Ask Away: Back to School
Hey Culture Girls!
I know you know that within the next few weeks, most of you all will be returning to school—if you haven’t already gone back. There are always tons of advice posts to help people have their best school years, and while this post is no different, I hope some if not all of these helpful tips will help you as you further your educational and career goals.
Even if you have no idea what your career path will be, there’s no reason why you can’t start preparing for your future now. Try extracurricular activities like campus clubs and organizations, shadow someone in an industry you may be interested in pursuing, check out websites and blogs from people writing about things you’re interested in. Maybe this won’t lead to a life-long career, but if all you get out of this is finding out what you do not want to do once you graduate, you’re still further along than some of your peers and you can spend your time doing what does interest you.
That being said, don’t sign up for everything. I repeat: Don’t. Sign. Up. For. Everything. That will only help you burn out, cause your grades to go down, and cause you to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted. If you have a lot of interests, dabble here and there until you find something you enjoy doing. Finding one or two things that you love and feel passionate about > half-heartedly doing everything. College admissions counselors agree: the Hartford Courant even says “The more extracurriculars, the better” is a myth because “schools changed their focus from well-rounded students to those with hyper-developed interest in one or two subjects.” Quality > quantity.
Academically, take advantage of honors/pre-AP and AP/accelerated classes: many schools offer a mix of ways to get through core curriculum faster as well as provide opportunities to earn college credit before entering college. From being able to take high school-level classes like foreign language, math, and English in middle school to taking dual credit or dual enrollment classes in high school, take advantage of these free opportunities as much as you can because it will both prepare you for the rigors of college classes and help you save money because most of these opportunities are free.
If you don’t plan on going straight from high school to college/university—or go further than high school at all (and that’s okay if it isn’t; we all have different paths)—many schools also offer vocational programs like cosmetology, early childhood education, and media programs for those interested in entering the job force as soon as they graduate. If this sounds like you, check out what your school or area offers, and it’s possible that you could graduate and get a stable, well-paying job right out of high school. For those of you interested in joining the military after high school, join JROTC if you’re not already a member to get an introduction to military life while still in high school, talk to recruiters when they visit your school, and if possible, talk to other active-duty military members and reservists to find out what to expect once you join.
If money is an issue but you still want to take classes after high school, in addition to filing your FAFSA and checking out scholarship and grant opportunities, think about spending your time in core classes at a community or junior college. You’ll be taking the same classes you would for a fraction of the cost, fewer students in your class often offers a better learning experience, and when you get to the college or university of your choice, you could go right into your major coursework instead.
For those going to college or a vocational program, be careful with taking out loans to finance it. It’s difficult to finance school without them, but be strategic. Stick with federal loans instead of relying on private loans, which often are far more restrictive, have a higher interest rate, and start repayments sooner. Also, don’t take more than you need. Remember that you will most likely have to pay it all back one day. According to Forbes, the U.S.’s collective student loan debt is more than $1 trillion and more than 40 million students have college loan debt. Look out for your future now by preparing ahead of time to tackle any debt you may accumulate before signing on the dotted line.
Also along the lines of finances, think about your future credit by making sure you don’t open too many credit card accounts. If you want one to get a credit card (not attached to your bank account like a debit card is), find one good credit card whose balance you can easily pay off, which will help you build your credit. However, don’t charge too much or have too big a balance to conceivably pay off in a short amount of time. You don’t want to start your post-grad life in the hole because this could prevent you from getting a car, a place of residence, and even a job.
Party responsibly: most campuses have many opportunities to get together and hang out with friends and peers. And there’s nothing wrong with taking some time (emphasis on some) out of your studies to check out a few (emphasis on a few). If you make it to more parties than classes, your GPA is going to take a hit that’s hard to bounce back from. When you do go out, make sure someone knows where you’ll be and when you’ll be back (call/text them on your way and when you get back home), try to go with others when possible, and watch out for your drinks. Never leave your cup, can, or bottle unattended because that puts you at risk for being drugged and the dangers involved once that happens. Act responsibly, drink responsibly, and watch out for your friends you’re attending the party with to keep everyone safe, happy, and healthy.
If you’re looking for a job, check out on-campus work opportunities. Campuses understand students trying to balance work and school more than most off-campus employees, and many on-campus jobs provide better hours for students to fit in work and class. Many on-campus jobs are work-study-based, so make sure you fill out a FAFSA ahead of time, but some are not work-study and available for student workers to fill the vacancies.
Make sure you visit your campus’s career center (or at least, visit their website if you’re a commuter or online student who can’t make it to campus during their open hours). Not only do they have the 411 on available on- and off-campus jobs, they can also help you search for internships, externships, and even help you with your post-college job search by reading over your résumés, cover letters, and other application documents.