AMERICAN DREAM – COLLEGE OR NOT

Throughout high school kids begin to think about their futures.  Our society still believes that our kids can obtain the American dream and that usually begins with going to college.  With the rising cost of higher education, high school graduates are beginning to wonder if they can even obtain that first step.  They are faced with a tough decision.

For a time college was available and attainable by most in this country.  It still can be if you are willing to work hard, know how to get the funding, and you are sure that it will really help you fulfill your American dream.  But given the rising costs, maybe our kids should consider if college is the only way to obtain their American dream.

Often students take on loans for college without ever fully understanding the total costs associated with that education.  Many times the average student has no one to help them find scholarships and grants.  It is up to the student to complete the FAFSA correctly, hope for a PELL grant, and sign the forms for the student loans to cover the rest.  Yes, they are required to go to an orientation assembly that explains how student loans work.  They are told that there is interest on student loans, repayment begins six months after leaving school for any reason, and the debt never goes away.  Even so, it is difficult for them to really understand the significance of this long term commitment in their lives.

During the orientation required for the first year’s loan, many students are looking at a loan amount that seems doable.  They do not think about the next three years, or the likely possibility that their four years of college will turn into five in order to complete the requirements of a specific degree.  They have no idea that upon graduation the entry level positions they qualify for will not pay enough to sustain living on their own, much less the added costs of the student loan payments.

Most have no idea what they actually want to major in on that day.  Once they either figure that out, or simply just fall into a convenient major, they do not do the research to find out how much education they actually need to get a job in their chosen field.  Many are shocked to discover after they graduate with a bachelor degree they need even more education to obtain necessary licensing for their careers.

At this point, parents often begin to feel frustration.  Sometimes they are now faced with an adult child returning home with no idea where they are going to go from here.  Other times parents are surprised to discover that their child made it all the way through college without anyone clueing them into the realities of their chosen paths.

The fact is there are just too many kids on campus for the limited administration staff to help.  If a college student is lucky, they find a professor they love in their chosen field who takes them under their wing and guides them along the way.  The next best option is that the college student burns with desire for their field; therefore, they seek out all the information they need.  If a student is just clicking along until they fall into something, they are much more likely to fall into a crack with no one to guide them out of it.

Here are some fun facts about the American college dream:

1.  Not everyone is cut out for a college education.

2.  A college education may not be essential to obtaining their American dream.

3.  Education comes from many places, not just a college.

4.  A college education does not guarantee happiness, fulfillment, or cash flow.

5.  Salaries of jobs that are obtainable after college may not be enough to cover the cost of the college education.

Our schools do a good job of picking out those kids meant for college and getting them there.  We fall short in helping those who are not the best fit for college.  High school students here so much about college that often they feel like that is what everybody is doing.  They feel lost if they admit that college is not for them.  Some even feel like they have already failed at life, because they are not headed to college.  While college is not essential to living a successful life, being really good at something and knowing how to get paid for it is.

There is no shame in admitting that you are meant for something other than a college education.  If you have a passion for a skill and you already know how to use that skill, you are actually ahead of the game.  If you like tools, wires, working with your hands, problem solving, and taking risks, the possibilities for legitimate income are endless.  Working on cars, power plant maintenance, industrial assembly, commercial building maintenance, and heating/air conditioning repair are just a few of the viable options.

If you love sports, apply for positions with local sports teams.  These teams always have entry level positions, and will promote dedicated employees from within.  My eye doctor recently told me that she would much rather hire someone as a technician who has no experience, but really wants to work in her office, than hire someone with a medical assistant degree who just thought healthcare would provide job stability.

If you have a flair for the creative, you may have to have a bill paying job while you develop your skills into a viable income producing career.  This is no different from the person who spends four years in college preparing for a career.  Do not get caught up in just surviving.  Spend the time developing your skills.

If you love photography, then make it a hobby and practice, practice, practice.  In the meantime, post your best pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media site you can find.  Begin a blog demonstrating your journey and showing your improvement.  When a friend gets married, graduates, or has a baby, offer to take pictures for free.  Then post your work for the world to see.

Think outside of the box.  Many small business owners need help with product photography.  Walk into businesses and show the owners your portfolio.  Eventually, your skills will become strong and you can begin charging.  Be smart.  Do not get stuck in the perpetual groove of free.  Once you have a portfolio built, begin charging competitive fees.  The first time someone you do not know asks you to take pictures is a definite sign that it is time to set a fee.

Photography is just one example, but you can apply these ideas to other creative ventures.  Maybe your skill is cake making, sewing, or knitting.  Whatever it is turn it into a niche skill for you and you will make money.

It pays to know who you are and make the most of your skills, whether that means college or not.  Do not be afraid to ask adults for opinions, advice, and even mentoring to help you get into the field of your dreams.  Do not give up on your optimum potential to achieve your American dream just because college is not for you.  Focus on what you do best, make the most of it, and take pride in your work to achieve what you want out of life.

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Lora Leathco

Blogger at SentientObserver.com; Mad Crocheter for Studio KLS; Nonstop talker about TV, Books, Sports, and Hot Topics

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