - make sure you take courses in high school that will enable you to earn a living wage! Not only will that help you cover university expenses, it will provide a boost to getting an internship (more on that later).
4) Learn how to study.Most universities have study groups, tutoring services, and seminars available. Take advantage of them. They’re usually free, and will help you get the most for your tuition money. Rather than laboring over a book only to fail the exam the next day, they teach you how to pick out highlights and get more studying done in less time. You will retain the knowledge better for when you graduate and work in your field, and in the meantime, you will acquire research skills to gain additional knowledge if you suddenly find you need it. (Quick note; you can visit community college study groups while still in high school!)
Maintaining high grades while attending the university will also enable you to get into graduate school if you choose to go; most graduate schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0.
5) If you’re given a lot of homework, rejoice! In the past, students had to listen to lectures, and were given 3 midterms and a final in a semester. Do you realize how hard it is to learn and do well on tests under those circumstances? Homework helps reinforce what’s being taught, and you’ll retain it long after graduation. (Incidentally, this applies to high school as well!) If you don't get a lot of homework, invest in a textbook study guide. You may even be able to create one yourself, with the questions at the end of each chapter.
6) Take advantage of what the library, social clubs, public speakers etc., have to offer. Universities are fabulous places for learning about the world! When I lived in Silicon Valley, my favorite activity was hanging out at Stanford University. I joined the Stanford Outing Club, which was run out of their International Center, and got to explore all sorts of really neat hidden corners of the San Francisco Bay Area. We visited hot springs in the back country of Big Sur, camped at Mt.Lassen, and hiked to the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The International Center hosted a dinner from various countries in the world every Sunday evening; it only cost $5, and later on, they would show a movie for free. And this was just one part of it! Stanford also has an African American dorm which puts on a classy club dance one night in late January every year, and a French dorm that runs a restaurant during winter quarter. Stanford Memorial Church has non-denominational services with thoughtful sermons preached there. Bishop Desmond Tutu even gave a speech there once, in the mid 1980s! And President Clinton’s daughter attended there in the fall of 1994. I could go on and on about Stanford University, but that would fill an entire hub. Just keep your eyes and ears open to what’s happening on your university campus. I guarantee, you’ll never run out of things to do!
P.S. For those escaping the ghetto, this is the best opportunity for that! The most important thing to remember is to leave ghetto values (racism, narrow-mindedness, cynicism, troublemaking tendencies) behind. For women who are man-hunting, this is also an excellent opportunity, but make sure you remain on track and get your degree, or you could wind up stranded later if your husband decides you’re too much of a liability and leaves you with the kids.
P.P.S. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not necessarily the type of degree that's most likely to land a good job. It's social skills. I once had a co-worker who had majored in Art, and was working part time drawing diagrams for biology textbooks. She was earning a great living, and they kept trying to get her to work full time. On the other hand, I met a Stanford student who had a Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering who had just gotten his first job - packing boxes! SOCIAL SKILLS AND NETWORKING IS KEY!!!
7) The best time to tour overseas is the summer of your sophomore year. The best time to study overseas is your junior year. When it comes to living in a foreign country on a budget, nothing beats studying overseas! Often, tuition is the same as your home campus, and it is covered by scholarships and grants. To facilitate your choice, many travel companies, such as Club Europa, offer budget tours for college students. Many people don’t get a chance to visit foreign countries once they’ve begun their work lives, so take advantage of this while you can!
Touring during the summer of your sophomore year and studying overseas your junior year will facilitate your graduating from the institution you began, which keeps you more on track.
8) GET AN INTERNSHIP!!! Especially in this economy, it can be really hard to get a job without experience, so get it while you’re still in college. This will also reinforce what you’re learning in class. Just one thing to beware of; there are a lot of bogus internships out there that don’t teach you anything, and they just mess with you, setting you up to fail. Get plenty of counseling from your professors and the career center before you choose one.
The late great Michael Jackson (who broke all sorts of racist barriers long before he reached 30, and became a technological whiz with a mere high school degree) greatly emphasized the importance of learning everything you can, and being better at your subject than everyone else. This was the secret to his success. So don't limit yourself by doing the bare minimum to get by; make the most of your university experience! Get an internship, and demand the best!
9) While in college, save money for your moving and living expenses after graduation. Where will you live? Do you want to go back home, or stay in your university town? This is important, because you will need moral support during the difficult months of adjustment after graduation. Financially, you need to be ready, so you won’t have to crash at someone’s house and be at their mercy. These costs to move into your own place should be included: first month’s rent plus deposit, enough money to turn on utilities, furniture for your new place, and at least 1 month’s worth of expenses as emergency savings in the bank (absolute minimum $1000). Being financially secure will enable you to better focus on your new job. You should already be working; that will serve as your credit rating to move into an apartment. Most require your monthly earnings be three times the rent.
10) Remember, your learning does not end when you graduate; it is only the beginning.The real learning starts afterwards; college merely prepares you for assessing new situations and dealing with them. While in college, you acquire your knowledge through books and lab experiments, and assess how well you do through tests. In real life, you're given the test without the schoolwork, and failure involves factors far worse than a mere letter grade.
Example: a doctor treating someone with a particular disease needs to know what he’s doing. Does the patient need surgery, medication, or simply a change in lifestyle? Perhaps a combination of all three? The doctor can choose to have the patient try each of these options, but if any of them result in permanent disability, the doctor could be sued and have his reputation ruined – then all that education, expense, and years of training go down the drain. If the patient dies as a result of faulty advice given by the doctor, he could be held criminally negligent. This doesn’t apply strictly to the medical field; others on which public trust depends, such as lawyers, tax accountants, farmers, ranchers, even buyers for department and grocery stores, need to understand the cause and effect of decisions they make. Not doing so may cost them their livelihoods, or far worse.
In other words, once you enter the working world, you'd better know your stuff; either that, or be able to accurately research it!
I have presented ten things to do to have a successful college experience. I only have one don’t; here it is.
Do not - I repeat, DO NOT!!! get involved in the keg party scene!
Colleges are unfortunately notorious for frat and toga parties, underage binge drinking, wild orgies, and the like, but remember, that's not what you're there for! Sure, there are a lot of older people who laugh, even brag, about their “misspent youth”, but students who indulge in it usually drop out. Those who manage to graduate often can’t find jobs in their fields, and are "overqualified" for what they can do, because of lack of planning; thus, their degree winds up being a hindrance rather than an asset. Many become alcoholics, even drug addicts if they mess with it. Also, most college rapes occur in that setting. As you can see, this scene is worse than worthless. You have nothing to gain by it, and a lot to lose.
If you're busy with the abovementioned 10 ideas, you won't have time to waste on this, anyway. Some people may tell you that you can always go back and finish your degree, or get another one, but believe me, it's NOT THAT SIMPLE!!! There are few scholarships for people who are partway through college, and NONE for those who already have degrees; you need student loans for those, and the government has put a cap on how many times you can borrow. Also, there is major discrimination against people who have degrees and are returning for something more useful. So it is EXTREMELY important you do it right the first time!
I wish I'd known all this when I first set out to go to the university! I'll spare you the nasty details. All I will say is, MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR OPPORTUNITIES!!!
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas