It’s that time of year again, when people of all ages either graduate or have received acceptance letters from universities and graduate programs. It’s an exciting time! But it’s also a crucial time; one that is not discussed enough nor in quite the proper manner. Therefore I am going to give you the advice I wish someone would have told me as I made my journey through the golden gates of higher learning.
- Don’t be naieve! One of the biggest missteps in the higher-ed journey is that people send you off to college wide-eyed and optimistic, ready to “find yourself.” And technically, there is nothing wrong with that. Optimism is good, naivete is not. The truth is, you’d better find yourself pretty fast if you’re one of the millions of students that must use student loans or depend on scholarships to attend. If you don’t try to “find yourself” going to work, don’t do it at school. Be sober about your time on campus.
- See college as a business endeavor, not as a time of personal exploration. Remember it’s a business transaction–and don’t let any guidance counselor, admissions rep or professor lead you to believe anything else. You’re paying for it! Count your coins, makes sure you get your money’s worth, challenge charges and pinch pennies on supplies, fees and books!
- Understand what you’re buying. If I asked you what you were paying for when you attend college, you’d probably say, “education.” But you’d be dead wrong--at least partially. The real value of a college education beyond simple know-how (which you could likely get online) is networks, connections and access to influencers.
- If you know what you’re buying, you’ll know what to focus on. Sure, make good grades, and good friends, but also make business/career-related connections. It’s OK to deliberately seek out relationships with influencers and connected faculty and staff. Whether you’re looking to become a career professional or an entrepreneur when you graduate, you will need these connects to advance and find opportunity–and if you see college as a business transaction it makes doing this a million times easier.
- It’s OK to join a fraternity or sorority. Don’t join for the parties, but for the connections. Don’t get into trouble, but engage at a level with which you are comfortable. No, you’re not buying friends, you’re buying associates–and that’s OK. Why? Think of it like this, advertisers buy ad space virtually everywhere just to get their message in front of you, in the hope that you will buy. It’s the same concept–and what’s cool, is that you might make some friends in the process.
- Race matters. Have fun in college, but studies have proven that for people of color, your strongest and most vital connections will be with people who look like you. The people most likely to do business with you, make introductions and provide support will be those like yourself. So if you go to a University, make sure it has a strong alumni network and influencer circle FULL of people like you to which you can connect. Better yet, attend an HBCU or an international school with a large demographic like you. And be very nice to that group and very quick to dispatch a favor, it makes sense in dollars and cents!
- Take the teaching year, or the federal volunteer year that will pay off any portion of your loans. A year (or two) won’t matter in the long run; success is not linear, sometimes it’s a meandering path or a detour so don’t worry if you don’t start your career immediately. Keep making connections no matter where you go. Make the decision that benefits you the most financially.
- Get that internship! I don’t care what you have to do, get the apprenticeship or research position! If you must start your search in Freshman year or your first year in Grad school, fine! Just do it. You want to get a body of work before you go into the working world.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind as you matriculate. There is a vital need to remove the romanticism of college and come to understand it as a business exchange. Whether you are putting yourself through school, getting your MBA or sending a high school student off, it is absolutely essential to see US Education in a similar manner. It will save you thousands of dollars and years of misunderstanding. Remember, in the end you power yourself ahead–not your degree. Share this article with a college student, graduate student, phd candidate or anyone in higher-education in the US. They will thank you for it ten times over!