Friday, August 5, 2011

If I could do college again...

I’ll set the stage with an overview of how I went through college. I rushed through my undergraduate program by taking classes year round. I never took a break and was in class for fall, winter, spring and summer courses. In three years from the date that I graduated high school, I had earned my undergraduate degree. Somewhere in the midst of it all I found my way to work for a few retail stores, bartend at a French restaurant, and dabble in a real estate business that compensated me with rent free living for a semester. I would have done none of the above if I had to go through my undergraduate program again. While I had the bragging rights of getting through school in a quick manner, 0 potential employers saw that as a criteria for in demand jobs. My resume, though with no empty spaces or gaps, had no credible job listings that would be attractive to an employer. When not in class I preferred to find an easy going, low commitment employer so that I could have extra time for the “college experience.” Which simply means that I drank way too much than I should have while chasing that sheep skin. I had the illusion in feeling entitled to college, that I had no vision or meaning to what college really meant. College is not a one way ticket to success in the real world. All a college degree does is allow you to compete for a place in the job market, end of story. At the end of it, all the degree shows is that you successfully passed a series of tests. I found that employers still want you to interview well and most importantly, have relevant job experience.
            If I could do college over again, I would have taken at least six years to earn my degree. I would have gone to classes part time either on weekends, at night or online, and worked an entry level position either directly through a company or via a temp agency and built relevant work experience, FULL-TIME, along the way. I would not have spent my weekends or free time going to college parties nearly as much as I did. This way, once I graduated with the degree, I would have years of relevant work experience behind me. Plus, in a much more economical way than interning, I would have gained knowledge of industry fields, received hands on experience, and would have been able to filter what I was looking for in a career and employer.
            I also would have done what my wife did. I would have applied to the 4 year university that I wanted to attend out of high school, and upon acceptance, deferred enrollment. Then I would have worked extensively with an academic advisor, so that I could attend and transfer as many courses from a local community college AS POSSIBLE right up to the limit, and then transferred to the 4 year and finished out for the undergraduate degree there. These tactics would have saved me so much money incurred during college, and I can guaranty that I would have come out of school debt free.
            For my kids one day, my wife and I plan to set aside funds in an ESA (which you can think of as an educational IRA, growth is tax free as long as proceeds are used for college related expenses). This, combined with savings in our long term investment tax vehicle, scholarships, and our kid WORKING, will allow our next of kin to attend college and come out debt free, with real world knowledge and a true understanding of what the college experience should be. I was wrong in believing that college was all about partying, drinking way too much, and occasionally attending class and taking a few tests. I would have been on a stronger footing for life if I had: worked a real job while attending school, did not see it as a one-way ticket to success, had kept costs low in attending and transferring from a local community college. Thank God I made these mistakes so that I make sure that my kids do not do the same.

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