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College 4 . Us

Plan and act today so you have no regrets tomorrow...

The Questions That Everyone Should Ask First...

Should I go to college?

That is a question many students don't even think about.  Ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Are you really curious about how things work?  Do you get satisfaction when you learn things?
  2. Do you enjoy studying when you have really good teachers?  By studying I mean the process of reading those books and figuring things out, not cramming for exams.
  3. Do you like to do things that are more mental than physical?  Or put it another way, do you like to work with your brain than with your hands?  Do you like to work with ideas or do you like to work with objects or people?

The first two questions help you evaluate whether you'll enjoy going to and studying in college or not.  The last question helps you see whether you'll enjoy the typical types of work that you would get with a college degree.  If you did not answer YES to all three questions above, then chances are you won't enjoy college and/or a college education may not do you too much good.  Still, there's no reason to force yourself to go to college or reject college because of your answers to those three questions.  It's ultimately your choice.  Right now, you may not fully appreciate the choices and opportunities in front of you anyway.

What do I really learn in college?

First and foremost, college is not quite an extension of high school.  It's very different.  In high school you have to learn the basics of many fields, even the ones you don't like.  In college there are still mandatory requirements, but they constitute around one-fourth of the graduating requirements.  The majority of the coursework is in the field you choose to study.  So you will be learning at least a field of study that you have some interest in.

For many people, however, what they learn in college end up not being very relevant to what they do at their jobs after college.  That doesn't mean their college education is wasted.  What most people really learn in college is not the knowledge taught in the classrooms, but ways of thinking critically, solving problems, adapting to changes, utilizing tools, expressing their points of view (both verbal and written), understanding others, working with others, dealing with others, and building connections for use later in life.

Finally, in college there are less homework but more projects that take weeks to complete.  Therefore, you will learn many important skills such as time management, independent study, and team work.  For those of you who do a senior thesis, you will find it a very fulfilling experience (after much sweat and tears, of course).  It's like giving birth to a child – taking months of hard work, days of painful labor, and finally getting the joy of creation.

What should I study?

Many high school graduates do not know what they really want to study.  That's OK because many of them simply haven't been exposed to enough fields of study to know what's really out there.  Many fields are a lot more interesting once you get more exposure to them.  In most schools, switching majors is rather easy, at least in the first two years.  So if you are not sure what to study, take some general education courses to get more exposure, talk to students and teachers in different fields, or get internships during the first two summers.

This brings up another debate: should one choose liberal arts or specialty schools?  Generally one should go to a specialty school such as CalTech or Julliard only if they are 99% sure about what they want to study.  Otherwise, a liberal arts school is a safer bet, and they tend to be more interesting because of the greater diversity of the student body and fields of study.

Does going to a good college guarantee a good job?

No, hardly anything is guaranteed in life.  A college degree really helps you get the first or second jobs, but after that employers focus more on your employment history than your education.  Your degree (both the reputation of the college and your field of study) helps potential employers guess your competence when they cannot rely on your employment history as a guide.  (Just for a test: Would you be reading this page if I just went to a community college?  Complete strangers assume I’m smart just because I went to Harvard.  It’s a perception I find beneficial and therefore I make no effort to correct their perception.)

Of course, some jobs require college education or beyond (e.g., teachers, engineers, medical doctors, etc.), and no amount of “real-world” experience can compensate for the lack of required education.  If your career goal involves jobs that have such requirements, then stop reading this page and go study!

If I choose not to go to college, how do I prepare myself for the real world?

First of all, make sure you are competent in the fundamental/soft skills – reading, writing, and arithmetic.  If possible, learn some skills that have immediate market potential (e.g., basic computer skills, accounting principles, nursing, cooking, etc.).  That generally helps you get your first job.  You don't have to be an expert at this time – the key is to get in the door of that company so you can learn more and become an expert.  Learn as much as you can at the job site, and constantly look for opportunities to move up.  You may find it necessary to go to a community college or a university extension school to get some classes to help you move up the job ladder.  For instance, many people take business management classes to help prepare themselves for management positions within their reach.  (Did you notice a word that keeps popping up – “learn?”  Learning is a life-long process and it is the key to a successful career.)

Many of the skills mentioned in answer to the question “What do I really learn in college?” can be learned outside colleges.  You just have to be motivated to pick up those skills on your own.

Can I go back to college later?

Yes, but it is very difficult a few years after high school.  After you get a job in the “real world,” you'll find it very difficult to stop making money and devote your time to college.  Because by then you have obligations – rent, car payment, kids, etc.  You can take classes at community colleges part-time, but many never finish their degree programs.  If you think college is for you, then do it soon after high school and get it over with.

On the other hand, many experts do recommend taking some time off before you go to graduate school.  It's a much larger commitment to make, and without some real-world experience, one may not know whether the field they choose is indeed what they really want to do in life.  Also they are less motivated than those who have seen the real world.  This is especially true for fields such as business administration where real-life experience makes a big difference in their motivation, attitude, perspective, and the understanding of the difference between theory and practice.

Is it worth the money?

Most people believe so.  On average, a college graduate makes $600,00 to $1 million more than a high school graduate.  Generally, the issue is the starting salary – college graduates get a lot more to begin.  But money is not the only nor the most important concern.  What you want to do with your life should be the deciding factor instead.

Can I really afford it?

If it's worth the money, then find a way to pay for it.  There are plenty of financial aid out there so most people who really want to go to college end up finding ways to pay for it.  Don't let the concerns for money deter you.  Apply first and see how much financial aid you get.  If you don't get enough financial aid, talk to the school about other options.  There are additional student loans you can take out.  Some people choose to do military service and get the government to pay for their college education (you can actually take classes and get some credits while in the military).

Should I aim for public or private schools?

Both types of school will teach you want you really need to learn, and so knowledge acquisition is generally not the issue.  For most students, it's a matter of cost – private schools can cost a lot more.  But with the financial difficulties in many public schools, you may not be able to get the classes you need and therefore you'll not graduate as quickly as you would at a private school.  In such cases, the cost differential may be less than the lost wages that you give up.

What's more important than the cost is the strengths of the programs.  Some private schools have some of the top programs in the country (e.g., filming at USC) and therefore the additional cost is worth it.  The connections you make are priceless.  Remember, the differential in costs is trivial when you compare it to the lasting impacts on your careers.

Next: The First Step