Grad Nation: 5 Tips for the Class of 2018 (High School Edition)

The United States high school graduation rate reached an all time high of 83% in 2014/2015 school year and in 2016.  Many credit the surge in highly targeted US social programs and initiatives aimed at improving graduation among low-income and underserved students.  In a little more than a year, U.S. graduation rates fell 10 percent in 2017 to 73 percent with the national College graduation rate hovering at roughly 60 percent.

These can be both encouraging and discouraging figures as the U.S. continues to seek to improve educational achievement in the U.S.  Students approaching high school and college graduation have a new economy to face in a fast-paced, globalizing world where trade wars and world politics collide.  As the cost of college continues to increase, (some estimates suggest increases of upwards of 1000 percent since 1980) students must wade through a quagmire of education and career choices that will have long reaching implications.   This week we’ll explore my top 5 tips for graduating high school seniors and next week my top 5 tips for College students.  These are things I learned later in life; but would love to tell my younger self.

Tip 1:  Consider The Future

It’s very important to contemplate what you want your life to look like and how yo wish to achieve it.  If you are attending college, you will have two years before needed to select a major at a four-year university, however the sooner you know what you want to do—the better.  It’s worth taking the time to do some real research about the field you wish to enter and how that industry is changing, growing or dying.  Criminal Justice was a huge field in the 1990s, but few people ever did much with those careers.  Take the time to do real research with mom and dad and be practical about what you want to do.  Remember, it’s possible to do what you love and what you must.  You may need to take up a second major—but make sure you have a solid marketable skill regardless of how passionate you are about it.

Tip 2:  Be Choosy About HigherEd

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 59 percent of college students graduate and many more do not graduate on time.  The fact is that the odds are almost 50/50 that an undergraduate will obtain a degree.  So making it to a university is the first step.  For minorities, figures also indicate that many do not return for their sophomore year due to everything from funding to grades.  So if you’re a minority student, you’ll need to be vigilant.  According to data from the Princeton Review, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Chicago all made the top 5 colleges this year.  However, remember, colleges should be judged on more than their ranking.  The major contribution college provides are lifelong connections.  So it is important to determine if your college has a robust and inclusive network that you can use to your advantage.  It will not matter if you are a top student at the best university in the country if you cannot tap into its alumni network.  Also, beware the price and be sure that you’re getting your money’s worth. I recommend staying small, doing your first two years at a local community college and your last two years at a 4-year institution.  Try to study in the state where you live to reduce costs.  Also, if you are a black student, you may wish to consider attending an HBCU where you may have a more inclusive alumni network to tap into in the future.

Tip 3:  Meet People

Yes.  Maybe you are buying friends by pledging a fraternity or sorority; but joining a fraternity isn’t about friendship—it’s about networking.  And let’s face it, you may not appreciate their worth until AFTER you graduate.  I only recommend joining if you have good self-control and will not engage in dangerous behavior.  Try to to research the safest fraternity on your campus.  But even if you do not pledge, be sure to get out there and meet people.  Join at least two extracurricular activities and get to know your professors, roommates and classmates.  It’s important, because the person you have lunch with every day may one day be the president or a congressman who can help you pass important legislation or return a favor later on in life.  Also, professors make great references and can be a source of knowledge and mentoring as you grow in your career.

Tip 4:  Say Yes When Opportunity Knocks

Say yes to new opportunities, internships and clubs as early as possible.  It will connect you with several activities that will help you determine what you enjoy and the people who can help you get where you need to be.  Internships are critical and getting one in sophomore year can be an added blessing.  It’s important not to burn out, so be sure that you aren’t taking on too much responsibility.  But take the internship, say yes to the fellowship and if you are recommended by a professor or staff to a position, it’s a good idea to give it a try.  Many staff members are knowledgeable, and they can see potential long before the student.

Tip 5: Be First in Class

Many students take on more classes than they should and often squander credits on frivolous classes like basket-weaving and other nonessentials.  While this may seem like a good way to wrack up credits and move closer to your degree, it’s really a poor use of your money.  Remember, you are paying for every class that you take.  So it is important that you take classes that contribute to your major and avoid classes that do not sharpen your level of expertise.  Make taking class into a job: take notes, create a schedule and a calendar to help you keep up with assignments, exams and tests.  Start looking for jobs within your field as early as junior year—it will help you get an idea of what is in your field.

For more tips on College, check out the Entrepreneurs Guide to College.

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