Every year millions of high school grads ship off to college without asking themselves if they should even be going. Before any of your time is wasted reading any other articles, let’s take a moment to see if college is right for you. Because people come from so many different situations and walks of life this article is organized topically. Find the sections which apply to you then go from there.
College is more difficult than high school.
The main reason college is more difficult is because higher education’s ultimate goal is to teach students to think critically. By the time you graduate you will have completed no less than 35-40 individual courses. (Approximately 1/3 of these will be core curriculum classes that do not even pertain to your major!) The best students study nearly as many hours outside of class as they are in it. High school does not adequately prepare anybody for college unless they are involved in the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Tests occur less often but count for a larger percentage of your grade.
If you are an excellent test-taker then college will be like a breath of fresh air. If you are not, check out my article on some new ways to improve study skills. There are far fewer “busy-work” assignments. Most work requires cumulative knowledge of what you have learned so far in a semester. Only a few lower-division classes will allow you to pad your grade with simple homework assignments.
Writing assignments require more thought and time.
The days of finishing a 5 page paper the night before and using Wikipedia for all of your sources are definitely over. In high school it is really easy to “put something into your own words” and turn it in for an A, but college professors simply will not put up with it. Need to improve your writing skills for college? Check out the article on Improving Writing Skills.
What do you want to be?
You have had almost two decades to consider this, so your time is up! Just kidding. If you still want to be a fireman or a police officer then that is wonderful, but most of us still do not have a clue.
The good news is that it is generally not practical to pick your career at a young age.(The main exception to this is medicine. If you want to pursue medicine you really need to feel that it is your calling in life. To become a specialist will require nearly a decade or more of education!) Most people change their career 7-8 times during their lives so it is O.K. to change your mind eventually. Just because you major in engineering does not mean all other career opportunities are closed to you.
Few students graduate without changing their major at least once, but this is mostly because they started in a field in which they should not have been enrolled. If you really want to go to college and do not have a clue what you want, then you can list yourself as a general curriculum major. This major allows you about a year to take only core classes which apply to any degree.
Is money important to you?
Was Bill Gates a dropout? Yep. Is he really smart? Probably. Have you invented a machine that will revolutionize the modern world? Probably not…(yet). The facts speak for themselves in this case. The Princeton Review, one of the nation’s top test preparation services, states that a person who has a bachelor’s degree instead of just a high school diploma will, on average, earn nearly twice as much money over the course of his/her career.
Love working with your hands?
Did you spend every day of your last class itching to put a new air-intake on your car? Think you could build a tree-house with your bare hands? If you fall under this category, then you have an enormous opportunity ahead of you. People with this attribute have the potential to flourish equally well in college or in the real world. Various majors such as architecture, mechanical engineering, and more are available to you if you have the motivation to pursue them. Several people I know personally have told me they avoided college because their math, science, or English skills were simply not good enough to get through a specific curriculum. The good news is that there is no harm done. College degrees are the norm in the 21st century, but the world will always need people with skills you simply cannot learn in a classroom.
Are you interested in the fine arts?
Whether it is acting, singing, painting, dancing, glass-blowing, etc., etc., etc. there are numerous opportunities for the pursuit of the fine arts at college. Even if you do not want to major in the arts, college allows you the opportunity to explore numerous mediums with competent, generally enthusiastic instructors who love what they do. What better way to learn woodworking than from a person who is a DOCTOR of woodworking?
Participating in an artistic activity and excelling at it is how many people finance their education, as well. Huge scholarships are offered each year to the best incoming artistic talent.
If you feel that your skills are unusually above-average then I recommend finding either a gallery to present your work or a studio/orchestra holding auditions at the professional level.
(Entirely as an aside, I’m going to give my biggest piece of advice for those who enjoy nothing else but a particular area of the arts:
Go to college and get a degree in education in your field. If you can never see yourself doing anything else, this degree will be indispensable to you.)
I’m thinking about the armed forces, actually…
That’s fine. Those who choose to pursue a short-term contract or even a career in the military receive a free college education (if they so choose) plus practical experience. If you think you can handle the physical aspect then the armed forces may be your cheapest ticket into college.
Are you mentally ready for college?
College is often the first chance people get to live away from home. Some flourish but some simply do not adjust well.
Think back. What times in your life were you physically and mentally unable to participate in something because you missed your home or your friends? If you were a really young child then it is no big deal, but if any of these appear in your recent memory you may need to spend some time taking care of this before you leave home. If the nearest college is very far away then it will be difficult, but many students live at home as long as their parents will let them if the campus is reasonably close. Choose what option is best for you.
Potential homesickness is not always a problem. Are you one of the students who is equally as sick of school as you are living at home? Maybe taking a year off is the right thing for you to do. Make sure you have some money saved, because you will be spending a lot of your year off working if you do not. If your parents hate this idea then you may have to find somewhere else to live, but with any luck you can find many enriching activities that inspire and lead you in the right direction.
Why does every major seem so boring?
Just like high school, the enjoyment factor of most classes stems from your personal involvement along with the involvement of the professor. The subject matter, for the most part, is inconsequential.
All degrees require that you take approximately 10 classes of general education. Many of these can be avoided by testing for equivalence credit in advance or taking advanced placement courses in high school.
Every major has a lower-division and an upper-division. Lower-division may look boring, but the skills you learn in the lower-division classes give you the ability to do well once you get to the more difficult and more interesting subject matter in your junior and senior years. Algebra-based physics is only as bad as you make it, right?
I’m a young mother/father…will I have time?
Ask your family members for help. You would be surprised how many of them were very young when they had children, too. Most will be incredibly supportive if you tell them that you are seeking a degree. Some schools also have daycares within their Early Childhood Development departments which are free for the children of students.
If you are unable to get the help of your family or the school you plan to attend does not offer this then online classes may be for you. The sleeping patterns of little ones, as I am sure you know, are more than erratic. The freedom to do your assignments when you want may be just what you need.
Can I quit?
You would not be the first. Sometimes the initial excitement fades fast and people give up on college. This is NOT a big deal. School is hard, right?
The mistake that most people make is quitting too soon. If you decide that you absolutely hate college midway through a semester then you need to just deal with it! Begin searching for what you want to do for income when the semester is over, but do not give up on the courses in which you are already enrolled. You may hate it now, but four years from now you will be happy that you have five classes on your transcript if you finally decide you need to give college another shot.
Still up to the challenge?