When I was in high school, I assumed that I would go on to college. It was just a matter of which one. So I didn’t really give college as much thought as I should have. I mean, I knew that I needed to get good grades, and that college was important, but that was pretty much it.
In retrospect, there are several things I wish I’d known about college before I started. At first glance these things might not seem related to money, but they are in the long run.
I made the mistake of thinking that college was about learning. Of course, it IS about learning, but that’s not all that it’s about. It’s also about making contacts in your future field, getting to know people in other fields, and figuring out how to market yourself and navigate through bureaucracy. It’s about a workable balance between socializing and studying.
I did not need a free t-shirt. Yes, people will be looking at the credit card tables. Yes, you’ll be tempted to go over and see what all the fuss is about. But you have plenty of clothes already. Skip the free t-shirt, and avoid being an ad and getting in debt. Free gifts aren’t free.
College requires being self-motivated. In high school, I did what was assigned, with the occasional piece of extra credit work thrown in (of course I also tried hard to do a good job on my work). I didn’t realize that college instructors weren’t going to give assignments like my high school teachers had.
Instead, I needed to figure out on my own what I needed to do to prepare for exams & then do it. This meant reading textbooks & highlighting them, attending class & taking notes, doing exercises from the books, asking the instructors about things I didn’t understand, studying & prepping for tests, getting help from tutors, etc. I quickly learned that while my instructors didn’t require any of that, passing my classes DID.
College requires long-term thinking. It’s not unusual for people to stumble through their first year or two of college, unsure of what they want to get their degree in. But if you’re going to do that, stumble with a plan. Be sure that the classes you’re taking will apply to any degree, and that you do as well in them as you possibly can. Don’t blow them off, because you may find that the field you do choose is highly competitive and requires graduate school. Don’t wind up with a practical degree that you can’t actually use in your desired field because your early grades weren’t good enough for further education.
A college degree does not guarantee a good job. People graduating right now are probably discovering exactly that, but it’s true in all sorts of times, not just recessionary periods. So don’t base your future on needing for a series of assumptions to turn out exactly right in order for you to be successful. Be prepared for alternatives. What if the worst does happen?
Internships are good, even unpaid ones. Working without pay sounds like a waste of time, but it’s usually not, IF you take the time to get to know the people you’re working with and do an excellent job. You’re doing the internship to make contacts and get experience. You’ll be ahead of the game if you have something on resume (ideally something relevant) and people to recommend you instead of just giant blank spots when you go to get your first “real” job.