How to get into college. For adults. Important rules (part 4)

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Continuing today, the site is featuring a long form discussion of how to get into college and earn a bachelors degree specifically tailored to adults who are facing the same challenges as everyone else in today's economy. Enjoy!

Rule #1 Where To Attend

Are there any schools in your area worth the land they take up? Sure they have a great football team, but do they have a curriculum that employers are looking for? Or how about the other side of that example, what if they have a terrible hockey program, but their professors are all triple doctorate, 65 year old, been in your exact future field for 45 years kind of people? This gets into a philosophical debate akin to which of the major car manufacturers is the best, but it's yet another piece of the puzzle. Remember, the only reason you are going back to school is to train yourself, and then get the credentials to begin your new and better career. If the smaller college with the epic teaching staff is right down the road, but the State U is 40 minutes away and the field you are going into really only accepts people that go to State U, then take a wild guess which University you should be going to. This all assumes that you are like me in that you have roots down where you live, and your family or friends or work are all based in that one town. Quite frankly, the training you want is rarely offered in every university. It all comes back to the idea of, what is your new path in life worth?

Sometimes life presents the path for you. What if you ran a Caterpillar at a power plant for 15 years, and you've been helping out the plant technicians here and there for the last 5 years. What if you find out through the grape vine that the lead Boiler Engineer is retiring in a few years and you have been short listed for the job. Do you kick yourself for not paying attention in Physics back in high school, or do you look around for a school that offers a degree in Boiler Engineering that you can take while still working? Obviously, you should look around for a school that offers exactly what you want, and make yourself more valuable.

The name of your school means less than the quality of the education, and that education means less than how accepted that degree you are trying to get. Perfect examples have names like “Cyber Security Specialist” or “Engine Fluid Level Technician.” They both have fancy sounding names and they might fall right in line with what you think you want to do. What ends up happening however, is that you spend 3 to 5 years and something like $30,000 and up (way up) on a piece of paper that no employer recognizes, and you find out half way through your training that you could have read up on how to do everything from the manual you got with your computer, or car. Schools, no matter what they say are for-profit institutions. They are businesses with salesman, and quotas, and full on attempts to get your money for the first part of your program, and then drop you on your back side without giving you any degree.

Rule #2 Salesman Are Lying To You

Along those lines, here is Rule #2: don't believe anything a salesman says. Salesman can be called anything you can think of, guidance counselors, placement specialists, advisors, alumni, writers, anything. Above everything you have to find out what you need for you. If some counselor starts telling you that “it would be a good idea if you take this class because everyone takes it” call them on it, look at what is required for graduation, research what classes will fill that criteria and sign up for that. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made before I figured that little tidbit out was being told I should take an English class during the summer time that met 3 times a week at 7:00pm for 3 hours, with one 5 minute break in the middle. This professor ended up being one of those “loves to hear the sound of his own voice” kind of guys. The mistake part, aside from how utterly tedious the class ended up being was that during the same semester was the online version of the same class that never met on campus, required reading the same things he droned on about, and then writing the same papers he assigned. Learning this fairly early on has saved me some serious time. For example, instead of taking a pre-1800 European History class that met for similar hours as that English class, I found an online version of a Political Science class that had 5 tests strewn throughout the semester, and a few papers scattered about. Both classes fulfilled what was needed for your degree, but I actually learned something from the Political Science class. Not only did I save myself from wasting time driving up to campus, I learned quite a bit about state and local politics and found out that there were more than two political parties, one of which that was much closer to my personal beliefs.

Rule #3 Create Your Own Path

So here is Rule #3: only take classes that you need to graduate. This rule has a lot of ramifications including the examples from above, but also something that I don't have to remind any of us of: we don't have the same amount of time as those 18 year olds that are spending mommy and daddy's money and have all the time in the world. The worst part of the whole thing is that there is a core amount of classes that are required in order for them to allow you to take courses that are pertinent to your degree. When choosing what classes to take, look down the road and see what is necessary to fulfill a requirement. You will get to know words like humanities, and cultural diversity, and global perspectives, and for the first couple of years, you will hate them. They take up hours of time and quite frankly out of 100 topics you learn, you will only remember 5 topics that you will bring up at the next barbecue. But something that you must remember, they serve a very important purpose. No, it's not enriching your knowledge of culture, just read an alternative paper online for that, the sole reason for taking those classes is to get easy A's. You will find out that some of your classes will completely befuddle you, and you will most likely have to repeat at least 2 classes. It happens. Anyone that thinks they can pick up Differential Equations, or Multi-Variable Calculus on their first try is lying to themselves, or is a frickin genius and I am jealous of you. Some argue that you should get all of your “easy” classes out of the way right off the bat, but I have found that you should spread out your pointless classes, History of Rock and Roll as an example, across your entire tenure at school. You break up the insanely tough classes, and you pad your semester's grade point average. Trust me on this one, you don't want your GPA to slip beneath the magic number that means you're cut off from financial aid. No one is rich enough to pay for college out of pocket, good 'ole uncle Sam has seen to that with so many guaranteed grants and loans that schools are tripping over themselves for your dollar. But we'll discuss that later.