If I were in high school right now, I’d be pretty darn scared.
Of course I’d think that college might be fun, but with all the messages flying around me telling me that college is going to run me into debt and cause me to graduate unemployed, I’d be pretty terrified.
Add in the fact that supposedly I have to be putting myself through grueling admissions tests andmaintaining strong grades just so I can spend four years pulling all-nighters, and I’d probably be freaking out.
As someone who actually has been through college, graduated during the recession, and still thought it was one of the best experiences of my life, I’m here to tell you that if I were you, I’d ignore the lies you are being told.
Sure, these sensationalist articles sell stories, but they do so by making you (and your parents) unnecessarily terrified about what should be one of the most exciting times in life.
If I have one message for the juniors and seniors out there, I would tell them to first of all:
Relax; it is going to be okay.
And secondly, ignore the following lies:
1) College will put you into horrible debt
We all know that college is expensive, and the costs are rising uncontrollably. As a result, lots of students are graduating with substantial debt. In 2012, the average student graduated from college with $29,400 in debt. Yeah, that is a lot of money.
However, you rarely hear about students that are not graduating with debt, and there are a lot of them. And not all of them have wealthy parents.
A handful of top colleges have eliminated all loans from their financial aid packages and even more have committed to no loan aid packages for students below a certain threshold for household income. Many name brand colleges offer more aid than many people realize.
Other colleges offer free or partial tuition to all students just for getting accepted. And there are many colleges that are less expensive than the high sticker prices you hear about to begin with.
If after looking into all of those other options, you still can’t find what you are looking for, there are other ways to get the money that you need without loans.
Apply for some scholarships! It shocks me how many students think scholarship applications are awaste of their time. There are literally thousands of scholarship opportunities out there, and it is nowhere near as competitive to get some of them as you might imagine. If you are willing to invest the time in filling out enough applications, you will get free money. Who wouldn’t want that?
At the end of the day, every dollar you can get from need-based aid, merit-based funding, or outside scholarships is a dollar you are not borrowing from a lender that is going to charge you interest. If you put an effort into researching your options up front, you can save yourself the pain of graduating with massive debt.
2) You need to take the SAT to go to college
I’m not going to lie. I hated taking the SAT; it was one of the worst four-hour periods of my life. Unless you are one of those lucky standardized-test-loving people, you are also probably not psyched about taking a miserably long high-pressure exam. For a lot of people, sucking it up and doing it is going to be worthwhile. But if you really don’t want to, you don’t have to.
The good news is that nowadays there are actually more options that ever before. Tons of great schools have turned test optional meaning that if you want to avoid this whole “rite of passage” all together, you can do that and still go on to a fantastic school.
Even if your dream school is not on that list, most colleges today will allow you to take the ACT instead of the SAT. The ACT is still a standardized test, but it is shorter and written in a more straightforward way that some students prefer. The SAT is still the test of choice for many students, but the good news is that you have options!
3) You need good grades
If your grades were great in high school that’s fantastic; you are going to have a lot of college options. However, if your grades aren’t so great, you can still go to college, even a really good one.
A lot of people like to pretend that there are only 100 colleges in this country, but there are actually 4,000, and the rest of these colleges need to fill their seats too. At many of then, if you show even the slightest interest in being there, you can get in. Many schools accept every student who completes an application.
And let’s say you really want to go to a highly ranked college? You shouldn’t feel held back. If you want to go to a school you don’t have the grades for, you can always attend your local community college for several years and prove you have what it takes. Community colleges accept everyone, offer a great low price education and offer other advantages.
My husband almost failed out of high school before deciding his senior year that he wanted to turn things around. He went to the local community college for two years, got good grades, and then applied as a freshman to a top 4-year college. He ended up doing really well and today has a master’s degree and dream job.
Don’t let people tell you that your bad grades will prevent you from doing what you want to do.
4) College is harder than high school
I can’t tell you how many times I read this before going to college, and now I read it and laugh. Of all the lies on this list, I think this is the biggest one.
I’m 26 years old and attended an Ivy League school where I did well, but if you ask me the time in my life that I worked that hardest I’d say it was during my junior year of high school.
I’m dead serious.
Like many high school students I was taking eight classes at once including six AP classes and applying to college all at the same time.
Keep in mind that AP classes are supposed to be college-level courses you are taking in high school. Interestingly, in college I never took any more than five classes at any one time, and often I took four (which is typical at most colleges).
Furthermore, in high school, my teachers would assign homework every night. There were tests every couple weeks in each class, worksheets we’d need to complete, outlines we’d need to turn in, and endless projects.
In college things were much simpler.
