Hiding from the Economy With Loans

Dear Student:

I know that the American employment landscape is quite frightening and has been for a while. Friends of mine are moving home to regroup and figure out how to survive while looking for work, or even as full time employees! It is tough for everyone and I want to fully acknowledge that. However, despite how safe school feels you have to go ahead and get out there.

I’m quite saddened and, quite frankly, startled to see young people staying in school unnecessarily to avoid facing the economy. Most colleges only require 120 credits to graduate, but I am seeing students with 150 and more. Some of these students say they are adding a second major to be more competitive. However, I implore you to figure out the long term costs.

Tuition at my institution is quite expensive. Tuition, fees, room and board tops 56 thousand dollars. 56 thousand dollars is more than many Americans earn per year. Staying in school to add extra credits at a cost of 56 thousand dollars does not make long term fiscal sense. Even if your university expenses are less think about what your starting salary may be and how you will pay off that extra year of schooling.

Even though the economy is tough it is better to get out there and start your career and build experience. You may have to live at home and that’s okay. You may have to share an apartment or house with several friends. Again, doing so is okay, and actually pretty fiscally sound if you put away the money you save on rent and pay down student loan or credit card debt contribute to your retirement or put it in a good old savings account.

If you insist on staying in school then I suggest that you earn another credential. Adding credits to your bachelor’s degree does not help in the marketplace. Also, employers may question why you did not graduate on time. Earn a certificate or master’s degree if you can instead. You may not be able to use the graduate education right away, but at least there will be tangible evidence of your extra time in school.



What are your fears about graduating and getting out there? Maybe we can offer some solutions. Leave a comment.

Square Peg – Round Hole

As a practitioner in higher education I see students at all stages of growth simultaneously. It is not unusual for my day to begin with an undeclared freshman and end with seniors ready to tear into the world. One thing I’m noticing across the spectrum is a disconnect between desired occupation and the requisite skills needed to join the occupation.

Most recently I’ve seen students interested in prestigious companies, agencies, or titles, but with little desire to learn the skills necessary to reach those positions. For example, one may want to work for the United Nations or the International Monetary Fund, and yet, not want to travel abroad, not want to experience a culture that does not speak English, and yet wants to train workers who may go abroad. Another example, is a student who wishes to go to law school but hates writing. In fact these students typically emphatically dislike any course that includes writing. In discussing options with these students it can be challenging to steer them toward their interests and aptitudes while not appearing to crush the dream they’ve had since they were seven. However, we must challenge these ideas if we are to be of service to our students.

The disconnect between skill and desire is coming from multiple aspects of a student’s life. Some students are pressured by parents to get a “good job.” Other students are listening to the reports that say if they do not major in science, engineering or mathematics (STEM) then they are doomed. Other students are looking at their student loan balance reports and are trying to head for the sure bet come hell or lack of interest in a field. Inevitably these students fail miserably in their courses or eventually in their ability to get a job because they cannot articulate a true purpose for why they are interested in their subject of study. These students are outperformed by those who actually want they thing, whatever it is, that they are going for.

It is debatable whether the United States really needs more STEM graduates. It is certainly debatable that humanities and social science degrees do not pay off. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook shows art students doing fairly well: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/home.htm. These students are not wealthy, but they aren’t impoverished either. What I see in my work is that regardless of the degree, if the holder is not enthused about the work then the job hunt is merciless as they are beat out by passionate and skilled individuals. Toning down the rhetoric that one must be in one field to do well would go a long way to ensuring that students choose majors and careers that are a good fit.

Grad School for the First Generation Student

The process of applying to graduate school is a long one and varies for every student. Even though numerous graduate programs may carry different criteria they all ask similar responsibilities of the applicants. For example a student applying for law school will need to take the LSAT exam whereas a student applying for graduate school in education will need to take the GRE. A first generation student should not be deterred to apply for these programs due to the many fees associated with them. These fees may include, but are not limited to: application fees, transcript fees, travel fees and exam fees. For the most part, many entrance exams offer reduction fees and several graduate schools offer application fee waivers for students who show substantial financial need.

