You have a major life decision ahead of you. There are lots of spoken and unspoken expectations. There are lots of pressures on you from all sorts of places. The thing is if you are going to college then you either are BRILLIANT or ATHLETICALLY GIFTED or TALENTED in a way that sets you apart from everyone else or mix of these, but if institutions are running after you then lets not kid ourselves with the situation at hand. You are the proud membeer of the average class. Average is as average does and your in good company because thats like 90% of your peers.
But you can set yourself apart. First you have a choice- OPTION A) are you going to go to a four year institution or OPTION B) are you going to a community college. Both choices offer options that will make a world of difference for you.
OPTION A) The choice you have here is between a private school or a public school. In the state of California, our education system was designed specifically around the time of that the job market and our national security required two types of people- people who were innovators and intellectuals, researchers and discoverers; and the flip side was the desire to have doers, appliers and processors. For the first batch of people California created the exclusive University of California (UC’s) system and for the second batch of people there was the California State University (CSU’s) system. The idea was that the UC’s would be exclusive, they would provide the basis for research, innovation, theoretical development while the CSU’s would provide the folks who would work in fields requiring the necessary technical know-how that couldn’t just be picked up in the workplace or taught in high school.
In fact, our public education system was designed around the industrial revolution, its purpose was to provide a steady supply of workers who had learned the basic life skills, were endowed with the simplest of historical, social, cultural and scientific knowledge so as to make American society functional. But the primary purpose was to create people who listened and applied themselves to do what they were told to do. Back then college and university life was an exclusive enclave for the rich, post-WWII saw the strategic shift in creating a broader and more accessible secondary education system so that the United States could send people to the moon, launch missiles, blow up entire cities, create faster planes, communicate in encoded messages- this was what President Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial-Complex.
Forty years later at the beginning of the 1990’s we had defeated the Soviet Union in a way that created massive wealth and allowed for the accumulation of that wealth like never before. Our innovations, driven by the need to stay ten-steps ahead of the Russians had brought about the shrinking of the globe, we were now in the globalized society, where Americans set the norms and our culture was the standard one would compare too. Ten years later the world drastically changed- globalization had equalized the field so that countries that could specialize and trade could also dictate the terms by which the world- specifically the US- would interact with them. The global order while set by the West through institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, was shifting as countries discovered that not all of the world can modernize like the West, that there were different models to work with.
But this world order has been sustained by all of the fresh graduates that came out of the public and private university’s of the United States. While we set the standard for the world, the world quickly learned and shifted into the new world order that was developing prior to 9/11. Countries like China and India, Brazil and South Africa, along with Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Peru, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia as well as Russia would come to represent the alternative model.
You Dear High School student, who is looking only to your impending graduation, are part of a shifting world in which you have been taught all the wrong things and must rely on yourself to learn to cope with the new reality- in essence you need to hustle. While you have all the material tools to do something with yourself, you can not- for the most part- compete against a capital driven market. The UC’s are fishing for foreign students to take your seats so they can get more tuition, which in turn will fill the gaps in funding that is occurring from the budget cuts that they face, this in turn will help the UC’s to push research, create top notch scholars, whose work will create new companies and bring in new possible revenue streams- the education system you must understand is not about education for the purist of reasons, its a beast of the capitalist system and behaves to appropriately cash in on that system.
In the next decade, if things continue to go the way they do, people like you, like me, my brother and sister, my cousins, will not be able to access the UC system. If we are lucky we might be able to get into the CSU’s to become the tools of a new-non-existent-manufacturing-based economy. But to get into that system we will pay what a UC or private school tuition currently costs. In essence the economic market will cut us off from higher education. That might be a good thing, some people argue that the UC system is not meant for everyone- I mean why are we seeing so many people going to a UC to get a degree in Anthropology or Psychology? The fact is most people are taking out inordinate amounts of loans to get bachelor degrees in fields where jobs are not readily available, why treat the UC system as an entitlement when it should be a privilege?