Not only were we only taking classes that we really wanted to be in (whereas in high school there were so many requirements), but we had way fewer things to keep track of. Either you had to turn in one or two papers during the entire semester or you had to take two or maybe three tests. In math and science courses, you might have a set of problems due every week or two.
Sure, the papers in college were longer and the tests went into more depth, but it all felt easier. The professor gave out a syllabus that laid out every assignment at the beginning of the semester so if you planned well, you didn’t get stressed out.
If you blew off high school, you might find college to be a bit more of a challenge. But regardless of what you did in high school, I wouldn’t necessarily call college an impossibly difficult experience the way some people make it out to be.
If you can learn to be self-disciplined and follow a schedule, you will be able to get a full night’s sleep every night, devote plenty of time to extracurricular activities and socializing, and still be able to do well in your classes.
5) You won’t be able to get a job after you graduate
Recently there have been a lot of articles about the diminishing value of a college degree.
Since an increasing percentage of the population is going to college, having a college degree means less to employers. To make matters worse, in this economy, recent grads in general are having a hard time competing with more experienced workers.
I’m not saying getting a job will be easy for all of you, but I can say that getting a job after college with a college degree is going to be a lot easier than getting a job without a college degree. And if you think ahead, you will be just fine.
I graduated in 2010, which was one of the worst years to graduate from college according to the media. Some of my friends were able to find jobs and others weren’t. But when you are in the trenches, you start to notice that certain types of people were much more likely to get jobs.
My friends that had gotten internships over at least one summer during college all had jobs by the time they graduated.
Sometimes these internships were at the companies they interned for and other times they were at completely different companies. Having an internship helped my peers understand the work world in a way that made them stand out. They also had some experience they could offer a company. But most of all, they understood what they wanted out of a job; one of the biggest mistakes new graduates make is that they don’t know what they want so they have a lot of trouble selling themselves to potential employers.
For my peers who did not have internships, many of them were able to get jobs right away as well. It wasn’t their major that made them successful in the job search (contrary to popular belief, I knew plenty of people with history and English degrees that got great job offers), but it was their personalities.
These were go-getter types who made sure that they applied to at least two jobs a day during the spring semester of their senior year. They made spreadsheets documenting each application, wrote unique cover letters every time they sent in their resume, and made sure to follow up on every single one.
Furthermore, they reached out to their college alumni database and set up at least one informational interview every week. No doubt, it was a lot of work. Most of these people applied to at least 50 jobsbefore getting their first offer, but this approach worked every single time.
In five years, when you graduate, the economy might be a lot better, and it may be a lot easier for you than it was for us. But regardless of the state of the economy, if you do the right things, you will most likely be able to graduate with a job if you want one.
6) All college degrees are the same
Everyone knows that technology is changing the face of education, and in the past few years online and for-profit universities have been exploding. The media may convince you that pursuing your education through one of these means is a low cost and logical equivalent to a traditional college education, but be careful before pursuing either of these paths.
It is true that many jobs technically require “a college degree,” and regardless of where yours is from, it will count.
However, keep in mind that as of right now, there still is some prejudice associated with online and for-profit degrees and that it may limit your employment options.
Besides, I would caution you to think twice about giving up the full college experience. Not only can college be one of the most fun and exciting times in one’s life, but a traditional college education will serve you in many other ways both personally and professionally.
Unlike at online and for-profit colleges, which tend to have a pre-professional orientation, most traditional colleges will encourage you to spend some of your time exploring fields and pursuing extracurricular activities in areas outside of your primary field of study. Stepping outside of your comfort zone may lead you to discover passions you never knew you had. At many schools, the vast majority of students arrive freshman year undecided about their major and even after declaring, more than half will change their mind prior to graduation.
Furthermore, college is a rare opportunity in life to live surrounded by literally thousands of peers who are also on a quest to find out their passions in life. It creates a perfect atmosphere for building close bonds.
Later in life, not only will some of your close friends come from this group, but it is also likely that your college peers will be a primary network for you as you look to advance yourself in your career.80% of jobs come from networking, so the stronger your network, the better off you’ll be.
As the end of high school nears, try to ignore the scary stuff being thrown at you by your school, your parents, and the media. You shouldn’t forget that college is just around the corner, but instead of panicking about how to ace the SAT and worrying about the state of the economy, focus your attention on finding a college you love and doing what you need to do to finance that education. If you end up at a school that is a good fit for you, you will put yourself in a position to have a fulfilling experience that will lead you to the next steps without so much anxiety.
A companion piece titled "6 Surprising Reasons College is Easier Than High School" can be found at Pallas's own blog: The College Matchmaker!