Another step to the graduate school application process is the use of letters of recommendation. No matter what school year you currently are know that every professor, teaching assistant or research coordinator is a resource that can be a key tool for you in the future. For example a professor that you create a strong bond with your freshman year can come as a great asset during your applications senior year. Never take for granted the use of your professor’s office hours and the ability to aid in research or assist with their projects. Creating and sustaining relationships during your undergraduate career is a vital part of the college experience. These connections will not only benefit you in the future but will allow you to spread your brand as you gain further education.

There is also a more personalized unit when it comes to graduate school applications in the form of a statement of purpose. This essay is a unique form for a student to tell their story to a program and why they should be selected. This letter will also highlight their many achievements and supplement facts to their resume. The statement of purpose is a great way for first generation students to distinguish themselves from other applicants and illustrate their passion for the program they are choosing.

First generation students most often do not have the resources other students with family members with college and graduate school experience may possess. Therefore, this student may not find a mentor within their family that they can confide in when it comes to how to succeed after graduation. Campus resources are great advantages for students who are pursuing further education after college. Many universities offer career and learning centers with professionals who are trained and educated on the successful transition from college to graduate school and the workforce.

These steps may seem insurmountable but with time and an organized strategy plan any student can complete the task. Knowing what your passion is and what drives you towards a career is a critical step when deciding to attend graduate school. Find this passion as an undergraduate and you will be successful in your endeavors after college.

Good luck!

More questions about graduate school? Leave them in the comments below!

Mike Gutierrez is a first generation undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently in the process of applying to graduate school.

Education is the key to success?

The newest trend in higher education seems to be that students and graduates are blaming professors, their alma maters, and the universe for their inability to find jobs in the Great Recession.  They state that someone should have told them that their degrees were not going to guarantee them anything, and that someone should limit the number of people who can go to college because the job market is cluttered.

One blogger cries: What does it say about the state of our nation and the effectiveness of our educational system when a first generation college student with dual degrees from the best universities in America believes the only option left for her is to take out yet another private loan to get her PhD because she is unable to find a job – any job – even as a barista at the local Starbucks?

Well, I still believe in educating yourself to better yourself.  However, that doesn’t mean that I advocate not doing your homework.  You have got to spend time researching your industry.  I hope the above blogger realizes that the job market for PhDs is worse, and has been for a longtime, than the market for lawyers.  At some point you have to take charge of your education and make smart choices.

It may not make sense for a first generation college student to take out massive loans to fund their education.  While it is the dream of many to attend elite institutions, you may have to earn your degree at a less expensive one.  If that’s not the option you want then while still in high school you need to be stellar and earn scholarships.  Tons of schools are reaching out to first generation college students now, so there is money out there.  Those of you who have already graduated with your undergraduate degree may have to seriously reconsider pursuing an unfunded graduate degree.  Colleges operate like businesses, which means they aren’t in the business of handing out free education.  Nor do they come with a money back guarantee.  So before you gamble on earning a professional degree DO YOUR RESEARCH.  Try to talk to people in the field, talk to professors, talk to past alums, spend some time in the library, do a google/bing search.  There is plenty of information out there now.

Also, watch out for diploma mills, and schools that promise the moon and charge you the sky to deliver.  As discussed by this article, people who are going for trade school certificates are starting to be fleeced, and often they don’t even have a final credible credential to show for it.  One rule of thumb I tell prospective students is that if the school is trying too hard to get you to sign up quick, fast, and in a hurry then the hairs on the back of your neck should stand up.

