For the last twenty years I’ve followed two dreams. My dream of continuing to help students find their potential at college and above and also my dream of owning small businesses. I’ve been one of the lucky ones that has been able to do both of those. It wasn’t easy by any means but when looking back in reflection, I can easily say I wouldn’t take another path. I started contemplating how the next step in a student’s career is a lot like starting a business. It came to me when I hit my twenty year mark, yesterday of working in higher education. I’m big on reflective learning. Reflective learning is where you look back on a chunk of time or a situation and you get data and insight that helps you moving forward. A lot of people get stuck on the “reflective regret” which is where you look back and all you want to do is change that specific moment in time. Don’t get me wrong, we all have a particular situation like that. But the danger for most, is that the situation they reflect on will consume them and they will miss everything else. I’ll digress back to the topic now, or we could get stuck on this topic for the whole post.
When you look at starting a business, the first thing is the idea. How it fits into the workplace and what need it fulfills. You start coming up with a prototype and doing due diligence on product viability. Everyone tells you that it sounds like a great idea so you embark on it. You start working feverishly on it, constant tweaks and late nights, crawling your way to the top of the competition. At some point, you may need capital and you start to look for venture funding. Venture capitalists (VC) are people that invest time and money into you and your idea to help make it even bigger and better than it was. They own a part of your business now, so you can’t let them down or waste their money. If all goes well, your product/business goes well, you make enough money so that you and your investors are happy and you are proud that you were able to grow something into the giant that it is now. A lot of young students that are thinking about college or trade school right now, may have that entrepreneurial itch and may choose to go that route right out of the gate. About 10% of them will be successful at that.
So how is college like a start-up business?
The next steps that you take for determining college and beyond will mirror almost identically the same growing pains that a budding entrepreneur feels when starting a business. So let’s break down the steps as it relates to you from above…
As always… Dream It, Believe It, Do It and Win It!
In the podcast and every day I talk to students and parents about the importance of a major. But I want to backtrack just a little. It’s not so much the importance of the major as it is the importance of what you want to do in life. A lot of times students will pick majors because it “sound interesting” or they have a friend that it is majoring in it right now. These aren’t the ways to determine what the right major is for you. Am I saying that what you pick is going to be perfect? Not at all. But it allows you to aim at something right out of the gate. A recent Gallup Poll stated that 36% of people that finished a college degree, switched their major at least once. I was one of those people. I started college thinking that engineering was the right path for me and quickly (one semester in) realized that I had no business in that major and that I was better suited for business and education. It happens, don’t beat yourself up if you make a mid air course correction on what you’re going to school for.
A lot of articles will make this about right or left politics or liberal arts versus trade school. In my opinion none of those really matter. At the end of the day it’s all about what is right for you and your future. One of the main beefs that I have with higher education as a whole, is the disastrous student loan crisis. Although many tout that “college is the place to find yourself and what you want to do”, going blindly down that path could end you up in college for six or more years and you may or may not even graduate with a degree. The equals a ton of student loan debt if you weren’t proactive on the front end with scholarship. At our core, we all have ideas of what we want to do.
A formula that I came up with a long time ago for my students (and I’m going to be putting a free worksheet together on it) is how to pick a major that is pretty close to what you want to do long term. The first step is to take out a piece of paper, write down what you’re good at. Use your imagination and ask people around you. The next step on a fresh piece of paper is to write down what you like to do. This will have some variation from your first list. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you want to pursue that long term. Now look at those two papers and see where there is overlap. The next step is to take the items that overlap and make a list of what jobs are available in the workforce for them. Now circle which one’s you could see yourself doing. The next step is research. Do a little research on these jobs and see what type of education and major you need to pursue to get there. These simple yet time intensive steps will help you develop a major that is more than likely going to be right for you.
By being intentional with your search, you will set yourself up to hit the ground running at college. If you get into it and realize that you don’t have the commitment or competencies for it, than maybe picking another major isn’t a bad idea. Just remember, the longer you are in school the more potential for that scary student loan debt to keep multiplying. Being intentional with your decisions will pay the greatest dividends.
As always… Dream It, Believe It, Do It and Win It!
There is a song by the Rolling Stones (look them up and you’re welcome if you’ve never heard of them) that says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need”.
