So the end is in sight–almost.
You’ve taken all your national assessment tests–the SAT, or the ACT, the APs, or the CLEPs–and you’re ready. Almost.
You’ve chosen your favorite college and have been accepted. Almost.
You’ve figured out how you’re going to pay for the next four-to-five years of academia–almost.
And you’re ready to strike out on your own, pack your bags, and wave goodbye to Mom or Dad.
Or maybe you’re having the student version of buyer’s remorse as you look at that financial aid sheet and realize you could be strapped with $25K or more in student debt when you get out, and you’re not so sure you’ll make enough money to pay it off before you turn 50.
These are very good reasons to pause and consider where you’re headed with all this, before you follow the usual, assumed path for every graduate with half a brain. College isn’t what is used to be when I attended, back in the ’80s. At least the cost isn’t, and neither is the state of the economy. My husband and I were able to pay off our student loans, which amounted to $8000 between us, in about five years. Even then, it meant we had to delay starting a family and purchasing our first home. I can’t imagine carrying the usual debt burden that most college grads carry today, which is an average of nearly $30,000, but which can be in the six figures for postgraduate and medical degrees. Read this article by TIME.com and consider how student debt could impact you; then follow these tips for your summer as you prepare to pack your bags.
Tip #1 Get Some Real Life Experience
You may want to do some traveling. I recommend you get off the beaten tourist trail and try to see how folks really live in other countries. You might volunteer with a nonprofit or mission to help people. That may be the best education you ever got.
Then again, there’s that tuition bill hovering in your future, and perhaps you should be earning money rather than spending it, leading me to the next tip.
Tip #2 Get a Job or Start a Business
Nothing is more valuable than learning good communication and marketing skills. Write that resume/vitae and put on that tie (or skirt) before your interview. Or, print up some flyers and cards or build a website and offer your services. I was talking today to a friend who does hiring at the local YMCA. She said, “I don’t care if it’s for a minimum-wage lifeguard position–If they have a tie or suit on, I’ll give them a chance. It shows that they think the job is important to them.” Stump the streets of your town with your flyers and strike up conversations with anyone willing to talk with you. Or, find a partner who will produce a product or service while you market it, or vice versa.
Today, many companies require application submissions online before the interview process. You can search Craigslist and Google for openings in your area, or for internet jobs you can perform from home.
Even if you do go to college, you will always need a means of earning income, and there’s no time like the present to get that income stream established. My son did not go to college to earn a business degree; he started his own e-business at age 15. When he ran into glitches, he asked for advice from some businessmen friends, who gave him invaluable help. Today, 10 years later, his business has 10 employees and continues to grow, with no company debt. In addition, he owns two rentals and a residence for his family. At age 25, married with three children, he has traveled extensively for his business and is far ahead of most college-trained students his age. (Okay, so I’m a little proud of him!)
Tip #3 Work Your Tail Off
Consider signing up with a temp agency, where you can get temporary work. Often such temp jobs become permanent.
If you don’t find a suitable job, offer to volunteer your time at a business where you think you might like to work. Or, volunteer for a political candidate, church, food bank, library, or literacy council. If you demonstrate eagerness, loyalty, reliability and punctuality, you may find yourself hired.
Someone has said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I say it’s both. You need intellectual capital to offer something valuable enough that people will pay you well; however, it’s just as important to rub shoulders with people who can help you, hire you, or find clients and staff necessary to sustain your business. More important than anything, your good character (see Tip #3) will get you through the challenges you will inevitably face.
If you develop a long-term vision for your short-term summer strategy, you may find that vision carrying you in a very different direction next fall, and even change your mind about college. You may choose to work for a year before you attend. Or, it may help sharpen your vision as you continue to pursue college. If you do attend, be sure you do it for the right reasons.
Tip #4 Don’t Go to College for Non-Academic Reasons
You go to college to gain more knowledge–not to party with new friends, get away from your parents, or find a significant-other. Current data shows that the average college student spends more time partying and playing sports than he/she spends studying. There’s something wrong with this picture. College is not an expensive dating service, or a place to delay adulthood–at least, it shouldn’t be. You can probably find like-minded people with common interests by making yourself useful in your own community right where you are by following Tips 1-3; who knows what special person might cross your path.
Tip #5 Be Strategic
If you are not academically-minded, or lack focus for your future plans, don’t waste your money on college. Stay home and follow Tips 1-3 until you have a plan. As my husband likes to say, make a plan, and work the plan; then re-assess the plan, and modify or make a new plan. Always keep a focus on your goal. What is your goal: to make money? to travel? start a family? help people? learn about rocket science? All of the above? And how will college ensure that you reach your goals?
Tip #6 Become a Lifelong Learner
Finally, consider taking online courses and expand your knowledge right here on the Net. Much education is now available for free. I used to tell my students, “Everything you ever need to know is in a book.” Today, you can usually find it online. YouTube has a plethora of educational videos. Khanacademy.com is another completely free education site. Many colleges are now posting their course material online, for free. Go for it, and reach your dream.
For more information, see Arden’s article, “Should You Send Your Child to College? A Guide for Christian Parents”.