College Isn’t Just a Piece of Paper

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  • When I talk to my friends about their college experience, the majority of them often say “It was all just for some dumb piece of paper.” It amazed me that theseindividuals held such low enthusiasm for all their hard work, so I began to pry and the general consensus was:

    A. They were stuck with student loans after graduation

    B. Most didn’t actually pursue a career in their degree

    C. Everything felt rushed and stressful

    I don’t blame them because they are my good friends but I did notice that the problem with all that I talked to seemed to have stemmed from not being prepared for the college experience. It’s true that you’re (somewhat) expected to jump right into college after high school which is a monumental decision and commitment for someone that’s so young.

    What I hope to do with this article is to catch those individuals that are at that turning point in their life where college is on the roadmap. I’d like to share how to use the readily available resources we have all around us (and available online) that will help you be prepared for college so you don’t end up as yet another one of those that felt it’s just a piece of paper at the end.

    Getting a Head Start

    Far too many people jump right into college without having an overall goal. It’s okay to explore different interests outside of your chosen field (and you really should) because you may want to change directions.

    The issue with doing this during your time in college is that it will obviously extend your stay which also means you are spending additional money for classes.

    My recommendation is to go ahead and utilize the free online courses to begin exploring all those interests before you’re on campus; there are plenty of them to choose from:

    • Coursera.org
    • Udemy.com
    • Edx.org

    The list goes on and on.

    If you happen to find something that interests you greater than what you had originally in mind for college then why not pursue it in your off-time and consider that as your chosen field of study?

    Securing a Financial Boost

    Student loans. A topic that you’re going to have and onethat should always be at the top of your list when preparing for college. Student loans can get the best of you but this is generally the case when you do not possess the right financial understanding.

    Take a kid fresh from high school that had been living with their parents, plop them down where they’re free to do whatever they want, and you can bet they will go a little overboard with their finances.

    When you look at the long-term gain of having a college education the cost associated with a college degree is actually tame if you are smart about how you approach loans if you do not have funds.

    Here is what I would recommend:

    1. Take a solid week (or more) of your time to study personal finance (read blogs, buy books, take courses, talk with advisors, and your parents)
    2. Do your best to apply for grants and scholarships (make this your job)
    3. Start examining personal loans by using comparison engines like the SimpleTuition site, which lets you sort through all your available options
    4. Utilize your new-found knowledge in personal finance to make a logical decision on what’s best for you while accounting for future revenue if you begin a career, side work during college, and other sources of income

    By taking these actions you remove the issue of student debt because you aren’t taking on more than your need and you have a plan so it doesn’t become too overwhelming

    Building a Routine

    A part of the problem lies in the fact that you are coming from high school which forced you into a weekly routine to an environment where you are free to do as you will. You’re away from home, you’re creating a schedule, and you want to maximize the social experiences (i.e. parties).

    Perhaps the best way to get the most from your time at college is to begin building routines early:

    Build these routines between the time you leave high school and college by creating daily goals and sticking to them. In time they will become part of your normal routine which translates to being diligent when you’re required to do course work and extracurricular activities.

    Finding a Real Opportunity

    The biggest mistake I notice my friends had made during their time in college was that they didn’t use their free time for networking.

    All around you are intelligent individuals that are either already successful, will find themselves in relevant fields to your interest, or have connections that could land you incredible opportunities for careers after you’ve completed your degree.

    • Try to attend networking events related to the industries you want to explore
    • Make friends with those that are diligent workers and entrepreneurial
    • Talk with your professors, regularly, and build a real connection outside the classroom
    • Attend meet ups with others interested in your hobbies and choice of degree

    These are the people that will one day help you get your foot in the door; you can reach out to them as they are becoming established to gain a helpful referral or do the same for them. College isn’t just about learning – it’s about making connections.

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