This song lyric rings incredibly true when it comes to each person’s experience in college. I’ve met with thousands of students over my career and even more alumni from universities all across America. I’m always curious to hear them talk about their college experience. What I have found from doing this almost 20 years is that 40% had an incredible experience, another 40% had an awful experience, and in between there is the rare 20% that don’t have an opinion one way or the other. Now here is the cool correlation after getting to know them better. The people that had a great experience, they are overall, positive people in general. They enjoy life, their job, family, etc. The ones that didn’t have a great experience, seem to still not be having a great experience at life. It’s interesting to see how those line up.
So what am I getting at? Let’s break down the song lyric to better illustrate it.
“You can’t always get what you want.” – This is a truth that will ring true for every single person in college and beyond. This is a life lesson that you will learn over and over and over again. In terms of college, this could refer to several things. Perhaps you didn’t get into your first choice, your major is full, there is a waiting list, financial aid is messed up yet again, etc. There are always going to be stumbling blocks that we have a choice to either stop and concede that life is always going to be a struggle, or we strap on a back pack and climb on over it.
“But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” – This line is for the people that decide they need to climb over the stumbling block and keep moving. So you didn’t get into your first choice, well guess what, maybe the school you did get into is a better fit for you and you didn’t even know it. Your major is full, well you’ve got some options. It could be that your major may be on the cusp of a surplus in the market place with all those people graduating and it’s time to find something else. It could be that you need to make some relationships with your adviser and deans to let them know that when and opening comes open that you want it. People don’t always make decisions based on paper, if they know you and like you, sometimes there is wiggle room. Your financial aid is messed up yet again. Welcome to life folks, stuff get’s messed up. FA is still typically done by humans and they can make mistakes. If you come in screaming, they aren’t going to be very helpful, but if you come in with understanding, it’s amazing how fast it gets fixed.
I’ve met students from all socioeconomic statuses and they all can fall in on the chart. Some in the top, middle and low on the experience rating. The socioeconomics have nothing to do with it. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “what you put in at college is what you’re going to get out.” That’s the truth, if you go in knowing you’re going to have a great experience and you deal with the stumbling blocks maturely and systematically, you’re going to have a great experience. However, if you come in with a chip on your shoulder that everyone owes you everything and nothing ever goes right, guess what, you’re going to have a bad experience. The first sign of something not going the way you “think it should” and you’re ready to blame everyone and bail.
You have a choice to make on which person you will be. College is a great opportunity to start anew. No matter your background or what you think people think of you, this is your shot to make the best of it. You are in control of your college experience. It’s not always going to be what you want. But I think if you try, really try, you’re going to find it’s just what you needed.
As always… Dream It, Believe It, Do It and Win It!
Where Is Your Ground?
I recently was perusing some old magazine articles that I saved and came across an old Editor’s Note. It must have been compelling when I read it back in 2016 for me to intentionally rip it out and save it to come back to. The title was “Know Your Place”. In short, it was about finding your perfect place in this world in what you want to do professionally, where you want to move, etc. The backbone of the article was about finding something that really inspired you.
As I re-read the article, I was flooded with ideas of how this correlates to your (a student) current struggle of finding not the perfect college, but the perfect college for YOU. In the article, they talked about finding your “ground”. The solid foundation on which to grow roots and flourish. As with most things in life, it’s very easy to procrastinate to the point, where choices have dried up and we jump at the first thing that’s still available. For this article though, I want you to really do a self evaluation and start to dream a little bit about what your perfect ground/perfect college is for you.
Part of the journey of college is the beginning of independence. That fresh beginning to discover what you believe, how to be involved, what to do with what you’re studying. Finding your groud, so that you can plant those roots and grow upward. When looking at colleges, I always talk about finding the right fit in several key areas. Obviously, the college major you want, is number one for me. But as we go down the list, the next is what level of involvement do you need on your campus to feel connected and grow personally and/or spiritually. You have to investigate the clubs, activities, the campus size. All these things are important parts that I slide in right after choosing a college based on a major. For student that “find their ground”, the college experience is exactly that, an experience. For others, if they don’t feel that fit or connection, the root doesn’t take hold in the ground, and they usually have a less than positive experience. That can lead to dropping out, negative bias on their alma mater etc.