You can reject my opinion or you can accept it, you can also believe that the above argument for access to the UC’s is valid, or not. That doesn’t matter, because I am not writing this to come up with some conclusion on the role of secondary education. This is about where you are at right now and what you mean to do with your life. If you decide to go to a four year institution- either private or public- then you better damn well know what you are doing with your life. Its not a joke, and its not all about partying and living it up.
You are a poor broke student who tries to live a fabulously rich life and something is going to hurt at one time or another- either you’re going to hurt now by dumping this delusion about a life of all sorts of freedom and studying at a college or you’re going to hurt for the next 30 years of your life as you pay off the loans you take out to get your undergraduate degree. You better know what you want and how to get there.
You might choose a state school- then your choice is between a UC or a CSU. If you know that theory and research are things critical in your future professional life- choose a UC. Not all CSU’s offer you that opportunity as they are designed to be technical schools. This is a HUGE generalization but I will stick to it in order to simplify your decision making process. If you really care to, you can spend a lot of your time researching all the programs offered by CSU and UC to figure out whats the best choice, but if you are already hella confused and don’t know what to do then well this is the best framework to approach this whole situation.
Neither of the choices is a good or bad choice when it comes to CSU’s or UC’s. Rather, the way I frame it to you, is that your choice (regardless of the institution) only good if you make it on the premise that you’re fully informed about where you choose to go, that you have a plan on what you are going to do there and that you have a basic understanding of the role that institution will play in your future career success. That is a good choice and what ever best fits that is the school for you.
Your parents will want you to go to a prestigious school, people expect you to go to some name brand school, social and cultural pressure are pushing you to go somewhere that will bring honor to your parents and your family. Cut the bull shit and decide to go to a school where you know you can succeed and where you will get the best deal that works for your specific circumstance. Do not let other people far removed from you dictate your choices, the only one’s who should carry that influence are your parents but even they are limited because they aren’t the ones who will be studying there, you will, but they will expect you to perform at a high level.
When choosing the four year institution I gave you two choices in California, with one sub-choice in the public schools- UC vs CSU. Well in private schools you have a similar choice as well. You can choose the brand name school- USC or Stanford, Harvard or Yale- you get the picture?
Right, but then there are what are known as the small liberal arts schools. These are smaller private institutions that are historically focused on particular type or form of education/experience. Here in California examples are Pomona, Occidental (where President Obama went for part of his undergrad), Pepperdine (its actually Evangelical), Chapman (also a developed Protestant college), Loyola (Catholic Jesuit), Claremont McKenna, Whittier College, Soka University; across the country you have Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Bowdoin, and surprisingly, Westpoint, US Military Academy or the Naval Academy and then you have schools that are historically Black like Howard, Tuskegee and Spelman.
For me the future of education right now, rests in these small private schools. If you’re state public university education tuition is comparable to one of these small schools, you might be better off going to one of them rather then your school and here is why: For starters your public institution depends on funding from taxpayers, budgets dictate programs, cuts, growths, services etc. Most brand named public schools (i.e. UCLA, CUNY, UW) are student cattle farms the first two years- you take General education courses that are 100+ students in each class, never see your professor let alone interact one-on-one, most teaching is done by underpaid, overworked, undervalued (non-unionized) graduate students. The bottom line is that you are paying a lot of money at this premium institution just because of the “BRAND NAME” and its supposed quality of education. That education unfortunately is for its upper division courses, and more frequently even those are being taught more by Graduate TA’s than professors, so their graduate program is really where that “brand associated education” is taking place. Professors at these institutions are there because they wish to teach but are pushed to publish their research, to push the academic/intellectual boundaries either by choice or through administrative emphasis on rankings, the end result is that you- the undergraduate student- is not the primary concern for them (even if they genuinely wish it to be) but definitely not the University.
