Friday, August 11, 2017

College Advice: From a Person Who Has Been There, Done That.


If you're like me, you know that having a college degree is important. These days, it's hard to land a job without one. For those of you who have read my previous post, my son is starting his Senior Year, which means that this time next year, he'll be off to college.

My kiddos and I have an open line of communication. I do my very best to instill my 35 years of knowledge and experience into their brains so that they can make wiser choices then I did at their age. One important lesson that has always stuck with them is going to college. There's never been a doubt in their mind - it's never been an option. For as long as they can remember, they know that they will be going.

This is because I've been going to school for most of their life. I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in Human Services two years after my daughter was born. A year and a half after that, I graduated with my Master's degree in Psychology. My kiddos were able to remember that moment more clearly. My daughter, who was 4 at the time, went around for a week with a rolled up piece of paper saying, "congratulations" and then shaking people's hands because that's what she saw me do when I went up on stage to accept my diploma. My son always remembers me studying and writing papers.

Even after graduating with my Master's, I pursued certificate programs in Human Resources and now, Screenplay writing. I'm a lifelong learner. I really enjoy school and learning new things. I teach when I'm not taking the kiddos to set. Prior to that, I worked as an Enrollment Advisor, enrolling interested college students to our school. I went through tuition costs, had extensive convo's on borrowing responsibly, and giving students the big picture of what education will cost them to earn that degree.

After all is said and done, I find myself saying, "I wish I attended Community College my first two years because these student loans are a bitch!"

So from someone who has been there, here is some advice.

1. DECIDING ON A MAJOR
 
Many students and parents think, "You will figure out what you want to do when you're in college." This is true, but it can come with a price. What if you have a hard time in class and end up failing? I'm guilty of that. What if you decide to change your major and lose out on some credits because it didn't transfer? Yup. Still guilty. Well, congratulations. You just wasted $700 or even $1800 on that course that earned you ZERO credits.

At least 50% of freshman choose "undecided" as their major, which according to Forbes.com, is bad advice. In the long run, choosing undecided can become costly. You may be taking courses you don't need just to fill your schedule, and when you finally decide what major you want to take, many find that some of those courses aren't transferable - meaning, they lose out on those credits, and have to spend more money to "catch up" for the required courses needed for their new major.

Even those that have a major in mind end up changing it. USA Today College states that 80% of students will change their major at least once before graduating. My step-daughter is guilty of that. She's changed her major at least twice before ending her sophomore year. By doing so, she extended her four year education to four in a half years.

It's important to understand that choosing a major is a big decision and should be thought out carefully. Make a pro/con list with your teen. Ask questions, such as:

  • "Why do you want to go into that profession?" 
  • "What type of degree do you need?" 
  • "How much school does it require?" 
  • "What is the job market like for this career?" 

Get their minds thinking. But also, both parents and teens need to educate themselves. 

If your son/daughter wants to become an auto technician, see what type of schools are available for this type of career. Does it require going to a 4 year college? Or do you just need a certificate from a trade school? If they want to be a doctor, understand what type of degree they need, how long school will be and what requirements need to be met. Both careers have very specific guidelines, so you want to make sure that you are headed into the right direction so you are not wasting time or money.

2. DECIDE ON A COLLEGE

Will it be a University, State School, Community College, or a Trade School? Decisions, decisions. 

If your child is truly undecided, consider going to a community college for the first two years so they can figure out what they want to do. The first two years of any college (except trade/vocational school) is taking general education courses such as Math, English, and Science. Many don't get into their core courses until their junior year. 

This is the most cost effective because while they decide what they want to do, they can get their Gen Ed courses out of the way, saving thousands on tuition. Yes, thousands! But I'll get into that in #3.

If attending a University is important to you, going to a community college for two years won't prevent you from doing that. Think about it. You can earn an Associate’s degree at a community college within two years. This can help you land a better job. You can then transfer to a University to finish your Bachelor's degree.
 
Did you know: If you live in California, you have a higher chance of getting into your desired University when you transfer from a California Community College? For example, on UCLA's transfer admissions guide for 2017-2018, it states:

"We give highest priority to students who are transferring from California community colleges or other University of California campuses."

