For the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on kids and college. There’s so much that I’ve learned that seems like wisdom to me for parents of teens and young adults themselves relative to post-secondary education and careers. As they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and there are things I would share with my children if I could go back to that time when they were preparing for what’s next after high school graduation. So rest assured that my advice does not come from the fact that I did it all right!
So, to wrap up this series on education (both academic and life in general) after high school, I offer the following three points to make it an even dozen:
10. If you’re passionate about a specific career, follow it regardless. If you’re not, then take time to weigh your options.
When I was approaching graduation from high school, it seemed to me that everyone knew just what they wanted to do, except me. My best friend wanted to be a history teacher. She proceeded to apply to a school known for its program of preparing teachers, went on the fast track to get her degree in three years, graduated, became a history teacher, and is still working in the public school system to this day. As for me, I just couldn’t identify with having that kind of self-knowledge. I knew I wanted to work in something math-related, but other than that, I didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t that nothing seemed interesting to me, but rather that EVERYTHING seemed interesting! I had always been a good student, so within reason, I could probably manage to succeed academically in whatever program I chose. My heart was not attached to any one vision of what I wanted my life and career to look like, other than that I knew I needed to prepare myself to support myself financially. Today, I see young people all the time who feel similar to the way I felt. What I like to share with them is that, while it can make life simpler to know exactly what you want your career to look like, there are many opportunities for those who are open to a number of different scenarios. One of the challenges of having our heart tied to one career is that you’ll probably never be happy doing anything else. So, if the job that pulls at your heart happens to not pay much, then you’re probably not going to be happy ignoring that pull and choosing something with higher pay. Instead, it’s most likely the best idea for you to learn to adjust your lifestyle and material needs to your income, whatever that is. What good is it to make more money when you’ve cut off the very thing that brings passion to your life? If you’re one of those people who was just plain born to be a teacher, or an artist, or a pilot, then nothing else will replace that for you. On the other end, I see a whole lot of students who fit more into the category I found myself in, and a large majority of them choose a business major. For some reason, within this category, a lot of them choose marketing, but I’m not exactly sure why. I’m certainly not criticizing a decision to get a business degree! I’m just saying that there are other options that may yield more benefits, and it’s worth considering these other options. One of the challenges of getting a general degree like business, or marketing, is that once you get out of school, you now have general skills; but, you don’t actually have any expertise in a specific area to which you can apply your business or marketing skills. And so you go out into the work world looking for a job that will be willing to invest in teaching you what they do so that you can apply your business skills to it. Individuals have successfully followed this path for years, and it is a legitimate path. However, another alternative would be to take time during your college years to become knowledgeable about a specific industry. For example, while you are working on your business degree, perhaps you decide to work on your private pilot’s license. When you graduate, you can focus on applying to businesses in the aviation industry. Those hiring you will give you stronger consideration for a position, knowing that you were interested enough in their industry to pursue expertise in it. Your combination of aviation experience AND your business degree will be more lucrative to them. As another example, perhaps you get a degree in engineering and a minor in business. So you say that you don’t know if you like engineering? Well, so what? I’m speaking to those of you who don’t really know what you want to do. Having a degree in something like engineering, with courses in business as well, will offer you a specific industry to pursue — engineering! I can’t stress enough that one of the best areas to consider for a degree is anything in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines, as this continues to be the economic emphasis. If you’re rolling the dice about what you want to do, then roll it for STEM. Once you have that degree, if you find, as I did, that you really like business development, marketing, leadership and communication better than designing bridges, you can move into those areas within the engineering industry. Keep in mind that EVERY industry needs business skills, marketing skills, personnel skills, financial skills, etc.
11. Realize that those people you’re sitting in classes with, going to football games with, sharing living spaces with, and partying with, will someday comprise part of your business network.
That probably sounds bizarre to you from your vantage point, but it’s true. As those students around you graduate and get on their career paths, there will be some who become VERY successful. Which ones are they? You don’t know! You can make some educated guesses — the student body president has a higher likelihood of being successful because the or she has already demonstrated a desire for leadership and the charisma or personality needed to get elected. But don’t assume that the straight-A students have the greatest likelihood of high success; actually, there are many more successful leaders in business who had average or above average GPA’s. Don’t even assume that the big partier will necessarily be a business failure. One thing you can bank on is that the person who, regardless of some immaturity, knows how to be a good friend and lives by a set of personal values, is one who you may someday be very glad is in your business network. Does it sound like I’m suggesting that you be nice to people and encourage their friendship because of what they may be able to do for you in the future? If it does, let me assure you that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that you, and everyone around you, is building a reputation of some kind, even in college. Also, your basic character is showing even if, as I said before, it is clouded by the immaturity that most still carry in college. Don’t you want to make friends in college with people who you can trust, who have a basic sense of character? Well, those are the same people you’ll want in your network ten years down the road. Start building your network with the right people now. It’ll benefit you today…and tomorrow.
12. You are blessed beyond measure to have the opportunity to get a college education.
Yes, I had to end with something very, very “parent-y”. But this is true. I took so much for granted as a college student. In undergrad school, I was fortunate to have parents who could pay my tuition and fees and living expenses. I worked and felt I was doing my part by paying for all of my “extras”. Several years later, I was married, had a house payment to meet each month, and had just found out I was pregnant with our first child when I found out I had been selected for a fellowship to return to graduate school. The fellowship made furthering my education possible, but it also meant financial sacrifice on my husband’s and my part for me to go back to school for two years. I can tell you that I was MUCH more serious about why I was there than I was those first four years! And that doesn’t even begin to touch the challenges many of my fellow students faced. NC State University is a land grant institution, and even today in year 2014, there are a surprising number of students at State who are the first in their families to ever attend college! Many of those live from semester to semester, hoping and praying that the funds will be there for them to return. It makes me realize how little I understood about sacrifice when I was in school. But let me go even further — those of us born in America, still the Land of the Free even with all of our problems and threats to our democratic culture, have been given a gift that many throughout the world have not been given. We have the freedom to pursue any career we wish, without our government dictating what that career is going to be for us. We have the freedom to pursue an education in order to achieve that career. If you are female as I am, you have the freedom to pursue your education and career in the same way that your male counterparts do — unlike too many other countless females who were not born in America and other such countries. Why were all of us given this particular blessing; I mean, why me?? I don’t know, but I think it’s important for us to remember to be grateful for the freedom we have to pursue the education and career of our choice without intervention from the government or fear of our fellow man. It’s the right attitude to have, sure, but I can promise you that living a life of gratitude, focusing on the positives and blessings in your life more than the issues that make you see yourself as a victim, will lead to a much happier life.
So those are my “lessons learned”, my Dirty Dozen suggestions and observations that I wish I’d been wise enough to understand so much sooner. But life is like that — just as we’re getting the hang of something, it’s time to move on to something else.
Now that I’ve taken up so much writing space focusing on education, I promise to move to another topic the next time I write!