What I Wish I Had Known About College: Options
Options admonishes with the following:
- Money is not a real barrier. You can attend any college to which you can gain admission.
- Community college is a viable option toward an Associate degree (cheaper). Transfer and finish your bachelor degree at a 4-year institution.
- Your transfer options are multitudinous. They include study abroad for weeks, semesters, or years.
It is remarkable that I and many others spent years dreaming of the freedom of adulthood. I saw education as a ticket to a better life. I knew that I had to excel in school in order to afford opportunities. I realized the power of personal responsibility sometime around the age of 13. I placed responsibility for my achievement squarely on my shoulders. When the buck stopped, it would stop with me. I wanted the freedom to choose for myself, but I had limited knowledge of the possible options.
People with more experience than me reinforced my sense of personal responsibility. Some even applauded my resolve and positive activity. But, they didn’t recognize that I was pointing my vision at only a few options, more likely only one option. I saw my future as a single directive with a singular path. It was “being good” or “being smart” or “doing the right thing.” All these are fine as target, but they all fail miserably in the face of the world of options that were available to me. I could have been good anywhere, not limited by my vision, money, or past. I could have navigated the system to my advantage, instead of thinking that colleges were doing me a favor. I could have used my college years to travel the world and grow internationally. Collecting a degree is secondary. I knew it was up to me, but I had no clue of the multitude of options that “it” included.
Most people know my story of financial learning during college. I didn’t know what my scholarships required or how to get more beyond getting good grades. I didn’t know how student loans worked. In fact, I feared them. More importantly, I didn’t know that I should not have been worrying about any of it. My first priority was to identify my passion. My second was to pursue that passion relentlessly. Third, I should have sought the support from student services and other campus resources to educate me and help me navigate finances, classes, and other needs.
I wish I had known that, with those priorities in place, I could have attended any college in the world. Hopefully, I win points for choosing my college in order to be close to my grandmother. If not, my choice is completely without merit. More than that, it was without reason–a lack of reason situated in an incomplete set of options. It was some time between reluctantly accepting a federal student loan and anxiously taking out a student loan a couple of years later, I realized that money was not a barrier. Between grants, loans, scholarships, and donations from friends, plenty of money is available. Go to your campus support services and college administrators and ask.
I received a full ride to a community college. But, I thought it was more prestigious to attend a university. Granted, I was intelligent. I could pass a college level Calculus class. But, I was not mature. There wasn’t anyone to pull me aside and teach me how to study, the importance of homework, or reasons not to roll out to Taco Bell every night. I don’t know if time in a community college would have allowed me to mature. What I do know is that enrolling in a community college has multiple benefits.
First, it costs less. Every college and university has general education requirements. Every community college provides these general education courses at a lower price point than the college or university. Second, community colleges provide Associate degrees. So, for the same effort and less cost, you can receive an additional degree, preparation, and transferable credits. Lastly, the Associate degree from the community college does not negatively impact the Bachelor degree you earn from the 4-year institution. For some students, especially those like me, community college could be a great way to get acculturated to the difference between high school and a 4-year experience.
I grew up with the message, “Nothing is free.” It is a true statement for as much as it is. But, it is incomplete. The full message is, “Nothing is free. Everything has a cost. Your payment varies in currency, time due, and benefit calculation. In your calculation, include considerations of those (currency/tender, due date, and benefit) along with interest, leverage, and long-term impact.” I don’t know if I would have comprehended the full message, but I know I would have been smart enough to dissect the components and question each.
With the full message, I would have recognized that I could transfer, study abroad, or intern anywhere. The idea of obtaining a passport would not have been foreign. The chance to hop on a plane would not have been unthinkable. The inclination to call up a CEO or human resources director would have been more than a fantasy.
Consult with student services or your college career center. Get a sense of the options available to you. Then, extend them without fear.
Change your CAN’T to HOW CAN I?
Funding, mechanisms, and calculations exist. Just because you don’t know them is no excuse for overlooking them. They reveal themselves as you intentionally, relentlessly, fearlessly seek to accomplish your goals. Now you know. Take advantage of your options.