My step-daughter currently attends California State University. When she was looking to transfer to a UC (University of California) school, she learned that many of her credits won't transfer in and priority is given to CA Community College transfers. She didn't want to lose out on even more credits, so she decided to stay at Cal State. 

Again, do your homework. Making a decision on a major will help you decide what type of school you need to attend.

3. COST OF TUITION

Sometimes, it comes down to cost. How much is this going to be once I finally graduate? Parents don't want to burden their kids with debt before they can even get their career started. 

I had this discussion with my own kiddos. When my step-daughter first started college, I sat with her and we went over numbers. We discussed what Grants were, went over student loans, and the cost of tuition. 

Since it was her first year in college, we wanted her to live in the dorms - because we never got to experience that freedom when we went to college. We wanted her to experience "college life" because we missed out on those things. She live in the dorm with three other girls, but by the end of the school year, she ended up moving out and into an apartment. Why? Because reality hit. Renting in the dorms cost $900/mo per person. She was able to find an apartment with the same amount of girls for $400/mo per person. You live and learn.

Now, let's talk tuition costs. 

Earlier I talked about how taking your Gen Ed courses can save you thousands of dollars if you attended Community College.

My Bachelor's degree cost roughly about $35,000 for four years. My step-daughter pays close to $4000 a semester at Cal State (it is about $6000 a semester at UC). My hubster attends Community College right now and pays $700 a semester. You do the math. 

You can spend $3000 to earn an Associate’s Degree at a Community College and then transfer to a University for your Bachelor's degree. Your student loans will be much less than what you would spend attending a University for 4 years. 

If I only knew then what I know now...

TAKE THE TIME TO TALK TO YOUR TEENS

Educate yourself and your teen by knowing:

  • What schools offer your major?
  • What requirements are needed (i.e. will there be additional field study work, lab hours, etc.)?
  • What type of degree is needed, if any?
  • How much is tuition?
  • How long will it take to graduate?
  • What courses will I be taking? 
  • What other expenses should I factor in (supplies, parking, housing, food, etc.)? 
  • Are online classes available?

These are just a few important questions to go over.

PARENTS - LISTEN TO YOUR TEEN!

This one is major. I don't know how many students go into a program because their parents decided it would be the best one for them. But parents, have you asked your teen what they want to do? After all, it is their life. They are the one's putting in all the hard work. They are the ones that will have to live with this career. If you both decided on it, then great. However, if you didn't even listen to your teen about what they want to do, then you may have a long road ahead of you. 

When I first graduated high school, I had just given birth to my son. My parents were very supportive and all they wanted me to do was go to college. So they helped me out financially and I did what I was told because I felt like I owed them that much. I wanted to study Psychology, but they wanted me to become a nurse. So I went ahead and chose that major because I thought to myself, "they are paying for it and they have helped me and my son so much already." However, after my first semester and after much debate, I couldn't do it. I realized that as a nurse, I'd have to deal with blood - which is something I can't stand. Then one day, I will have to deal with the loss of a patient. These are things that I, personally, was NOT OK with. I got the courage to talk to my parents and they finally understood the reality: I would have to be the one to deal with this every day, not them. 

So the decision, whatever it may be, is ultimately up to your teen. 

I am a strong believer of supporting your child's goals, because there is no limit on what they can accomplish. Just because you (parent) can't picture yourself doing it, doesn't mean that they can't.  

These are big decisions, and when you're just entering adulthood, these decisions are life changing. Talk with your teen, but also listen. Really listen. Go over those major questions and concerns together.

I hope this advice is helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or email me.


References:

Onink, T. (2012, October 08). Bad College Advice - the Undeclared Major. Retrieved August 11, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/troyonink/2010/12/16/bad-college-advice-the-undeclared-major/#6882104632a8 

Avoid these 3 pitfalls when considering switching majors. (2015, January 07). Retrieved August 11, 2017, from http://college.usatoday.com/2015/01/07/avoid-these-3-pitfalls-when-considering-switching-majors/

UCLA Undergraduate Admission. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2017, from http://www.admission.ucla.edu/prospect/adm_tr/tradms.htm





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