Higher Education

My Grandpa requested I write a post about education, specifically higher education and what it means in the real world. As I said in a previous post, I am highly educated. This is not tooting my own horn, though I am proud of my accomplishments, but more of a cautionary tale.

Let’s start with the typical education structure. Thirteen years spent in primary, four years in undergraduate school, and two to four years professional school. Simple math, nineteen to twenty one years of our lives are spent in school. The unfortunate part of this is that very few programs offer internships or any sort of practical application. Graduates have no experience!

I will use myself as an example of the typical college student. I started when I was 18, fresh out of high school and I dreamed of being a doctor. I am a pretty smart cookie, but I was home schooled and there was something new to my educational experience… boys! This is not to say I had been sheltered from the opposite sex, or the world. There are families that give home schoolers the creepy, shut in face. I don’t understand those families, unless they plan on locking their children in their homes for forever, but that is beside the point. Boys were everywhere! For students coming from a traditional high school setting, older, college men were everywhere! Most of my generation, and I suspect most generations, between the ages on fifteen and twenty five were distracted by the opposite sex. This is pure biology speaking.

This is important. When we graduate from high school we are expected to know what we want to do with our lives. At 18, with little experience in the real world and all that that entails, I was expected to know what career path I wanted to follow and to follow it with the zeal of Twilight Mom. My parents preached to focus on school, my professors preached to focus on school, my peers preached focus on me. It is a tough time to be an adult and do adult things. On top of this, 50-70% of undergrads change their majors at least once, some changing up to three times. Not only that, but a large chunk of undergrads have undecided majors when they enter the higher education realm. (Stats from here)

This is a major problem for several reasons. With our lack of focus on studying (boys) and our lack of experience in the real world, we are setting up for failure.

First off, we have no idea what we want to do with our lives and yet somehow we are convinced to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education that we haven’t the faintest idea what we want to do with. Even the site I linked says that a major is basically useless because it is the professional degree or your place of business that will define your career path now, not your undergrad. This is coupled with the fact that if you manage to make it out in the four year time frame (most go five years), you have no real experience in the workforce. If you do have experience, ’cause you were super smart and worked through college, how likely is it that your experience matches the field you want to go into?

Again, me as an example. I worked for FedEx Ground through most of my college career, with a sprinkling of construction and martial arts in there for good measure. Starting out, I wanted to be a doctor, then a writer, then I graduated and wanted to be a doctor again. Um… my jobs did zero to prepare me for either field I wanted to go into. Basically I spent two years after graduating, over educated for entry level jobs but under experienced for mid-level jobs (how could I be a manager 40h a week, go to school full time, and, you know, boys?). Not only that, it took me five years to graduate and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just new I needed to go back for a professional degree.

I point this out because I doubt I am the only college graduate who went through this. I was 25 when I did figure out what I wanted to do, and worse, I didn’t follow it. I wonder if I had spent three or four years working different jobs, gaining experience, if I would have been better prepared to enter college with the knowledge of what I wanted to do and the gumption to follow through with it.

So I got my professional degree, and it isn’t what I want to to. I do my job, and I do it well, but my passion lays in chocolate. The texture, the flavor, the smell, and everything in between. Chocolate is my dream and I put it on hold to do the safe option. All for the low low cost of $170,000 in student loans!

There is currently the perception that education is the only way to move forward in this world, and I wholeheartedly agree. However, I challenge what people consider education. First, I challenge the idea that we need to send high school kids to college right away. Unless they are truly driven (my sister is like this) in a specific field, college serves as an expensive distraction.  Consider this following statistic. That’s right, nearly half of the students will drop out before completing their educations. It is why surveys have the option for “some college”. If the undergraduate degree is worthless for the most part, how much less is “some college” worth?

I am not saying that a Bachelor’s degree is actually worthless. I am well aware that it is not. However, many employers that pay well are looking for the mix of education and experience. Apparently not experience loading trucks though. Over and all, you have to work your way up the ladder in any job, whether you have your PhD or not.

It boils down to this, so you don’t make such a huge financial investment into something that you only feel meh about. If you don’t know what you want to do and are graduating from high school (or you know someone who is like this) don’t go to college right away. Bounce around a bit. Find what you like doing. Note I said like and not Love. If you like what you are doing you will be much more vested in educating yourself to continue in that field. You can do this by working a number of different jobs, volunteering your time, researching things you like to see if there are careers in that field, etc. Everyone gets wrapped up in the glamour of college, then finds out they didn’t want to do what they thought they wanted to do.

Education is not synonymous with college. Okay, so it is, but it is not the only thing synonymous with it. Trade school, experience, and certification are also synonymous. Don’t limit yourself to college if that isn’t where your heart or skills lay. If you like working on cars, go into the trades. If you like working on houses, go into the trades. If you want to work in healthcare, doctors are not the only ones necessary, but they are the only ones who require a professional degree. Nurses and respiratory therapists only need associates degrees. Nurses assistants only need to be certified, if that.

Options is the key here. You have options. You don’t have to go into debt to come out with no idea what you want to do. You can do that for free and gain experience in the workforce, figuring out what you do want to do. Don’t get sucked in, like 40 million of us have (who are floundering in student debt), just because ‘education is the way of the future’. A useful education is the way of the future.

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