I honestly do not think our current National Education System is churning out people prepared to meet the world head-on. Some schools are doing a fine job in spite reduced parental support, reduced administrative support, reduced political support, and local, state, and federal support. Americans whine about jobs, but Education is the only true way to prosperity.
My students read about population growth in India, manufacturing growth and population growth in China, and the rise of Brazil and Southeast Asia. The looks on their faces are somber, minds coming to grips with how big, how small, how complex, and how simple the world can seem.
How can one prepare to meet the world head-on? I have some suggestions below all high school students should pay attention to, even middle school kids. Read a newspaper, the USAToday is a favorite of mine. If you are surprised by the rise of China, increased economic growth in India, the need for English-speaking teachers in Southeast Asia, you should not be; means you are not paying attention.
Pay attention. You can pay attention, learn good skills, and have fun, too.
1. Learn how to write to create a resume; learn how to write a cover letter. I have been on plenty of search committees. Resumes with glaring errors get thrown away. Spell everyone’s name correctly. Match your cover letter to the job you are apply for. Generic cover letters are stupid and a waste of time. Most of those go in the garbage. If you want a job then communicate to the hiring committee why you want THAT JOB, not any job – THAT JOB.
2. Think about what you want to do. You don’t absolutely need to know precisely what job you want. Most Americans will change jobs on average 3 times over their working life. I suspect the statistics will change as generations of people become more fluid. But, think about – where you live. What are the growth industries in your region? Of the Top 20 in-demand jobs, which seem interesting? Do you know anyone who has one of these jobs? Shadow people who seem to do interesting stuff.
3. Look for internships. No doubt, non-paid internships suck. Non-paid internships can be a huge drag for a little while but can pay off huge dividends later. Many government agencies, like the FBI, CIA, and the NGA have internships. I’m sure there are more options; those are the ones I am familiar with. National Geographic typically has internships. Many news services, like the Associated Press, once had internships. These internships are great ways of getting a foot in the door, discovering how places work, and if you really want to have a job in a particular field. Internships are great for networking and meeting people while you are developing skills.
4. Look for scholarships or grants. Some employers will help with school, through scholarships or grants. Don’t trash your high school GPA as a decent GPA might result in free tuition or reduced tuition at a state school or local community college. I was able to attend my local community college for free for two years because I managed to keep my high school grades up.
5. Are there opportunities to work in rural areas to forgive student loans? Some medical and teaching fields have programs where teachers or health care professionals who locate in certain geographies can seek forgiveness for student loans. Yes, your job might be in rural Alabama, or in Appalachia, but people everywhere have a right to decent medical care.
6. Don’t buy a new car after graduation. If your car will hold together for a few more years, then hang on to it. One of the biggest mistakes college grads make is blowing money on a new car. Dumb. Really? Don’t make an easy to avoid mistake. Save your money, pay down your student loans, save for your house, make some contributions to a retirement account. Cars are a dumb investment; as soon as you drive your brand new car off the lot, you’ve lost 20% of the car’s value.
7. Develop a budget. Yes, you are on your own, and don’t have to listen to your parents about how to spend your money. Or, me for that matter. But, then don’t piss and moan about being broke, or all the credit card debt you racked-up. You went to college, for god’s sake, didn’t you learn anything? Save, pay with cash, and use a debit card.
8. Find a roommate. Yeah, I hate this idea. I’m not a people person. I don’t like having someone in my environment messing with my stuff. But, that is me. I’ve had roommates, though. Having good roommates can fill the empty hours, and help save money. I lived with two other adults, each of which had jobs, and paying a couple of hundred bucks for rent each month relieved so much stress. I was able to pay-off my credit cards, eat out, save money in a mutual fund. And, we all had great fun, to boot.
9. Don’t take out any more loans than you absolutely need. I took out all I could afford. Most of my money went to the local tavern where it was used to build a new addition for the local bands to setup. Then, on Thursday and Saturday nights, I sat in a new room built with money I borrowed for my education. Today, the tavern sits empty and delapidated; when my town went “moist” the owners packed up and moved into town, abandoning their old dive. Why give your money to someone else, like I did? Why not use the money for your education, such as a Study Abroad? Or, better yet, don’t take out what you don’t need?
10. Walk away from the haters. No one else is going to educate you but you. Your parents may foot the bill but you are the one showing up for class, doing the homework, writing the research papers, hitting the books. You might entertain fanciful notions of making grandparents proud, or Aunt Nellie, or mommie, but the bottom-line is your education is first and foremost for you, no one else. Other people may benefit from your education, your spouse, your kids, your family, but those benefits are secondary to the benefits you earn. Family and friends who ridicule you for pursuing an education need to be pushed aside. They are your enemy. Really. What else would you call someone who stands in the path of a great reward? Friends pull you along, encourage, promote, and sometimes yell and scream, to make sure you do the right thing. I have heard parents tell their kids going to college is a mistake. I have heard preachers in local churches in the South say the only knowledge worth having is in the Bible. Yes, those are both mistakes, grevious errors, in fact. In the former case, the parents are simply near-sighted and selfish, thinking only of themselves. In the later case, those who use religion to continue the entrenchment of dogmatic philosophies are the enemies of the future and are not encouraging people to use the powers vested in them to the best of their ability to make themselves, their families, their community, the country, or this planet a better place. We don’t get to choose our families like we do our friends; moving away from a bad home environment to a more supportive environment might be the best, if you are doing so for the proper reason. No one needs to be surrounded by abuse, mental, physical, psychological, or drug; or be around people who cannot seem to stay out of jail.
There are many people around you, probably even at arm’s reach, who can help provide you with advice. A good minister can help, a teacher, a neighbor, or maybe another family member. I was lucky; I had two well-educated uncles, one in finance, one in geophysics. Visit your country library and ask for help on career choices. Ask your school’s guidance counselor for Career Discovery help.
As long as our current educational system enjoys the self-distructive pathology of teaching to standardized tests, our educational system is running on fumes. No real educational reform seems to be on the horizon, either.
But, you do have a brain, and the Internet, and some good people around you. You might have to be your own advocate, but in the long-run, the experience you’ll receive will make you a valuable person people will enjoy being with.