I have to begin with the truth about myself this week. I have a child currently attending college who has already heard everything I have been writing in these columns. I can assure you that hearing the truth from your know-it-all mother is no magic bullet. She has had to learn from experience, just as I did. Having "Realistic Mom" around has done very little to change her choices or expectations, but has eased or avoided some of the disappointment and disillusionment many students experience.
The next truth about college is that a four-year Bachelor’s degree is no magic bullet for getting a job or making lots of money. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that a person with a Bachelor’s degree makes almost twice as much over a lifetime as a person with a high school diploma, but this statistic lumps all degreed persons into one pool. If you look deeper, you find the same report tells us that the average highest monthly pay goes to an engineer at $4680, while the lowest goes to an educator, at $2802. Keep in mind that these are national averages—the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists one degree-required education job with a national average of $1385 per month. If your aim is to make lots of money, your choice of major matters!
Your choice of major also matters when it comes to finding a job right out of college and later in your career. So many of my students at TAMUK were under the impression that, upon graduation, the offers for employment would come in fast and thick. Over the past 30 years (since I have been paying attention), the only college graduates who consistently have professional jobs waiting for them upon graduation are some engineering majors and some medical-related majors.
Another related truth is that a college degree is NOT a ticket to the easy life. One common idea is that you can get an education degree so you will have your three summer months and long holidays off and you only have to work 8:00-3:30 five days a week! Sounds great does it not? What about lesson plans, grading, training, classroom preparation, and sponsoring extra-curricular activities? There is no time for all of that in the dream schedule mentioned above, so when does it get done? During the evenings, weekends, and summers. I have also heard college students say they are going to college so they can work a "normal" schedule and have their evenings and weekends to themselves. I know very few college graduates who are able to confine their work to 40 hours a week—and guess what? There is almost no such thing as overtime pay for salaried, professional employees!
One more item on the issue of income and employability—no matter your choice of major, your demonstrated character and work ethic will make an enormous difference in your prospects upon graduation. Cramming a four-year degree into six years and barely squeaking by with a sorry grade point average will get you exactly zero job prospects. Ask me—I know, because I did this. My undergraduate transcript reflects my lack of commitment to my education. After spending a couple of years working in very low-paying jobs and learning the hard truth, I went back to school and earned a Master’s degree with an excellent GPA. Now my graduate transcript reflects my vastly improved character and work ethic. It has been much easier to find a good job with that transcript in my hand. Even all these years later, I want to smack my undergraduate self for screwing up that opportunity!
I wish for all the soon-to-be high school graduates to continue their educations, whether in college, trade school, on the job, or informally, on their own. I firmly believe in the power of the "educated populace" spoken of by Thomas Jefferson. Nowadays it helps to have some education about the education, and that is what I am trying to do—to help students and parents make post-high school choices with eyes wide open: