Recently I have been in what I will call a season of “reflection”. Its been bitter sweet. It is good to take some time to evaluate your life’s progress every now and again, and to see where you did well and where you made your mistakes. These following things I wish someone would have told me in high school:
1. Traditional college may not be the best option: I was fortunate to have a great college experience. I learned a lot of great information. Met a lot of great people. But it came at a big cost. Upwards to 40K+. I did not have much familial assistance, so it was all paid through Pell grants, a partial scholarship, and loans. Traditional college has become far too expensive, and it should cause high school students to consider other options, especially if they are seeking advanced degrees (which I recommend these days). Not to mention, after you complete the degree the job market is saturated with people seeking employment. The chances of you landing a job in your field of choice right out of college with little to no experience is slim. High school students should consider programs that push you past the traditional bachelor’s degree, or programs where you can gain practical experience while being taught. There are a number of programs that offer accelerated degrees- instead of spending the traditional 6-7 years earning a bachelors and then a masters, in 5 years you could earn both a bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. Having an advanced degree is important. Only about 10% of Americans hold advance level degrees (Master’s or Doctorate). Once you become apart of this 10% club, you become very marketable in your specialized field.
I also suggest high school students explore trade or vocational school. If the traditional college experience is not for you (college is not for everybody), then I suggest a vocational school. Vocational or trade school specializes you in a particular area. Computer electronics, software development, HVAC, Medical Assisting, Nursing, Auto Repair, etc. are all opportunities that are available through vocational school. These vocations are available to the traditional college students, but are often given to those who have specialized in this area. You also gain hands on experience in school, so that when you graduate you are completely ready for field work which puts you a step above the traditional college student. The only downside I see to vocational school is that a career change could be devastating. You have been trained to do one thing and if you change that then you lose all of your marketability.
2. Community colleges are great options: Everyone wants to be apart of the big, prestigious Universities. Who wouldn’t want to say that they attended Purdue, or Harvard, or Princeton. These are great schools, but with the rising cost of education it may be best to consider the community colleges. Community colleges have become great institutions of education, not to mention that most community colleges will only employ the most qualified professors (professors who often teach at the Universities as well). If I can get taught the same stuff, from the same professors, for half the cost I would take that.
3. Go where the money is: I was offered a great financial aid package at Alabama A&M. The scholarship they offered me would have paid well over half of my tuition including room and boarding. But, for whatever reason (maybe I was afraid to move that far away from home), I did not take it and I decided to attend the University of Missouri. Mizzou gave me a financial aid package, but it wasn’t near as good as what Alabama A&M was offering. Had I attended Alabama, I would be in significantly less student debt. Apply to different schools and see what kind of financial assistance packages they can offer. Go where they offer you the most money.
4. Find out what you want to do early: I recommend high school students find out what their passions are early. Its okay to be unsure, but it may cost you more in the long run. Being an undeclared major, or switching majors after Freshman year only prolongs your time in school and ultimately cost you more. Find out what you want to do, hop in and do it. Now I understand that things happen, and people often discover themselves in undergrad. That’s okay. But if you can, explore other things early so that the epiphany happens sooner rather than later.
5. Take summer classes: If you decide to go the traditional college route, I recommend taking advantage of the summers. Get those silly prerequisites and electives out of the way quickly. I wish colleges would do away with the elective requirements. If you want to take an elective it should your choice, not a requirement in my opinion. To me, it seems like a huge waste of money. I had to complete my elective credits, so I decided to take a architecture class and a textile apparel class. Needless to say, they were both a waste of my time and money. I didn’t take them over the summer like I should have, so I endured 16 long weeks of classes that I was disinterested in. Colleges will require you to take electives and prereqs, my advice is to get them done over the 6 week summer session, so that during the longer semester you can focus on things that are actually interesting to you.
These are my reflections. What are some that you would add?