Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Advice for new graduates

I’m spending today sitting at a table smiling and chatting with high school students attending a college open house. They are trying to decide if they want to go to college, and if so, if they should attend my school.

They look both terrified and excited.

“Yay College! I’m getting out of the house and away from my parents!”

“Yay College!  I’m getting started on a career…in the middle of a huge economic slump?”

“Yay College!  Uh….how will I pay for this?”

Some seem mostly to need fashion advice. I had no idea miniskirts and Ugg boots was a thing. Or why.  And that is just one of the less egregious examples of sartorial missteps.  I wish I could post photos.

What I find most fascinating at these sorts of open houses is to watch all the different flavors of parenting.  

When the kid is hovering behind the parent, and the parent is shooting questions at me non-stop, that is a bit of a warning. We have a term for them–helicopter parents–because they are hovering.  (I also like the alternative terms “lawnmower parents” that mow down any obstacles in their kids’ paths; or “curling parents” that scoot ahead and sweep the kid’s path clean.)

The kids themselves are variously involved in the process–some clearly are mortified to be appearing in public with a parent, others are really engaged, curious, and the parents are the ones in the background. (I notice that the independent kids are often wearing FFA or 4H gear. Go Aggies!)

If you were going to advise a new high school graduate about life choices and careers, what would you tell them?  What would you advise parents that need to chill out?


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. A relative at a college told me that they have a name for the parents that will call instructors to discuss grades on their child’s assignments; Blackhawk parents. Since they go above and beyond the standard helicopter parent.

  2. > If you were going to advise a new high school graduate about life choices and careers, what would you tell them?

    Don’t buy anything on credit except for a house. Life has many challenges and you don’t need to add to them by digging yourself into a debt hole.

    >What would you advise parents that need to chill out?

    Think about all the mistakes you made. Would it have worked out any better if your parents had been nagging you? Would you have even listened?

  3. Dive deep into online resources for grants, loans and other financial aid help. Since my parents hadn’t gone to college, I could have used more Internets help back in 1994.

    Do not fill out credit card applications for t-shirts or other schwag.

    Do explore and cultivate face/name recognition in the bursar’s, financial aid and dean of students offices.

    Do not purchase pizzas on a regular basis with credit cards you might have filled out for the t-shirt.

    Do pepper everyone and anyone, seemingly possessing knowledge you don’t have, with questions. No one’s just going to hand over any answers, so relentless querying is a necessity.

  4. I would advise high school kids to dive into college as a learning experience, but not to forget that they are preparing for a career. I would advise them to always be mindful of the fact that they have to get a job after they are done with school and to try to choose classes that represent options they wish to explore careerwise.

    I did not think about this at all and the way GE credits worked at my school allowed me to pick and choose a bunch of way-random classes just for the sake of learning about the subjects. Which is great if you want to be an academic, but I did not and I found myself coming up to graduation without the slightest idea of what I wanted to do for a living. I really wish I had been more selective with my classes, particularly in the first two years when I was undeclared as a major. In hindsight, there were so many areas I could have explored as potential careers by taking related classes and instead I scheduled classes more based around how much free time I could get, how late I could sleep in and how “cool” I thought the idea of the class was versus how useful the skills the class could teach me were and how much long-term interest I might have in the subject.

  5. Many will disagree with this, but if I had done it this way I would be better off today, at age 37. Don’t go to college until / unless you have a specific career goal. If you think you need to explore, get a job in a field you find attractive and learn as much about it as you can.

    The “college experience” is great, so long as your parents are paying for it. Otherwise, see above.

  6. Many young people today seem to gather an eclectic mixture of education and work experience.

    Whilst in times past such a scattered approach was frowned upon, today that seems to be the basis for success.

    Thus people find themselves uniquely suited to fill a particular niche in the workforce.

    I have seen this not only in my son and daughter and their friends but with my esteemed young work colleagues.

    To the fretting parents I can only say, with Bob Dylan:

    “Your Sons and your Daughters are beyond your command
    And the times they are a-changing!”

    – even truer now than when it was written.

    In other words, they have to do it THEIR OWN WAY!

  7. I like Uggs paired with a miniskirt or short shorts.
    What I don’t like is people wearing Uggs in wet or snowy conditions. Uggs are meant for dry climates!

