I have a lot of experience with education. I’ve graduated from three colleges, taught in high schools and primary schools, tutored children from around the world, and these days, I work in academics still.
It seems important, when people are going bankrupt from students loans, to think about what school is right for you, how to get the most education for your buck, and how to pay for college *smartly*. And since I work with students all day long AND have minimal student loans, I want to share with everyone what I know. And as usual, I want to tell you about all the stuff other articles don’t tell you. Because I want traditional and non traditional students to stop getting scammed.
Would I be a writer without education? Sure, I would probably still be writing short stories and spending a huge chunk of my day daydreaming. But I also think being a student made me a better writer: I know how to handle deadlines, I know how to self-edit, I know how to take criticism and know that every critic allows me to slough off the dead words and re-grow a better story in its place. I made great friends who are also writers (and really good ones! they push me in ways I could never push myself). I traveled to amazing places. I read books and articles and papers on all manner of subjects. I learned about the world, which I hope has helped me understand a lot about people and in that , be able to write characters that are not just carbon copies of myself.
So let’s start off here: How to decide if school is right for you and if so, which one.
I think this is a good place to start because before you start taking tests and spending money, you should check and see *why* you are going to school, *how* long you’ll be in the, and *what* it is going to cost, and the better question, *what* are you willing to be in debt for.
1. Should you be in college? I am asking you this because while I believe everyone has a right to get whatever of education they want, it’s still up to you if you actually want to go to college. No really, it is.
I’m going to use my dad as an example. My dad went straight from high school to the Air Force, where he learned all about being an electrician. After he finished his tour of duty overseas (where I was born!), he and my mom settled in Upstate NY and he went to our local community college for an AA in mathematics because my dad loves math. He then worked for a really long time as an electrician at a generator company, at one point taking over the training, until he retired. I don’t think my dad got his job because of his college degree, he got it because he spent 20 years as an electrician in the military. He didn’t need to go to college, but the government said he could, and he wanted to study math and that meant he also had English and Science and History classes and I think he enjoyed it. My dad values education for education’s sake, but he also knew that he was interested in an apprenticeship and working with his hands. So, if that’s you, look into seeing how to get an internship or apprenticeship, going to a community college, or am *on campus* tech school. Ask at businesses that you would like to work for “What education/work would I need to have completed on my resume to work for you?”
*Hot Tip: Don’t let a school’s admission rep tell you what education you need to get a job. Their job is to get you enrolled and sign over your money/ financial aid. They have diplomas and certificates and degrees set up for just about everything, but you need to know what the businesses in YOUR area are looking for. The internet DOESN’T know. Pop up ads have NO idea what local businesses are looking for, they just know how to get your attention. Ask people in your area, potential employers, friends who just got hired. These people know.
2. What kind of college should you be looking at?
It’s not all ivy league or bust. I promise. But it is still really important to choose a reputable school, otherwise your degree isn’t worth the paper i’s printed on. Harsh? Yes, but it is totally true. The good news, a reputable school can cost a lot, lot, lot, less than a bad school.
I’ll use me for example here. Back when I was 18, I had some big choices to make. I was offered a place and a partial (aka, MEAGER) scholarship to Savannah School of Art. I really really wanted to go to Tufts (clearly, back in 2000, we all had delusions of how it was okay to spend a bajillion dollars a year on school, because we were all like, going to totally earn it all back, duh). So, yeah, I wanted to go to art school.
Let’s say that again: I wanted to pay $40,000 a year to go to art school. This is something I would advise against to anyone who grew up like me: first generation college student from a blue collar family. We weren’t rich and that school would have run me $160,000 by the time I graduated, art supplies and books, not included.
Worst idea ever. Really. And here’s why:
Being an artist is not tied to what school you graduate from. You’ll learn a lot by being around talented people in a vibrant city, but you don’t actually need to pay 40k for that. If I had gotten into Cooper Union, I would have taken that, of course, but I realized paying huge sums of money to paint an orange over and over again, was not something I was into.
So here’s the thing, what makes an art school especially awesome is the community, so move to the city a great art scene is in, enroll in community college there, and you can get the best of both worlds. If you have the money to burn, then by all means do it, it has it’s perks. But the perks are not enough to go in to debt for.
