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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sending kids off to college part two : how to choose a program

This really continues the theme of the last post on this subject, because to start with if your child hasn't a clue what they want to study they are not ready for college. It might be smarter for them to "find themselves" outside university before they consider it.

I say this knowing that many of my tenured colleagues would disagree, arguing that exploring interests and developing "critical thinking skills" are what undergraduate degrees are for.

I understand that point of view but to be really honest I think it comes from another time. When I was in university it was entirely possible to work for a summer and pay for a complete school year. Many people did that and as a result that time was sort of the golden age of the permanent student.

What we have now are kids who are working 1, 2, 3 part-time jobs while they study (something I never had to do during the school year) and still graduating with debts that will handicap them, postponing things like marriage, children, or buying a house, right into the years when financial planners say they should be well into putting together solid retirement savings.

For these kids getting through school is a struggle between deadlines, fatigue and work conflicts. The average debt my students graduate with from one undergraduate degree is $30,000 plus and this is often when they have had family help. The bill is many, many times that for further professional and graduate degrees.

We have to be careful that an education that is meant to open doors doesn't close them.

So before any parent panics and pushes a kid into a program, any program, because a university degree is a ticket to security, they need to be honest about whether that child is really ready or the program is really right.

After all my nephew came home from work the other night and told me he is bussing tables with a graduate with a B.A. and I know the manager of the local Dairy Queen has a B. Sc. How would you like to be working those jobs with the kind of debt I described? 

My thoughts on choosing undergraduate programs:

There are two kinds of under grad degrees. The ones that qualify you to apply to a graduate program with a specific outcome and under grad degrees that put you right in the work force.

Back to the B.A. and B. Sc. Many kids of course parlay these first degrees into something they can earn a living at, but to be truthful this is more often a case of their own innate hustle than anything they were taught in school. In most cases the B.A. will have to apply to a subsequent program, law, business etc. and the B. Sc. will have to go on and study further in say the health sciences to have a better career.

So in general I would say that unless your child is up for embarking on more than one degree the traditional first general degree might not make a lot of sense.

As to the alternatives, this is where it gets tough for parents.

The truth is that most of us have no idea what the possibilities are out there. Just like my dad who figured any girl had three options nurse, secretary or teacher. Many great possibilities exist, we, and often high school guidance folks are not much better,  just haven't heard about them.

What your student needs to do is look through university calendars in detail and be open to new programs, things they have never heard of.

And then, this is most important, go through the actual courses carefully to see if those courses are something worth getting out of bed on a Monday at 8:30 to go learn about. 

The course thing is really important. 

Over and over I hear students say "this degree isn't what I expected it to be, I never thought I would have to do some much (math, writing, biology, numbers) etc." All that would have been clearer if the student had gone carefully over the courses.

It is also useful and very relevant to ask the institution what per centage of grads are working in the field after graduation. Many don't keep track (which is a message in itself) but this might be interesting. I personally like undergraduate degrees of the qualifying kind that have a co-op or internship option. Those programs generally have a better track record with post graduation employment and tend to be better at making sure employable skills are taught for obvious reasons.

Finally this is my best career choosing advice.

Work backwards. 

Ask your child what their ideal adult work day would look like. Ask them about what they would wear, where they would live, how they would travel to work, what the work day feels like.

My nephew for instance said he wants to wear a suit and have a job where he knows what is expected everyday and where he has a clear idea when the work day begins and ends.

My youngest son, the one in the shirt, on the other hand regretted four years he spent doing business after one winter in an office. He knows himself better now and is so much happier out and about building and it now going back to school to do something technical. Why did we think the guy who never sat still, who could hardly stay at the table long enough to finish a meal before he ran off to some project, could live at a desk?

So once your potential student has this end day in mind work back to the kind of education that will get her or him there.

This idea came to me after a conversation I had with an animation designer. I will always remember him telling me, "I just thought I was creative, no one ever told me that would mean I would end up in a cubicle staring at a computer screen 14 hours a day six days a week."

Think that one through.

Tomorrow more sewing and the day after that thoughts on choosing a college.


GirlSpazDog said...

Thank you so much for your honest words. My son is a senior in high school and is planning on doing some community college work before choosing a program. You have given me so great questions to ask him and discuss so he makes the right choice.

dietcouture said...

This is SO TRUE! And I really wish someone had imparted this knowledge to me when I was in high school. I had no idea what I wanted to do and I wasted a lot of other people's money and my own time trying to wade through college and failing miserably. I quit after that first year and started working a whole bunch of different types of jobs (along with a few other false starts with college) while I figured out what I really wanted to study. I now have a Master's Degree and support my family - something I know for certain would not have been the case had I just "stuck it out" in college early on. Hard lessons learned, but one I intend not to repeat with my son when he gets to that point.

Paula said...

So much insightfulness. Thanks for posting this. I won't push but if I bring your website up on my son's computer I hope that he will read your posts.

Bessiemae said...

Thank you! Our older boy knew he wanted engineering. He attend a prestigious engineering academy the last two years of high school. Curriculum equivalent of an Associate's Degree. Accepted to many Name Brand University Engineering programs. He changed his engineering focus from electrical to chemical: polymers. Attending the best school in US for his major, which is not a well known brand. He loves what he does and is happiest in a research lab. Co- Ops are required.

Younger son is on his way to National Park Ranger/ Wild Life Conservation. He is entering a nationally regarded forestry program for the last two years of high school. Currently, he is working full time at a residential summer camp with emphasis on outdoor skills; he's teaching forestry, environmental science, and, and wild life studies. Backpacking Appalachian Trail, on his one week of vacation. Last year's adventure was Algonquin Provincial Park, his Happy Place. Looking at colleges with strong Outdoor and Natural Resources Management.

Being evil, I forced both kids to work backward, researching job postings and requirements for positions. Each kid has endured ridicule from peers in traditional College Prep coursework. The College- Tech Prep programs ARE College Prep, but also require intensive hands- on lab/ real world experience, and are partnered with Universities and Industry Leaders as Corporate partners. Admission to the programs is extremely competitive and student's completion is based on performance.

There are programs available, but many fly under the radar. Much better for young adult to " try before you buy" in high school.

Dr. Fun (AKA Sister) said...

Fabulous advice - will discuss this with my son this week. I'm thinking you should write a book on this.....

Anonymous said...

It is nice to hear an educator saying the same thing my family has been saying for years. "What is job like, you know, the one waiting at the end of all this?".