    So my advice to highschool graduates is:

    Make sure your footwear matches the climate, and

    Don’t expect a university to train you for a job. That’s what community colleges are for. University is for broadening your horizens, and preparing you for dealing with the unexpected decisions you’ll face in life.

  8. I would tell college-bound grads to do as many internships as possible. It’s even better if you find a school that has that built into the program. Testing it out will let you know if that field is really the one that you want to spend a good deal of your life in, and it will look fantastic on your resume. It will really give you an edge over the competition if your employer for your first entry-level job won’t have to teach you the very pre-basics of work life, like how to dial outside numbers on your phone (usually press 9 first) or how to deal with requests for proprietary info (you can’t just blurt out anything, even to a vendor).

    For the college experience, you’ll probably have sex so don’t be too embarrassed by it to do the responsible thing. Condoms every single time, even if you’re gay or not having PIV intercourse. If you’re planning on getting drunk, make sure you have condoms available BEFORE you start drinking. This is a good rule even you don’t plan on having sex that night. And you feel any itching or burning, go to the school clinic. Don’t be too embarrassed to deal with it that you pass it onto someone else. It’s even a good idea to get tested regularly (ever year or 6 months) even if you have no symptoms. The most common STDs are also the most curable ones.

  9. Advice for students: I teach at a community college, so I’m biased. But I would strongly advise students who want a 4-year degree to think about going to the local cc, then transferring to the 4-year of their choice. We get “reverse transfers” all the time who went off to a university before they were ready, partied too hard, flunked out (or just got homesick) and came back after a semester or two. Such a waste of money.

    At least at our community college, you’re more likely to be taught by a fully qualified professor (rather than a grad student) than you would be at a 4-year school. The savings are really substantial, and you end up with exactly the same diploma.

    Advice for parents: high school is when you should start easing back. But my wife and I have been doing some “lawnmowing” for our 10-year-old recently, so I’ll defend the practice. The issue in question was getting her into the most challenging courses available at her school. If we were pushing her beyond her capacity, that would be wrong. But since

    a) she complains about being bored in the lower classes, and we know she can do the tougher work,
    b) the placement is based, not on ability to complete classwork, but on somewhat dodgy tests whose methodology we question (and we both have quite a few years background in education),
    c) when parents come in to advocate for their kids, the teachers almost invariably cave in, and
    d) placement in upper-level classes in 5th grade affects whether you get into a Talented and Gifted program in middle school, which literally can have an impact on your whole educational career and thus the rest of your life

    I think it’s irresponsible when parents DON’T advocate for their kids, at least through middle school. It’s certainly unfair that kids whose parents are unable or unwilling to go to bat for them get an inferior eduation, but that’s another fight…

  10. If you are introverted, like I am, live in the dorms, don’t commute. It will make socializing easier, and you will learn things about yourself and what you can/cannot live with. And if you qualify for work/study, look for an on campus job ASAP since they fill up fast (the good ones anyway). And don’t just call your parents when you need money.

  11. daffodil posted “look for an on-campus job ASAP” — I’d add that ASAP means BEFORE the semester starts. When I was in a position to hire students, we wanted to get the places filled by the start of classes, and so we hired from the students who applied during the summer. In practice, this meant that we ended up with international students because they hit campus 3 or 4 weeks before the semester began and started looking for jobs immediately, while the locals waited until classes started.

  12. As my birthday is in December, I started school at 4. I was 17 when I graduated, and I went to university right out of high school. For about two weeks. I couldn’t handle it, I had no idea where I was or what I was doing or why I was even there. I ended up taking 5 years off to work and do things before I suddenly woke up one day and decided I wanted to go to school. So my number one advice would be that school is VERY EXPENSIVE and it can be really, really difficult. Make SURE you know what you want to do, and that you have the dedication and commitment to see the whole thing through. If you’re not sure, or you’re being pressured to go, stand up to The Man and say no, until you’re sure.
    You also need to think ahead, as Violets commented, you want to make sure you’re taking the right classes and doing what you need to get to where you want to go.
    I’ve also heard that many grants and scholarships sit around because no one claims them. Apply for everything! You really have no idea how expensive going to school is until you’re knee-deep in it. Don’t scoff at 100$, that can go a long way (I could use 100$ right now).

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