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Going to College At 18 – Is It Crazy? Are You In Your Dream Job?

July 6, 2010 · 26 comments

in Life, Personal Finance, Work

My oldest son will be a junior in high school this upcoming August, so we will be spending a lot of time evaluating different colleges. While talking to my son about the entire college application process, it made me think back to my high school years and getting ready for college.

My preparation for college back in 1985 was pretty simple. I took the ACT, filled out some applications and financial aid forms, and ended up going to Michigan State without even visiting the campus. My goal was to become a high school math teacher and a volleyball coach. Mainly because, I was 17, I liked math, and I liked playing volleyball. Pretty reasonable, right?

Well, two years into my endeavor, I realized I didn’t want to be around teenagers the rest of my life, and I was losing my passion for math. So, I applied to the business school and ended up getting my degree in Finance. Unfortunately, all of my optional credits were used on math instead of other areas that I may have also had an interest in pursuing. (So to all you students out there, focus on taking prerequisites those first 2 years instead of immersing yourself entirely in your major.)

I am not the only person that changed their major midway through college. Actually, many of the people I went to school with did the same thing. It makes me wonder if going to college right out of high school is optimal. Really, how many people know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they are 18 years old? However, I don’t know that a gap year will suddenly make you realize what you want to do either. I don’t think there is an easy answer.

So, if you did end up in the wrong field based on your college choices, or if maybe you are working for the wrong employer, start making a plan to make a change. Do you have a dream job? If so, spend your spare time pursuing that dream, be it through classes, certification, whatever. Don’t just sit there and be miserable. Expand your horizons a little bit and see what is really possible. Network as much as you can. Be open to new possibilities – don’t just focus on reasons why you shouldn’t pursue other options. This economy has to turn around sooner or later (I hope), so make sure you are ready for when it does.

Did you change your major during college? Do you regret the degree program you chose? Or, are you in your dream job and the envy of all around you?

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

bw July 6, 2010 at 7:47 am

Hi! I changed my major twice during college – accounting , teaching and back to accounting. I don’t know if there are truly “dream jobs” out there. I am happy in my current job and it is perfect for this stage in my life. I do, However, love the area I work in – accounting. And I think it is definitely a plus to work get your degree in a subject that you are really good in. I found out in my first accounting class that I was in about 10% of the class who actually fully understood the subject and found it interesting while the rest of the class struggled. I think the key is to like what you do so you don’t get bored and continually have the ability to change jobs within the field you have chosen. One last piece of advice I have is to get a degree that is as specific as possible in the field you want to work. In interviewing candidates recently for an open accounting position, I quickly weeded out hose applicants who did not have a BA in Accounting. It’s good to specialize in something to make yourself stand out when applying for jobs.

College is a very exciting time! Best of luck to your son! Go green! 🙂

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Kris July 6, 2010 at 10:21 am

BW – You are very right in that you should definitely pick something you are good in. I think you end up being good in subjects you naturally enjoy also. (Some exceptions to the rule, but it is harder to excel in something you hate.)

I also think that you have to optimize whatever your degree is in. For example, in accounting, you should go for that CPA and do it when you are young. I am sure that is another aspect that employers may use to weed out candidates.

Thanks for the great comment!

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Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural July 6, 2010 at 9:11 am

I’ve thought about this before. It’s a mixed-up sort of situation. You’re in school-going mode after going for 12-13 years, so it’s a natural transition to keep going to school by attending college, but you’re so young and don’t really know what you want to study. Then, other the other hand, when you’re out of school-going mode many years later in life, you probably have a better idea of what you’d like to study!

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Kris July 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

Victoria – It is definitely a catch 22. You kind of have to go to college right out of high school because what else are you going to do. But you are making major life decisions when you are 18 years old. My college adviser pigeon-holed me by giving me bad advice, and I was too young to know it!

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Young Mogul July 6, 2010 at 11:39 am

This really is a thought to ponder… We are all so used to just doing what society says we should and going with the flow instead of stopping to question the commonly held belief. It makes me wonder if a young adult wouldn’t be better served by doing something such as Peace Corps and gaining some life experience before going to college.

There’s also an added advantage to waiting a few years before entering college…in today’s youth obsessed workplace, a later college graduation date may make employers think the candidate is younger in age; which could come in handy during those years when age discrimination may be a concern.

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Kris July 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Young Mogul – you are right, Peace Corps or another similar organization may be a good alternative for those that aren’t sure what they want to major in, or where they want to go to school. But, our society is so geared to heading off for college a few months after high school graduation, it is too bad there aren’t more options available.

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Budgeting in the Fun Stuff July 6, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I didn’t change majors, but I knew a Marketing degree could be used for almost anything with additional certifications. I have yet to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, so I’ve settled for a normally low-stress job (although not this week). I think that scholarships and grants are just easier to get right out of high school, so the system makes it hard to take a little time off…

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Kris July 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm

BFS – Marketing is one of those versatile degrees. Also, you don’t need a Masters Degree to find a job with it, unlike psychology and some other majors.

I often wonder what I would major in if I were to start college today, and I still don’t know. Ironically, I possibly would go in to teaching. I have come full circle!

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Sandy L July 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm

1. No I didn’t change major (Chemical Engineering)
2. No, I don’t regret it..but I can’t say I was that passionate about my major either. It was just a practical choice I made based on the subjects I was good at and a career that payed well.
3. The job market for my field is volatile but most of my peers who were impacted by layoffs got new jobs pretty quickly. I had a great upwardly mobile career the first decade or so when I was willing to sacrifice all my free time in exchange for working. Now with kids, things have changed and so are the jobs I’m willing to entertain.

One big thing I learned is that your son is more likely to land a job in the same geography that he went to school. (And how the heck does an 18 year old know that? Well maybe some do.) Many companies recruit from local universities. So if you want to stay in the midwest, go to school there. If you want to end up in California, it’ll be a lot easier if you pick a west coast school.

The second thing regarding location is that some majors are location specific. Top investment bankers are going to be in big cities..so if you crave a home in the country, your career choice might impact your ability to fulfill that dream. For me, there were tons of jobs in horrible locations..that’s where chemical plants are after all. Luckily, I was able to get a job in a good location. It may not have been the case if I graduated during a down economy though.

Last thing…someone once advised me that if you don’t go to college right away, your odds of never getting a degree go way up. No idea if this is true, but I came from a working class area, so I can see how it’s hard to give up a $20/hr job once you get used to the income. Waiting never made sense to me. Professional jobs usually end up paying better than an unskilled job. I had no interest in prolonging my time living below poverty level.

Sorry, this answer is so long. Choosing my school, major, and college in general were life changing to me. Socioeconomically, in one generation, my family went from being in the bottom 20% of earners, to the top 10%.

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Kris July 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Wow, great comment!

I agree about the geographical location. My oldest son really wants out of Michigan as this weather makes him crabby. However, getting into a good college in California is very difficult if you are out of state. When I graduated from Michigan State, it seemed all the recruiters were looking for people to fill positions in the Detroit/Chicago area.

I too was raised in a working class area, and going to college was absolutely the best decision for me. I also had friends that were getting new cars and such, and I just told myself that my time would come.

Glad things worked out so well for you!

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Jan July 6, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Lurker here.

My experience (with a 24 and 27 yr old) is get that child to college and keep them there until they graduate! Unless they are blowing the money- it is a life experience that will establish them. In reality it doesn’t make a difference WHAT the degree is in unless they have a certain passion! Once they are out- they can find a job.

Those who delayed college in my son’s and daughter’s classes are working – but they have no where to go up a ladder (unless they are independent business people with a passion- then college is not that important).

Sandy is right- giving up that $20. an hour job is tough- even if it is the army. My daughter and son in law (both very bright- neither went to college) are in that pit. Sad- they have so much more to give- but many won’t even look at them without a degree.

Peace Corps doesn’t really want you unless you have a skill or have a few years (usually a degree) under your belt. Maybe THAT is the time for the year off- after the degree!

Don’t let California scare you- there are scholarships. It is worth looking into.

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Kris July 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Thank you for sharing your experience. Just to reinforce, my intent was not to discourage college one bit, I am so thankful I went. It is just that it is too bad we aren’t ‘armed’ with more life experience before we embark on the college process. College is a much better decision than most the alternatives. Maybe a better solution is for the school systems to better prepare kids for the real world in terms of what options are out there for careers.

Also, thank you for lurking! Come by anytime, and feel free to share any comments you have!

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Benjamin Bankruptcy July 7, 2010 at 2:38 am

I did a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics so I could get a job when I finished. Now I work in finance, I wish I had done a degree for me, Ecconomics or Maths would have been better.

