You should really experience your career choice before you pony up large cash to be educated in it. Let’s face it, we are asking 16, 17 and 18 year olds to make $100,000 business decisions when they have no business doing so.
Here is what I suggest you do before you pony up large debt for an education.
1. Understand what your objective is in your next level of learning.
The undeclared major is a total waste of money. It’s like buying a car and never driving it as it loses value sitting in the garage. I always get students who go off to college without really knowing what they want to do. I get the “I want to do business.” I will follow up that question with what part of business do you like? They have no idea. If you don’t know what it is exactly you want to learn about, don’t jump into college. You can’t start a project and be successful without defining the objective first. Why would you start your next level of learning by paying a place to figure out what you want to do? Go experience life a little and see what you like to do. See where your skills really come into play. Don’t simply rely on some high school computer program that grabs your personality and places you into an outdated career path that most likely will be obsolete in 5 years.
2. When you find out what you want to do…work in that industry or profession before you go to school for it.
I personally made this mistake. I wanted to do TV/Radio after my freshman year of college. I thought it would be cool to be on radio. I got a taste of spinning records (yes I’m that old!) on the local college station and thought I would be great at it. I declared a major and ran with it. I liked a lot of the classes, however, when I got into my Internship at a local radio station, it sucked. There was so much more to it than showing up and talking with listeners. And then I looked at the pay. It was terrible. By this time, I was a Senior in college and about to graduate. Here’s what I should have done before I even went to college. I should have volunteered time to take out the trash and bring people coffee at a local radio station. I should have interviewed as many people in the radio industry as I could to gain industry knowledge. If it were today, I would have tried my hand at podcasting to see if I could build an audience and live the part of an on air personality for little or no money.
3. Get an actual job… and a crappy one at that.
I had the privilege of having my college education covered. That came as a blessing and as a curse. Before you jump on me for saying it was a curse… hear me out. It’s obvious that I am one of the few lucky ones in this nation that didn’t have to incur part of the $1 trillion plus in college debt that is out there. I know. The curse is that I didn’t realize how much of a gift it was when I was given it. I took college for granted and didn’t really look at it as something that I could really use to make my life better. It’s the old adage, I really didn’t earn it so why would I care for it. One thing I did notice from my peers in college who were not as blessed as I was is that not only they were incurring debt, many of them had crappy jobs. Those friends who worked crappy jobs like being a dishwasher or working tough physical labor knew they didn’t want to stay in that position forever. The hard work with little pay drove them to succeed in college and in life. I even have a colleague at my school who teaches with two 50 pound bags of concrete up front to remind himself and students that this crappy job is an option if they don’t try.
4. Know all your options for higher education.
Times are changing fast. The educational landscape is being reshaped as I write this. Social Media has blown the door wide open for freelancers and entrepreneurs to show their stuff without degrees. I know of large companies that have hired 17 and 18 year olds who understand how to work Social Media marketing channels to bring in more customers. These teens are not getting small deals either. Newer educational opportunities are available too. Places like MissionU make it easier to go after authentic learning at a fraction of the cost of college. Major companies are partnering with these new types of higher education as well because… well … who really wants an unskilled, booksmart worker coming out of college without authentic work experience and a ton of debt!?
5. Realize that education is not a race. It is a journey.
Too often we force kids to jump from high school to college for no other reason other than to boost “school report cards” or because it is status quo. The fact is that your education is not a race. Your education is your own personal journey. Each of us as individuals should choose what is right for us. Take your time when you are looking for your opportunities. You are only against yourself.
Note to parents… times have changed. A college degree is not as valuable as it used to be. I know that is hard to believe, but it is true. It is also not true that if your son or daughter doesn’t go straight to college, you have failed as a parent. Life experiences are more valuable than paying someone to tell you about them in a classroom. It’s okay that your kid comes out of high school and works a minimum wage job right away. They are getting an authentic experience. If you have taught them to find the opportunity in everything, they will be fine.
Taking time to look into these five things will help you on your path of learning. I am not saying trash the whole college system. It works for some. For the 19% of college graduates who finish in four years or under and know exactly what they want to do, college works. For the rest, better take a deeper look into options and careers before buying that six figure education. Trust me, it will save you time and money in the long run.