Same goes for teaching degrees. I took a year off between high school and college to save money and live on my own, and during that time, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I enrolled in community college, graduated with an AA in Humanities and then moved along to a state college, where I secured a BA in another 2 years. I could have recieved my MA in teaching in just one more year (that’s another story). Any high school in NY would have accepted my teaching degree, plus pretty much any southern state without any further certification (thanks NY!). No fancy school on my degree, but reputable and with a good solid history of turning out teachers.
Community colleges are a great way to get basic classes that EVERYONE is required to take at low prices. I paid about $1,000 a semester at community college. Not per class or per credit. For all the classes I needed to graduate a two year school in two years. Fantastic!
Then I went to a state school. I lived off campus and paid $8,000 a year for tuition alone. With housing, it would have made it about $14,000 a year.
So, a breakdown: in 2005, when I graduated, I spent a grand total of $18,000 for a four year degree. And I had worked multiple jobs (and my parents helped out), making my student loans much less than that. We’ll talk about how to not take out loans in part 3, but my point here is: these inexpensive schools gave me a degree that was good enough to get me into the grad school of my choice. They don’t have ivy league names, but I got a great education.
*Hot Tip: Find a school that is reputable for the degree you want. My school was/ is known throughout NYS for turning out excellent English and History teachers (our program has some amazing teachers!), whereas there are other SUNY schools known for their art program or math program. Choose a school that people in your area have graduated from and found success with their degrees. Again, check with people who work in the field you want to where they got their degrees. I bet they didn’t all go to Harvard.
3. On-line or On-campus.
So, this is a huge question going around these days. Here are some facts:
A. Online classes can be just as fun and interesting as traditional classes. I actually really enjoy watching online lectures by top teachers and feel like I get a lot out of them.
B. Online classes are not easier than traditional classes. They are, in fact, HARDER. I know a million students who thought they would take online classes because, “It will work with my work schedule!” “I can do my class work whenever!”.
Reality check: that is not true.
The reality of online classes is that you will have to post discussion topics, questions, and answers every single day. You will have to converse with your classmates in a meaningful and substantial way in order to get participation points and pass your class. It’s not like a traditional classroom where you slink in late twice a week, slump in your chair, and pretend to take notes while you doodle in the back of your notebook. A computer monitors whether you have entered the classroom, it checks to make sure you have read every page of your book, and you get quizzed at the end of every chapter you read. You’ll have essays to write and not a lot of access to tutors. And the deadlines and “semesters” are at the school’s discretion. They don’t always make a lot of sense with your work week or your kid’s vacations. And your teachers don’t see your face, so they may be less likely to help you out when you have an emergency.
C. Not every online school has a degree that will help you out. For example, a nursing school that is online isn’t going to get you the job you want right away because you still will need practical experience to get a job. You might be better off to choose a school that you can do the exams and practical experience all together because of the next reason…
D. Not every school helps you create a building block of education. What I mean by this is: if your ONLINE school is Nationally accredited, it’s NOT a good thing. Really, it’s not. Sorry. What you want to look for are Regionally accredited schools. Those are the ones other schools accept transcripts from.
However, if you attend a traditional college that is nationally accredited, it is probably a vocational or tech school and then it is fine to be nationally accredited.
The main issue can be summed up like this:
“Coursework and degrees may not be widely accepted for professions that require licensing after degree attainment, which might affect those in licensed careers such as teaching, accounting, engineering and healthcare.”
So, bear this in mind.
In my next post, we’ll talk about how to get the most education for your dollar and in the third post, I’ll tell you how to search for free money to pay for it all.
So your homework before then is to
–find out WHAT you want to go to school for. (Be specific. If you want to be a nurse, what kind of nurse? ER? Children’s? Elder care? Do you want to work the day or night shift?)
–Talk to people who are already doing what you want to do. If you want to be a nurse, I bet you know someone, even if they work in an ER and you want to work in a nursing home. They’ll get you started. Find out where they went.
—Figure out how you would attend school. Do you have the ability to go full time, at regular hours? Can you only take night classes? Is it okay to attend part-time and graduated in 5 years? Or do you really need the degree and you want to try and get it done at an accelerated speed?
—What schools are local to you? What schools have friends, family, and co-workers attended? What schools offer a degree in exactly what you want to do (i.e. nursing home nurse)?
Write this all down. You should actually get a notebook and write all the stuff down we are going to talk about. Trust me, you’ll forget it all later. The human brain can only juggle 7 bits of information at a time and later on, there’s going to be a Grumpy Cat meme you’ll want to tell your friends about.