How to: College Resource Guide
I take a solemn look around the room: a mess of once-bitten chocolate bars; piles of clothes — clean and soiled — littering the room; pajamas pealing the edge of my bed with a set of keys lassoed at the hem — these are the last clustered moments of my undergraduate career.
In the blink of an eye, all six years of my journey through higher education have culminated in one single swoop and I am thrust into the storm (or perhaps the eye) of what is to be a remarkable study of my purpose and potential these forthcoming years.
(**Side note** We’ve all been on some sort of purposed path since birth, and the decisions we have made along the way continue the progression of this path. I believe there are multiple paths in life, all capable of manifesting themselves — it’s merely a matter of deciding to manifest them. As there are infinite possibilities, there are infinite guides toward our intended purpose, so long as the purpose remains intended.)
Higher education is an important milestone in many professional career paths — one that will set the course of your professional life or open your eyes to your passion. Whichever it is, in the pursuit of your next step, here are 5 questions to evaluate when considering university education.
1. How much should I stress the financial feasibility of attending a university? Is taking out student loans a good idea? Are there any other financial aid options?
This is the most important part of college.
Universities, these days, come in immense parity, meaning (in some form or another) they all provide the same resources to help you achieve your professional goal. Like any other product, what differentiates universities, then, is the brand name. What you pay for in college often exceeds the cost of the professor and the course text — it’s the Division I football team, the alumni network and the career fair — and these resources don’t come cheap.
In high school, teachers and advisors grill you on the crippling competitiveness that is the university selection process. You have to be the top 1% of 1% to get in; your GPA must be at least a 3.5 or you’re doomed; SAT scores must be at least 1400 composite. You stress for four years until the big day — the acceptance letter — CONGRATULATIONS!
You’ve made it. You got in. What they don’t tell you is that all 1460 days of nerve-wracking preparation is a cakewalk in the park compared to the transaction on the 1461st day. That life-changing opportunity flashing in your inbox comes with a $30,000.00 price tag and you better be able to pay Uncle Sam before Sallie Mae comes a knockin.’
Now, more than ever, student loans have integrated themselves further and further into university education. 44% of Americans have student loan debt (compared to 40% of Americans with a college degree). Don’t freak out. When considering student loan debt:
Only take as much as you need to receive your education
Save or return your student loan refund
Pay the maximum monthly amount to avoid interest rates
If possible always choose federal student aid for lower interest rates
In evaluating your alma-mater-to-be, make sure you have thoroughly researched:
The professors in your desired field
The cost to attend at competing universities
The retention rate and the 4-year graduation rate
If the cost to attend is high, but the retention and graduation rates are low, chances are you’re getting ripped off.
2. What about community college? Is that a good idea?
Community college is a spectacular and inexpensive alternative to attending a 4-year university! In the state of California, specifically, high-achieving students are eligible to transfer into a 4-year university within the CSU and UC system during their junior year — that means you can earn your college degree for half the cost!
Community colleges, however, are often impacted, so obtaining the necessary courses for transfer is a bit competitive — make sure you stay disciplined and diligent in enrolling in CSU/UC program courses while attending community college.
3. How do you make the most of the college experience? What about studying abroad?
College is nothing more than what you make of it – your life won’t change overnight, you have to get involved! College is but a stepping stone to life – it’s what you make and create that makes the life you live. Here are some suggestions:
Join campus clubs and organizations
Secure an active role in your campus’ community
Land an internship (paid or unpaid)
Attend professional network seminars and career fairs
Talk frequently with your professors (OFFICE HOURS!)
Volunteer for a cause you care about
Work part-time in an industry that interests you
Join creative outlets outside your university
Have fun and go along for the ride!
If you get the opportunity to study abroad in college, take it! Better yet, make it a priority. The study-abroad experience is an immeasurable one. It opens your eyes to different cultures and ways of being, builds interpersonal skills, crafts your independence and teaches you flexibility and adaptability, specifically in new and emerging environments. I recommend creating a budget and a financial plan at least a year in advance of your intended departure.
4. If I start at a university and can’t finish in 4 years, can I still continue later on?
Yes! The 4-year path is a unicorn myth, in fact a recent 2009 National Center for Education Statistics study showed that the national average for graduation at a university within four years of start was just 39.8% while the 6-year graduation rate was 59.6%. Not only is it feasible to take a break from your Bachelor’s degree pursuit, it’s becoming the norm. The road through higher education is not easy, it’s a winding one — and in any sudden moment you could be cast off into a 90-degree, Spongebob-reminiscent rock bottom, all to balloon again atop a magnificent triumph. It’s the journey in between that makes the university, not the university itself. What matters is that you make decisions that are right for you, and that fit into the path you’ve chosen for yourself.
It took me six beautiful years to get that piece of paper in the mail – six long years of lesson and exploration filled with six internships, five clubs, three universities, seven states, and six countries. It was a road that I could have never predicted, and one that I’m grateful I got six years to ride (sure I died about eight times in the process, but each time I was reborn).
Whether in college for four years, six years, 10 years or more, it’s the journey during those years that’s the true learning experience.
5. How does college help curate future professional endeavors? Is a Bachelor’s degree absolutely necessary to be successful?
That’s a loaded question.
And it assumes that you must solely rely on external factors (i.e. college) to get you to where you want to go, when, in reality, you really only need yourself. If you have a plan, and you know who you want to be and what you want to do with your life — and that plan doesn’t include college presently at this point — then go for it. The idea is to follow your dreams and realize your purpose. How you get there is up to you.
But if we’re simply asking if college is designed in a way to provide you with the resources and tools to find your purpose and journey to it, then the answer is yes. The collegiate system is created to equip each of its students with the skills they desire to manifest their goals. An aspiring writer goes to college to both learn about the great writers of old and their works, and meet professional writers to gain insight. An actor goes to acting school; a businesswoman goes to business school.
Do you absolutely need to go to college to learn these tools? No. Would college be helpful for networking with, learning from and shadowing professionals in your respective field? Absolutely. Just make sure you find these university resources in a way that fits you (see Financial Feasibility). Remember, you’re not going to college to read books — you can do that in a library — you’re going to college to get hands-on experience with seasoned professionals in your field, for your career.
College, like anything else in our life, is a decision that will set the course for the life we want, if we so choose it.
But it’s not the only option. If you know what you want to do, and you have an idea for it — one that has been thoroughly thought through to its highest feasibility — by all means, invest! But if you feel you need the resources to develop your investment, and you’re looking to meet groups of people who share the same values and desires as you: do the research, get involved, good luck and congratulations — college is right for you.