Step 2: The Search
Alright if you made it to step two in the college decision process that means you either 1) took my advice in step one and answered the crucial question or 2) you’re a rebel and don’t believe the first step is necessary. Either way you’re here now and there’s no backing out. So now the first thing you want me to tell you is how to search for a college right?
Recall that in step one I told you to ask yourself why you are planning on going to college right? Well most of you probably answered with something along the lines of: better paying jobs, or necessity for a certain job (eg doctor, lawyer, engineer), learn a particular subject, or experience something new. These are all viable answers and that determines how your search process will play out. If you want to learn a particular subject or experience something new, skip this next paragraph. If you are in it for the first two reasons, read on.
Your Dream Job vs Your Actual Job
We all have a dream job right? The one that incorporates everything we love doing and wouldn’t mind doing if we did that for the rest of our lives and hopefully getting paid (well) for it too. Well I hate to break it to you guys, but most people don’t get their dream jobs until later in life and some don’t ever get that job at all. The reasons may vary: too competitive, not likely, don’t meet credentials, or it actually isn’t a job. But don’t sell yourself short, that doesn’t mean you should quit trying to pursue your dreams and goals. What I’m saying is this, there is an expectation threshold on everything. The reality? Not everyone can or will be a doctor, A-list actor, engineer, astronaut or best-selling author no matter how much you want it. It’s something that takes a lot more than hard work, dedication, and commitment. If it were that easy for anyone to do exactly what they want and have their dream job we would have a lot more happy people. Here’s the shocking reality, some of you won’t make it. I believe the retention rates for many universities are around 75%, meaning around 25% of students won’t make it past their first year and a few more will drop before they graduate. Source: (higheredinfo.org) and (colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com) Even at our prestigious school (#1 public school in Indiana) had a retention rate of around 80% or so. To sum up your first step of the search, figure out your dream job, look for its requirements, and see if it’s feasible. Don’t forget to have fallback options just in case because nothing in life is guaranteed, however, hard work and dedication can greatly increase your chances. And if it doesn’t work out the first time, it’s completely fine. Don’t give up. If your dream is to become an A-list actor and you don’t get that your first few years in college, find a job that involves being interactive with the stars like a cameraman or producer, then you can move up from there. It’s more important than ever to be versatile. If you’re a struggling writer but always wanted to be an engineer, start taking courses online on the topic. If you wanted to be a vet but didn’t get into vet school, work at your local zoo or go do research with a team of preservation scientists and start working on getting your certification. There’s really no age that’s too late for you to go back to school and earn a degree to get your dream job. Many jobs nowadays require you to be re-certified every few years as the world evolves. So moral of this paragraph? Never give up on your dreams, but also set realistic backups because your dreams may be on hold until you can properly fulfill them.
What Degree do I Get?
Okay awesome, you figured out what you dream job(s) is going to be. Next step, find out what kind of degree or major you would need to have to get your dream job or your backup. You can probably get by an average paying job with just a two year associate’s or technical degree. Getting a bachelor’s degree is becoming the standard in many of today’s better paying jobs. The more advanced careers will require you to get a master’s or doctorate’s degree. While researching your degrees make sure you know if the degree you are seeking is a terminal degree or means to end degree. By terminal I mean getting your Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and going straight to work for GE. By means to end I mean Bachelor of Arts in Biology and going on to med school. A big factor to consider is how many years you want to spend in school before going to work. Yes if you get a bachelor’s degree, you can go to work faster and start paying off that debt, but you could be missing out on a larger return for your education. That is not to say you can’t go back to grad school after working for a few years, most companies will subsidize your grad school education if they require it. That said, going an extra 4 years for your masters, could land you a salary of $100,000 or more in the future, but you can expect close to half a million dollars in debt by the time you’re done and finally land a job.
My advice? If you’re choosing a terminal degree, go to the best college possible, but balance the price with job recruitment rates, ranking, and personal preference. If you’re choosing a means to end, do the same thing, but really look at the price. Let’s do a few quick calculations. If you really just want to leave your state because you hate it to get a biology degree and then go to med school, you can expect $50,000 a year in just school expenses (tuition/room and board). 4 x $50,000 is $200,000 + living expenses. Med school you can expect upwards of $60-75,000 a year for 4 years so 4 x $60,000 is $240,000 + living expenses. Don’t forget about interests rates from your loans which can skyrocket your debt. Comparatively, if you stay in state you can expect $20,000 a year in school expense. 4 x $20,000 is $80,000 + living expenses and med school will remain relatively close to the same price, but potentially cheaper in state. So $440,000 – $280,000 = $160,000. You can get another degree in state with that savings or get most of your med school paid for. Scholarships and family contributions can greatly reduce the price, so the best advice is, if you can get your dream school at a competitive price or basically free, GO no questions asked. But if not, really look at fitting a financially stable future into your dreams, even if you’re netting $100,000 a year, half a million is going to take a long time to repay.
This section won’t be as intensive as the previous ones above, because the ones above are pretty detrimental to your future goals, and the ones listed next are more for personal preference. I won’t go in detail because it will be different for everyone. Do you like big classes or small classes? From experience I’ve been in a lecture room with about 50 students and I know some of my classmates have been in some that are close to 300. Most public universities will have significantly larger class sizes than private schools. However, private schools tend to be more expensive overall. On the other hand, they usually are generally the same price in and out of state. How comfortable are you living away from home? If you need to be close to your family, go to a college that isn’t too far away and wouldn’t be a hassle to drive home every weekend or so. If distance isn’t a problem, you will be open to more options. I know a lot of times people drop out or transfer is because of homesickness. Does it have an abundance of Greek life, sports, clubs and activities? How easily can you transfer your high school/college credits? Most out of state colleges won’t accept your credits unless it’s internationally recognized like AP or IB scores. This is important to keep in mind because you can choose to start from square one, or hit the ground running as you start college. Is the school religiously affiliated and consistent with your beliefs? These are just a few of the things I can come up with, although there are many more factors to consider varying from person to person. In the end though if you take anything from this, remember these few very important tips:
Figure yourself out as a person, who you are, what you like, motivations and dreams. This is probably the most important part in the search process.
Don’t stress on school ranking, of course your parents are going to want you to go to the top ranked school, but the reality is, you have to know if you’re cut out for the challenge. Otherwise, don’t let that be the only deciding factor in your college choice.
Find a school that fits YOU. Not a school that everyone expects you to go or is a “no name” school. The college experience should be about you and you only. You aren’t going to college for them and you aren’t pursuing your dreams for them. Do it for yourself. Choose the best fit college after thoroughly weighing out all the factors and go big.
Party, but remember that’s not what college is all about. If that’s all you’re in it for, realize the hefty sum of change you’re wasting just for a few good nights. College isn’t cheap and isn’t something you get to do over and over again.
Remember there are always alternatives such as transferring and even online and night school. Many working students even choose to get their degrees online because it is more flexible with
their busy schedules, plus many times it’s a lot cheaper. Don’t be stuck on finding that one college that will have everything you’re looking for. Those perfect colleges are hard to find.
Most importantly, have fun discovering yourself. This is the perfect time to explore and shape yourself as a person by learning and experiencing. There will be plenty of mistakes made along the way, but just pick yourself off and hit the ground running where you tripped.
Best of luck,
If you want to read this series, here’s the links to them: