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Being practical about college

07:49 AM August 11, 2014

My dad has never made a particular secret of the fact that he wants me to be a lawyer or a businesswoman. I’ll call him up on the phone, as I do every week, talking about my American literature class, and after I’ve finished my ten-minute long speech, he’ll say, “Why don’t you talk to some people about taking a business class. You know, you have to ask questions early or the opportunity will just slip away from you”. Thanks, Dad. Real supportive!

In reality, though, I know that’s exactly what he is trying to do: He, like many parents out there, is just concerned about his child’s future, and wants me to be practical in my choice of degree. What he has never understood is that I worry about what happens after graduation, too. The confidence I communicate to him about my prospects is a lot of times, a farce; after all, how am I supposed to know for sure if I’m going to be able to find employment right away. Up to 7.3 percent of the population is unemployed, and I can’t guarantee myself that I won’t be one of them nor could I if I went to med-school. The world is an uncertain place.

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With that in mind, may I put my two cents?  Parents: Understand that children are going to be most successful when they are pursuing something that they are passionate about. Even if the statistics are not always behind their position, if they want it, they will be willing to put more effort into their classes, into their applications; they’ll be willing to move where they can find a job they like, and otherwise, do anything it takes to prove you and the world wrong. At some point, you were just like them. And even if you chose something more practical, time has probably proved that even the safe jobs do not always remain so.

To the teens and twenty-something: There is something so incredibly tempting about college. It’s not like high school where almost every class is mandated; you have your choice of major, you have your choice of minor, of electives. If you managed to get some AP credits, you probably don’t even have a science, language, or math requirement to meet. And yet, that low-hanging fruit might stop you from looking to the better fruit higher up the branch. You don’t want to use these four years goofing off, but making the next 50 years after graduation easier.

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So, here’s what I suggest: Go after the major that you want, without guilt, without reservations, but also without any mistaken ideas that your choice won’t affect how your life plays out. When it comes to your electives, however, I think we can all afford to play things a little smart. I, personally, am not particularly good at language or computers, and yet I’m planning to take a computer programming class during my junior year for the express purpose of making myself more appealing to publishing houses, when I send in my application.

In short, know the industry you plan on going into, and build your schedule, not around the minimum requirements for that kind of job, but around being an ideal candidate for that position. With the rising cost of college, each one of us owes it to ourselves to get the most value out of our experiences there.

I’ve heard people claim that college was the best time of their life, and that has always made me really sad. Because, to me, college should not be such a separate experience from the “real world,” just our introduction to it, a chance to work on the balance between fun and practicality that our adult lives will be about.

Of course, we may choose to make our time lopsided, to throw all our cards out on the table in one go, but I think, in the long run, we’re all happier knowing that our most precious, high-flying dreams have something comfortable to fall back on.

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TAGS: career choices, careers, college education, electives, Elizabeth Horner, majors
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