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Money Reasons July 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I started out in Accounting, but switched to Computer Science (because of Money Reasons lol)…

I liked the major, but I got hired in at a company that made life easy and confortable. Now I’m looking back and thinking I could have done a lot more than what I have with my degree.

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Rebecca The Greeniac July 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Ha! Well, let’s see… I went into college thinking I would major in German, then switched to geology, then sociology/anthropology, then history, then psychology and finally had a little “nervous hoe-down” (sort of like a nervous breakdown only smaller and with comic overtones) when I realized that I didn’t want to do ANY of those things.

That’s when I looked at my credits and realized that I only needed one more class (which I was going to take anyhow) to be a music major. So I became a music major and ended up running a non-profit music school for 16 years. But I also taught myself how to do computer programming, database design, graphic design and web page design, and I earn a fair amount of my income that way.

I really feel for kids these days. I mean the majors are SOOOO specific. When I was in school you might be able to major in “communications” but nowadays it’s like “I think I’ll major in internet based marketing campaigns” or something equally arcane.

I guess there are different ways to approach college. My college experience was the classic “liberal arts education”. In other words, you weren’t supposed to be learning “skills” that would be used in your later profession, you were just supposed to be becoming a well-rounded and educated person, and perhaps “learn how to learn!”

I can honestly say that I would not have fared very well in today’s “point yourself at a life-long career at age 18” world. It’s really like “professional vocational training” rather than education. And the amount of debt that kids these days end up with… it’s just ridiculous! I mean geez… if you rack up $20k in college loans, and then decide you don’t like your ridiculously specific degree, then what?

On some level it just makes me angry, because it’s like the giant “corporatocracy” has its teeth into people before they’ve even had a chance to live! “You’d better choose the right major or else no company will want to hire you… and you won’t have good opportunities for moving up the corporate ladder.” YUCK! Who wants to live their life that way?!?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But if I were a kid again, I certainly wouldn’t be in any hurry to sell my soul to the system.

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Kris July 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Wow Greeniac, you have done it all!

The system is frustrating, and I feel so bad for kids graduating college now. Their is so much competition for jobs, and I am sure the salaries are not the best. And, a lot of people are coming out of school with huge student loans. You are right, you do have to be very specific in your major, but then you are pigeon-holing themselves.

Thanks for commenting!

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Squirrelers July 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Good topic. I actually wanted to be doctor when I went to college, but had an interest in business as well. So, I took classes for both, and thought I would decide which way to go after freshman year. What I found (keep in mind that I was 18 then) was than while my grades were good all around, the Biology 101 course I took required more studying and effort than the business classes. Additionally, while I got mostly A’s in business prereq courses, I got a B in that Bio class.

So what does an 18-year old do? Take the easier route. I majored in business. Not that it was easy, but it was easier than organic chemistry would have been, as I thought at the time.

In my gut knew that this wasn’t the best, but I just didn’t have the maturity or discipline to take a long-term approach.

Oh well. Live and learn.

As a parent, I can try my best now:)

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Kris July 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Squirrelers – I felt the same way about pursuing math or business. Finance was supa-easy compared to Calculus and physics. Not sure if I did the right thing in the end, but sometimes you gotta just do what you can to get by I guess. Especially when you don’t have the maturity to really make those decisions.

You are right, as parents, we can just share our experiences and hope our kids don’t make the same mistakes..

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FinEngr July 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Been thinking about this recently. Seems kids go to college, get a degree in something they “think” they’re interested in, and probably have some influence from family members.

Since there’s no conviction in what they’re doing, the thought of more or something less tantalizes the mind a lot. That’s were I am now, questioning whether or not the type of engineering I pursued it actually what I’m looking for.

Remember an article from school were they interviewed an Israeli & Palestinian. Both agreed that American college kids seemed directionless. They were both older, as they had served the (required) military service. They noted that afterward, when people go to college they know what exactly what they are going for.

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Kris July 11, 2010 at 7:59 am

I think that overseas they start planning college plans much earlier than here in the US. I am not sure if it is good or not. Probably gives the kids more direction, but may pigeon-hole them even sooner.

If only I knew then what I know now… 🙂

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Staci Hacken July 24, 2010 at 8:08 am

There’s a book recognized as “Avoid Retirement And Remain Alive”. The concept could be the simple fact that retirement has no place in modern day society. If you are able to make function pleasant by balancing it against the other points you’d like to complete, then you definitely can easily reside like you’ve got all the time within the globe.

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