Finally, there are plenty of people out of work right now.  The Great Recession has claimed professional and trade jobs alike.  It is semi-arrogant to believe that a few college loans and a newly minted piece of paper in hand will make you immune to what is happening globally.  Those of us who are working have had to take paycuts, accept furlough days, have dealt with the disappearance of our retirement contributions, live with roommates, etc.  Everyone is trying to make it work, and no one wants to hear about your “fancy” degree and why it entitles you to anything but the ability to look for a job like everyone else.

I’m not saying it isn’t difficult.  I’m not saying that things aren’t frustrating for those of you who do have thousands of dollars in debt and cannot find work.  However, I am saying that you may have to accept a job in a field you don’t love and doing something that you merely tolerate just until it gets better for all of us.

Spring is recruitment season

Spring semester is the time when students beg professors to hold classes outside  if they go to class at all!  It is super easy to go from stellar student in the winter to spring slacker because you are  dying to get outside after being bundled up in a coat for months.  Your

Spring Fever

friends may be hanging out in front of the library or in the grass on the campus quad.  However, the wise student knows that the spring signals an even more important time of the year – recruitment season.

Every year college career service offices work hard to bring employers to campus to work with their students.  A college’s reputation rests on many things, and the rate of employment placement  of its students is one of the most important.  Right now employers are looking for their final hires for summer internships and new permanent hires.  Don’t wait until May graduation to begin looking for a job!

These tough economic times call for students to be super proactive, and there are a few keys to being successful.  First, get to know your professors.  Every employer is going to want recommendations.  If your professors don’t know who you are then they are going to give you lukewarm references if they agree to give you one at all.  Professors you’ve had in the past are great as well.  Go visit them and update them on how you’re doing. If you’ve been a classroom wallflower then bone up on how to impress your instructors here.

You should also visit the career services office.  These offices typically have the counselors who can help spruce up your resume, and

Time to Visit Career Services

provide you with the latest information on who is hiring on your campus.  Show the initiative by making an appointment, and dressing well when you stop by.  Remember they are trying to sell the college to employers, and not necessarily you.  Make it easy for them to recommend you instead of the next person.

Lastly, check in with your network.  Do your parents have contacts they can introduce you to?  How about your neighbors?  What about your high school teachers?  Landing a position in a down economy is about having both the right credentials, and then having those credentials reviewed by the hiring manager.  If someone recommends you for a internship or job then your resume may go to the top of the pile.  Don’t be obnoxious and demand that someone help you, but it can pay off to shoot a well crafted email or pay a visit to those who have known you and helped you along the way.

Still searching for the field you love?  No worries, see “Preparing for employment” for ways you can begin thinking about building the experience and knowledge necessary to compete.

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Higher education is not the same as primary or secondary education.  At this level everyone expect you to be an adult who is fully autonomous.  That means you are responsible for everything in your student handbook and syllabi.  These are contracts between you and the institution.  Read them carefully.  As an admissions officer, I have met many a student who is upset because they have a charge on their bill that an institution has stated it will charge, but yet the student was unaware.  You are responsible for checking into how well a school supports its students, how often faculty are available, what type of accreditation the school has, graduation rates, and many other aspects of college life.  Be sure to see the student life office and your advisor if you are unsure.  It is better to ask upfront than to find out down the line.

This story from Inside Higher Education epitomizes why it is important to do your homework: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/22/gao

Now that you have decided where you want to go you should make a plan to graduate.  College is definitely a place where you can explore and learn new things, but the end goal is to graduate with letters behind your name.  Leaving college with student loan debt and no degree is wholly a difficult place in which to be.  Or what could be even worse is having the need to borrow extra loan money because you need to complete extra degree requirements.  Planning for your collegiate years can mean different things for different types of students, but there are essentials that can apply to anyone.  Ask yourself: will I need to work while I am in school, and if so will that hamper my progress; what exactly are my degree requirements; how often are my required classes offered; and do my classes meet on days and times that I can arrive on time and ready to work?

College is a marathon of endurance and stamina, and planning out each step of the way will keep you on track to graduate on time!