Now if you take a small liberal arts school like Amherst, you’re probably going to be paying the same amount of tuition to sit in a freshman class of probably no more than 70 students that at UCLA would be in a auditorium of 180 students, and probably filled beyond capacity. To entice you to go to these liberal arts schools, administrators there are giving guarantees of graduating within four years or your tuition is waived (whereas some UC’s are kicking students out if they don’t get their degrees within a certain period of time, though for many students the problem is that their classes aren’t offered or are wait listed- most common now at the CSU’s), or generous scholarships for you to attend their school. All the while they emphasize the intimate nature of the college experience there.
That is why I think this is probably the best educational buy on the market. You get a four year educational experience comparable to a brand-name institute, possibly better grades and more likely glowing professor recommendation letters. If you desire to go on to a master’s or Ph.D. program, you would have a leg up on graduates from BRAND NAME SCHOOL and also would actually go to a BRAND NAME SCHOOL’s program that got it the ranking it has, without suffering through the undergraduate doldrums (or student loans…). Granted a liberal arts school might not get you to become a Nobel Laurette in Physics, that will require a BRAND NAME SCHOOL I fear….or maybe not, if you can figure out a creative way to get into a Ph.D. program at said brand name school through the liberal arts institutional education….I mean President Obama became a Harvard lawyer through his liberal arts institution, so there is some food for thought.
A small note on Private institutions (i.e. USC, Stanford, Yale etc), they are great opportunities, but if you are poor or utterly stuck in the middle class they are expensive ordeals unless you get a scholarship or there is a particularly pressing desire to go to that particular school (i.e. you know you want to be a diplomat and got into Columbia or Georgetown, well you hit the jackpot because that is definitely the way to get to the State Department). But I think these private institutions are a lot like their public counterparts, approach with caution, have a plan, be flexible and figure out finances before committing yourself to anything.
There is always an alternative for people who know exactly what they want and people who feel they want a chance to explore their options by themselves some time with their parents/social pressures etc. That is the community college route. It is by far still the most worthwhile education experience, but its also a hazard of folks who get stuck in its maze and never find a way out. DO NOT BE THE LATTER.
Community colleges are local- if you can bring yourself to stay home for another two years (or maybe three given how the budget cuts are really creating havoc on courses offered at the community college level too). They are cheap- even with tuition increases you are paying pennies on the credit as compared to the four year tuition counterpart. Speaking of which, you are making the smartest decision EVER! The only difference between the community college courses and the first two years of General Education courses you take at a four year institution is price. At UCLA you will take the same required classes you would take at Santa Monica Community College, except you pay pennies for your units compared to UCLA. Besides being cheap, community colleges offer intimate learning environments, a very specific motivation path (to transfer out to a four year institution to get get your Bachelors in something) and the ease of living at home. If you can’t handle doing your own chores, living with people, dealing with bills and all that stuff, stay at home so you can ensure your good grades.
The crazy thing about this secret route to a bachelors degree is that you go for two years to a community college and whatever school you transfer to is the school you get a diploma for. So you spend three years at San Fernando Community College and transfer to UC Berkley, you graduate from there with a degree in economics, well, your diploma will say University of California, Berkley. Its as if you never went to a community college!
The catch you ask? Well for starters transferring to a UC or CSU from a community college is based on your GPA at the junior college, its based on a precise formula of courses you need to take in order to qualify for being considered for a transfer. A good number of folks start at junior college with aspirations to transfer but they get stuck, they start working and they loose sight when they taste the wonders of a pay check. Others get lost in the maze and don’t make it through, because junior college puts you in touch with folks that might not have aspirations like yours and are content with mediocrity. Transferring, while guaranteed to a UC or CSU, is not always guaranteed to the school you want to go to.
If this route appeals to you, then plan it out. You need to go and see what the transfer requirements are, what the college in your locality offers, when you will take what classes, when you need to apply to transfer. I advice you to make a three year calendar where you plot out the above mentioned things so you get an idea of how to evaluate your progress. Leave room for the reality of our economy- i.e. budget cuts, pressures on cutting classes, inability to take the classes you need in order to stay on track- so have back ups and options that allow you to keep moving toward your goal.