You are going to have many people guiding you consciously or unconsciously through this decision. They can help you when it comes to finding a school with your major, figuring our your financial aid and much more. But what they can’t do, is find “your ground”. That is completely up you. Intentional research, asking questions of current students, multiple campus visits, and finding something that feels right is what is going to help you fine “your ground.”
The college search process is daunting, I get it. It’s a big step off into the next chapter of life. But if you can find a place that inspires you, a place that you get solidly plan your roots into, the rest will start to fall into place.
As always… Dream It, Believe It, Do It and Win It!
Like most people, I get my TV watching done in binge sessions on Netflix. I don’t watch a terrible amount of TV, since reading is my preferred method of entertainment. However, in those instances where I can knock out a season or two of a show while being sick on the couch, I’ll do it. The latest of these shows is called, “Madam Secretary.” It’s a great show about the Secretary of State that balances saving the world with an awesome home life. In one of the latest episodes from Season One that I watched, the main character, Elizabeth McCord has a tough conversation with her 20 year old daughter who is fresh off of dropping out of college. I’m going to dive further into this below, but here is the sage advice that she offered.
“If you never listen to anything I say again for the rest of your life, please hear this. Everything is more complicated than you think it is right now and the only way you come to know that is through experience. And that is what this whole process of growing up is about.”
I thought that this quote lends itself well to the big discussion of “college” that parents and their students are having. It’s easy for a lot of people to look at choosing college as not a big deal, find the right one and get to it. But if you break this quote down in relation to what’s actually going on in the minds of students, you will uncover the complication. So how do we get through the complication?
I get it, your kids don’t talk to you like they use to. In some instances the fact that they bring up college is a surprise, because up until now you may not have noticed any sort of interest in any particular field or going to college at all. There is a complicated battle going on inside your student’s brain. They don’t have the experience yet and they will act nonchalant but in all reality they are freaking out on the inside and are seeking your guidance. They are yearning to grow up but they still have one foot in the door at home because typically it’s safe and it’s all they have ever known. Be a sounding board for your child as they explore majors, colleges, career training, etc. They aren’t always going to go in the direction that you think they should. It’s important to have some flexibility within the rails of your ideal outcome. Open dialogue will help your student make the right decisions for themselves. And believe it or not, deep down, they want to make a decision that is right for them, but ultimately will still make you proud of them. You may think that their part of the college search equation isn’t that complicated compared to yours, but it really is. They are becoming adults and growing up, give them a little rope during the process.
In the paragraph above, I discussed the student’s complications so that parents can get a look inside the brain of their young adult that is getting ready to take that next big step. In this section, I want to address the student. You may be overwhelmed and you realize how complicated the search process is for you. But you have to understand that it’s incredibly complicated for your parents as well. Now luckily they have had some life experience that they are able to possibly compartmentalize their feelings a little more. You may have older siblings that have gone through the process that gives them a road map to work off as well. A lot of the complication for your parents comes from lack of communication on your part. Talk to you folks about what you’re interested in when it comes to majors, options after college, etc. They want to see you succeed and they understand that you’re ready to “grow up”. Truth bomb… one of the biggest complications in this process is “how to pay for school”. This is the one that most parents, typically 7 out of 10 will worry about the most. They may hide it from you, but realistically it’s there. Don’t be afraid to have the money talk with your folks. Until the age of 24 in most cases, they are still included in your Financial Aid Package, so it’s a conversation that needs to happen sooner than later. If they unveil the financials, be willing to have some flexibility in your direction as well. This discussion will help layout some good helpful parameters on your college search.
Life will open up great doors for you and it will also test you to your breaking point. But like the quote said earlier, that’s just the process of growing up!
As always… Dream It, Believe It, Do It and Win It.
Dustin Hall has been working in higher education for over 20 years. He's passionate about students, technology and entrepreneurship. Over the past two decades, he has owned several companies and worked at a number of private and public universities. At those universities he has held the titles of; Communications Coordinator, Asst. Dean of Residential and Campus Life, Director of Residence Life, Regional Admissions Officer, Director of Admissions and Adjunct Faculty. He's a big dreamer and doer and lives by his motto of "Dream It, Believe It, Do It and Win It!"