Okay, high school grads, listen up! This writer may be 20-plus years removed from the ol’ Pomp-n-Circumstance of Graduation Day, but certain things still apply once you head off to Two & Four-Year Land! So, here are some suggestions to consider (mostly from experience, but some from observation) as you get ready to enter that next phase of your life.
1. Four Year College is not for everyone! Please sheath your “he’s an elitist sellout” swords…thank you. The simple fact is that the washout rate for 4-year students is still pretty high. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported only 37.8 percent of students graduated in four years, and that was in 2010! With additional requirements being added every year in the name of “expanding student minds,” the rate of graduation taking 5 years and longer has jumped to almost 60 percent, with no signs of slowing. Since many of today’s high school grads have the attention spans of kittens playing with yarn balls (not a knock, it’s just reality, folks), it’s no wonder that many students are opting to take a few years off to decide what they want to do, be it going to a four year school, a two year college, or pursue a technical or vocational degree. The potential debt load from student loans alone should be enough to give a high school grad pause. Best advice – do your homework well in advance.
2. There’s no shame in blue collar trade work. These days, having kids in college has become less about education and a better future for them, and more about social standing and “keeping up” for the parents. The greatest disservice a parent can do to their children is force them to go to college when, in reality, they may be better suited for a career doing so-called “blue collar” work. HVAC Techs, Welders, Auto Mechanics, Carpenters, Plumbers, etc. all have on thing in common – they aren’t glamorous jobs, but they generally pay well, offer an opportunity for be their own boss if they want, and are always needed. After all, someone has to be there to rooter that toilet line clogged by a five-year old’s stuffed bunny! Some of my favorite people on this earth are electricians, plumbers, laborers and truckers – because without them, we wouldn’t have our creature comforts!
3. Chase a dream, but have a backup plan! High school grads typically have stars in their eyes about a lot of things – many for the wrong reasons. Just because your parents say you sing great or look awesome on camera doesn’t mean you’ll win that record deal, or be the next anchor for NBC. If you have a dream, chase it…but be able to pay your bills in the meantime. Steady work at McDonald’s, Wal-Mart or Jiffy Lube may not pay much, but it gives you work experience, teaches you how to follow instructions, shows you how to budget your money, and builds character. And, should you actually catch that big break and strike it rich, you have something to look back on to ground you and give you a reference point for how far you’ve come in life. We can’t all be Kim Kardashian, after all (thank goodness!)
4. Debt of any kind is not, repeat, NOT your friend! Unless you have serious medical issues, there is absolutely no reason for running up bills you can’t repay except for lack of self control (voice of experience here!) This includes college loans. If you can, avoid debt at all costs! Yes, get that credit card, but make sure you pay that bill every month and, just my opinion here, screw the advice all these “credit experts” give about keeping a running balance. If you want to know who is really being honest, follow the money trail to see who is getting paid for their two cents. You may be surprised.
5. Those who were hardest on you were usually your greatest allies. It sounds corny, but that teacher in high school who was hard on you may have been the best thing that ever happened to you. If your parents rode you like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby about your grades, be grateful – it’s not a common thing in this age of parents wanting to be friends to their children. They are training you for how life really is…hard. There is nothing better than grown-ups who taught you better by not accepting mediocrity.
6. The further you get from high school, the harder it gets to pick up your education. Sounds stupid, but it’s true. The simple fact is, the further you get from the routine of studies, tests and bookwork, the more your skills erode. Unless you have an insatiable appetite for learning, there will be some rust to shake off if you take two years off from school. The only exception to that are jobs which require substantial discipline to excel in, such as the military.
7. On that note, be grateful for every experience. It doesn’t matter if that experience is a bad relationship, or a bad job, or a boss who you hate like poison. Be grateful! Every single experience in life is a stepping stone to something better.
Foolish optimism speaking? Perhaps. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a published author who saved his college newspaper not once, but twice in twenty years and didn’t go more than a month without an income of some sort. I’ve worked in some nasty, stinky, hard, vile and downright abusive jobs, but nothing ever broke my desire to provide for those I care about, and I hope these tidbits will help those of you grads out there decide which way you want to go. If you want more advice, please check out my website, http://www.getinjohnshead.com and hint the “Contact Me” link.