If you really want to get a leg up because you feel you are committed to this community college rout, you should consider leaving high school early in your junior year- yes, you can actually do that. Go read the blog post on “young’ins” to get an idea of what this is all about.
To recap, regardless of what choice you make toward your college career the importance is that you understand what your getting yourself into. Do your research, but most importantly understand yourself. Reflect on how you study, what academic environment you thrive in, what are some career options for you- do you need to explore your choices, or do you know what you want and thats it? Is it what you want to do or is it what others are telling you to do? (Remember if you can figure out a pitch you can possibly sell it to your parents and get their buy in’s, parents will listen to reason if there is maturity in your argument, but I understand there are all sorts of parents, hopefully yours will surprise you) Don’t choose a school because its “famous” or that its in a specific city or area. Those might not be really good variables to use to make a choice, or they might be, for instance I knew I did’t want to be in a school that was in a “big city”- UCLA and Cal were not attractive to me at all, but on the other end I didn’t want to go to a school out in the middle of nowhere like UC Merced or UC Davis. After visiting UC Davis I realized I would have preferred the Davis environment because of its location away from things that distracted me at UCSD- primarily the beach.
Finally your junior year, what do you do? Well get good grades. Don’t slack now. Remember that any thing you do requires your passion as well as quality, not quantity. I know there are students, MYLP’er’s, who volunteer with 10 organizations. As a person who hired interns, a resume that showed that much “volunteer” work told me only one thing- this person is not committed. To me if you volunteered at one organization but grew as a leader there, had shown that you acquired skills and developed as a person, you were a qualified student versus the person who just threw themselves around doing things. Quality over quantity- always. These things are important not to just put on your resume or what they call make you a “well rounded person” but because they should be leaving you with real life experience, challenging you to grow from being a juvenile toward a mature and responsible young adult, and providing you with some transferable skills.
In more relevant terms, as an applicant to a university you will be given a prompt to write your personal essay on, something like:
BRAND NAME UNIVERSITY students possess intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.
Well, most of your peers will respond with mediocre essays. If I were an admissions counselor at said BNU, I would most likely yawn. As an applicant you want me to perk up, I am reading between 75-100 essays during the week leading up to sending out admissions decisions. Your peers will resort to exaggerated and cliched language to set themselves apart. They will be mediocre or they will STAND OUT to the point where I have to put the applicant into the admission pile. If you don’t stand out- because your mediocre like me- well you need to answer this prompt in a way to perk my interest. I believe that “perk” is an applicant who in their essay can directly, simply but creatively (with a simplistic style) show to me “intellectual vitality” through their “experience” (most likely this is the easier one to approach, an “idea” is very challenging, most will miss the mark and write a really crappy essay, but if you hit the mark, that will be a STAND OUT APPLICANT).
Well your volunteer experience offers you a real life opportunity to present the unique person you are and how you bring something of value as a future BNU student. You will do this by succinctly describing said experience, connecting it with your intellectual capability (probably something you learned in one of your classes at school, or if you have life experience, maybe as a boy scott, or in your Quran class, or learning to sail or surf…), the specific skill or set of skills that grew out of that experience and something that connects to the maturity, development you identified as well as MOST IMPORTANTLY how said BNU is going to help you over all other BNU’s and if you are succinct your academic pursuit/professional goals at BNU.
So putting it another way- why did you apply to MYLP? What did you expect from MYLP? What did you get from MYLP? How is MYLP connected to your past experiences? How is MYLP going to help you toward your future goals? What specific skill can you identify that you got from MYLP? Have you, or how will you, develop and apply that skill moving forward? What other experiences do you think you can pursue to build on your MYLP experience? Was there a particular idea that sparked your curiosity at MYLP? Was there something you learned there that challenged you, or an experience at MYLP that was challenging? Why? What did you learn from that challenging experience? What made it challenging for you? Are there past experiences you had that connect, contradict, support you MYLP experience? Was there someone that stood out at MYLP that you feel might be a role model? What didn’t you like about MYLP, and will that influence you in your future choices?
