Higher education is becoming a ridiculously expensive endeavor but can be the key to opening up massive potential from an economic production/economic gain standpoint through improved job prospects, career advancement, and networking/connections.
However, for a good majority of students, they find the doors that were supposedly opened didn't result in the intended economics gains they were hoping for and now are saddled with the economic burden of the cost of that education.
The reality is most institutions only care about advancing their own institutions and not advancing their students. They are becoming blinded to the fact that their sole purpose is to advance their students. The irony is that if they would focus on advancing their students, they would actually achieve the institutional advancement they are looking for. Money (and lots of it) has entered the system and convoluted the basic needs of higher education.
Students need three critical things out of their higher education:
- Continue to learn basic life skills and knowledge on how the world works and how to be an effective citizen.
- Explore and develop things they are good at and things they enjoy doing.
- Discover ways to apply what they are good at and enjoy doing to actually being valued by others to be able to earn a decent living as a result.
This is it. If a student doesn't come out of their higher education with confidence that they've personally achieved these three things, then both the student and institution did not meet their full potential.
Here are my top ten questions to answer for yourself before going to college:
- Can I afford this or is there a less expensive option? The advent of online education and even free instructional videos has ushered in an amazing way for people to learn new skills that simply was not possible a decade ago. There are now many other options to the traditional four year college education for career advancement. The other hidden secret is the community college feeder system that most states have. You can get the basic GE requirements done and explore different classes and majors at community college at a far cheaper cost, then transfer to a university and still show that you graduated from that university. An amazing option open to EVERYONE that is perfectly suited for the Don't Need Much Money approach.
- Do I know how much student debt I will have, what the cost of that debt will be, and what my plan is to pay it off? What will the Return On Investment (ROI) be from my educational investment (both time and money)? Have I explored all the ways to lower my personal cost through scholarships, grants, part time jobs, easy side business ventures, sponsorship, etc.? This includes minimizing your cost of living while in college as room & board can be just as expensive as tuition itself.
- Is there a free or cheaper way for me to explore and discover things I am good at and enjoy doing? It is far more effective use of time and money if you already have a general idea of the direction you want to go. Hint, if you don't know your major going into school, then you definitely need to do more exploring before your college experience begins.
- Do I know what traits and skills I posses that will be valued by others and that I can earn a living from? And if not, how can a learn more about the types of jobs out in the real world and the ways people make money and earn a living? It is amazing the types of ways people make a living in this world. So take the time to explore the different functions/departments/jobs within business or government or any other career path and how you might be a good fit. Think small too. It is incredible how many self-employed people there are, freelancers, entrepreneurs, etc. Working for yourself is hard work, but then you don't need to rely on someone else hiring you and paying you, you can rely on yourself.
- Do I know people that are doing what I want to be doing? How can I learn more about them and even potentially meet them? Career advancement is often times more about who you know than what you know. It's amazing how starting at the ground level of a business as an intern or part time position and proving yourself an effective and reliable employee can lead to job opportunities, promotions, and advancement more so than a college degree ever could. Plus just like the way to learn has changed in a decade, the way to network and meet people has as well. So go ahead and start exploring on platforms like LinkedIn. If you find a someone you want to meet, don't be shy. Reach out and ask for a bit of their time. People often like talking about themselves and sharing with others.
- Do I know what I am passionate about? People say that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. The issue with this is it is a bit skewed. There will be difficult, boring, and frustrating things about ANYTHING you do. The secret is finding something you can stick with and enjoy doing even when things are terrible because you love it that much. That's when you know you've found what you are passionate about and love doing.
- Have I identified a problem in this world that I want to be part of working on the solution for? There are so many things that can be improved in the way we live, and quite frankly that is where there is value to society. If you can be part of making something better or solving a critical societal need, no doubt you will personally benefit from that both emotionally and economically. Often times, it is purpose driven decisions that are the most effective, so find a purpose.
- Once I have a direction figured out, do I know which schools best fit that direction? Have a researched the professors? Do I now the classes I will take and the syllabi of those classes? Do I know the type of classmates that will surround me and that I will work with? Do I know of successful alumni that have come through that program? Does the school offer connections to companies and recruiting opportunities?
- Have I explored opportunities in other countries? Europe as an example has some amazing universities that are seeking international students to round out their student body. And the cost can be far less than an American university. And even if you choose to stay in your country for college, definitely explore study abroad opportunities. There is no better way to grow as a human and get a new frame of mind on the world than to actually live in (not just visit) another country
- Will it help or hurt me if I decide to take a year or two not going directly to college? Will I have more opportunities, the same opportunities, or fewer opportunities? Chances are you'll have more opportunities by taking some time to explore and you'll hopefully find the direction and purpose you need in that time to get the most out of the college experience and investment.
Society does an incredible job at pressuring people into fixed living patterns, and higher education is one of those. It is almost a given that if you are a good high school student, you go straight to college. But as with anything, if you don't have a plan or purpose for why you are doing that, it will be all for not. So think critically about these questions and answer them truthfully for yourself. They will help you make the best decision for yourself outside of what society wants. Paraphrasing the Rolling Stones song, "society can't always get what it wants, but if you take some time, both you and society can get what you need".