As a Financial Advisor I recently received an email query from an 18 year old who asked for financial advice. As a follow up he asked, “Do you have any advice you could tell me that you wish you would’ve had someone tell you before you started your life in college?” A very interesting question. My response:
Think “College is my future.” Number one, do not involve yourself in drinking, drugs, and parties; date infrequently if at all. Education is the key to success in life, concentrate on learning while at college. Number two, do not join a fraternity (see number one).
When I went to college (ponder the 1960’s), a college degree was the goal. It did not matter much what the degree was in (mine was History) nor how much you actually learned in school, it mattered that you were able to list a college degree on your resume. I think that has changed somewhat now, but, mark my word, a degree is still very important today (remember, someone from my generation may be the person hiring you).
When I reflect back on my college years, I understand now that I was immature and not ready to fully benefit from my four years of higher learning. I might recommend that someone take a “life learning break” between high school and college. Join the military for two years, travel around the world for a year, join AmeriCorps (11 month commitment), volunteer as an intern at a company or non-profit for six months. The plus is that you would see life differently after this break and you would be able to better focus in college. The minus is that your “school sabbatical” might push your life in a different direction and you would not return to college. If you think not returning to college is possible, go straight from high school to college. Get your degree first.
My personal situation prevented me from taking a break between high school and college. I signed up in a Marine Corps officer program right out of high school, meaning I had to finish college in four years, receive a commission, and then spend three years in the Corps (visualize Vietnam). During my four years in college I bounced around from course to course finally deciding History was something I could pass with ease. I would read the books and attend the lectures and take notes. I would outline everything in the course and memorize the outline. When finals came, I would parrot back my outline in essay form. I did well, but how much did I really learn? Did I do any creative thinking? I should have imagined my world after the Marine Corps (I currently am in my 6th career) and focused on business (especially ethics), public speaking, professional writing, societal issues.
College should be the time to take a variety of courses to help you better define your interests. But there should be an emphasis on what will help you the most in future careers. The President recently noted that jobs are limited in the field of Art History. He lost a number of votes for that statement, but what he said makes sense. The United States needs to regain its lead in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). We need smarter, better educated people in Congress, and the only way to get that is to get smarter, better educated voters. Go to college with the goal that you will be one of them. College is your future! And your future is the future of the U.S.!