If you answer these questions with a short sentence or two, or worse with one word, then you will produce a mediocre essay. If you want more then mediocre, then spend some time reflecting and writing out your thoughts to the above questions. Once you do that begin to delve past these questions and ask yourself about your life experiences up until this point. Look for the similarities and differences. Look for the arch that might be developing in your life story. Think hard about how you have changed and personal experiences (or stories) that really stand out for you. This type of introspective writing process will produce a personal essay that will stand out, but remember you shouldn’t expect this to happen overnight, in a day, a week or month. Give yourself time to produce something of quality. If you do this you will be learning some really important skills that will help you in your scholarship applications, your graduate school applications, your job interviews.
If you are applying to a private school or a small liberal arts school, expect a phone or in person interview. Those are the make-it-or-break it situations. You can BS your way through them like you did your essay, or you can learn important life skills by developing your story, by figuring out how to brand yourself, by having something of substance, value and coherence to talk about when you go into one of these interviews. Trust me, I spent a few years doing interviews with interns and I knew bull shit when I heard it because I designed my questions in a way that would require a person to answer them with the things I was looking for in an answer. College admissions folks have, in the end, perfected the skills of admissions and they are judging every speck of ink submitted to them and will compare your answers in an interview with the application. The choice, like so many others, is yours.
Remember while you are applying to colleges during your senior year, you should not forget that you need to maintain your grades and that you should continue to volunteer or work wherever you have- quality is only as good as consistency. Consistency here isn’t about college applications, rather, its about the future once you get in. Once you start college that first summer should be spent in a quality internship experience or meaningful work- if you haven’t worked or volunteered since your junior year of high school, which would be a span of about 15-18 months- then your part of the crowd and not a shining star, regardless its your choice.
Also during your senior year, if you plan to go away and live on your own, you need to start learning some life skills. First, you need to sit down (with your parents ideally) to learn how to live within your means, on a budget. You need to learn how to shop for groceries, how to wash your clothes, basic life survival skills should be learned at this point. Unless you are rich and your parents will provide a maid for you, this is all crap you will need to do for yourself. Worse if you live with others, they won’t know how to do it, or if they do they will expect you to do your own cleaning. Budget is most important thing though in my mind, its the pit fall of our society because NO ONE AT ANY POINT TEACHES THIS ISSUE, but everyone is expected to know how to, yet so many people front by charging everything on a credit card. Financial problems could sink your education, your future goals, your grades, your sanity and your relationships. If you don’t know about your parents financial situation and expect them to cover for you, you might have a rude awakening. If you know your parents financial situation then you should understand where you stand financially, no government agency is going to be coming to bail you or your parents out.
Also identify a person or two that you can rely on for college advice- specifically dealing with social situations- this might be your parents but I recommend someone who is neutral and won’t judge you, but be genuinely interested in providing you with unbiased advice. This is important because at some point you will rely on these people to help you figure out how to cope, deal and respond to situations where your roommate is from hell, you’ve found yourself in a compromised situation, you just need to vent about your parents/social pressure or you’ve developed a thing for your TA and now pay attention to them more then your course work. Yeh, this shit is real and its cray’ so find someone who you can rely on to provide sound advice on how to manage it.
From now until you start college you need to know yourself, know what allows you to thrive, know that you can generally plot out your future and finally that the experiences you apply yourself to should be quality experiences. (I believe for the rest of your life you will be developing as a person, so now is the time to have the tools in hand on how to become the God intended you to be, the mission you were in trusted with by Him. You don’t need to know what it is now, but if you seek it out by preparing yourself, when you find it, that will be when your life will be most fulfilling.) You should find the connection between your passions- music? sports? drama? technology? academics?- and your volunteer experience along with your academics. You want to set yourself apart, then apply yourself toward quality and reject the herding of the flock of sheep toward quantity, grades and BRAND NAME UNIVERSITY for the sake of doing what is expected of you. Again its your choice to shine, I just provided you with some guideposts to do so.
Go back to the main MYLP blog post– by the way, kudos to you for making it through this post all the way!