What About College?

Here are some of the outfits I wore on College Wednesdays when I taught high school history and economics.  Students were likewise encouraged to wear college gear on those days to highlight schools they liked across the country.  I chose these three because I am part of a University of California family.  I graduated from UC Santa Cruz, went back East to graduate school, and then returned to California to attend seminary in the shadow of UC Berkeley.  My immediate loved ones attended UC Irvine, UCLA, and UCSD.  The UC system is considered the best public research institution of higher learning in the world.  If you complete your A-G requirements and do well enough with your GPA and SAT scores to be admitted, you can’t go wrong at any of the ten campuses across the state.

Selecting the right college or university is one of the most important decisions you will ever make.  The first step in preparing for college, of course, is to work as hard as you can to do well in high school.  Earn the highest GPA you can, do your best on state exams and the SAT, and collect an impressive resume of extracurricular and community service activities.  Approach the teachers with whom you have the best rapport and ask them for letters of recommendation. 

What if you aren’t sure where you want to go, what you want to study, if you can afford it, or even if you want to remain a student after high school?  If you decide not to attend college at all, your independent economic prospects will be extremely limited, unless you inherit a family fortune or business, start your own successful company, or join the military.  A college education broadens your worldview and makes you eminently more attractive to employers in a competitive job market.  If a four-year university is out of the question at first, then a two-year community college may be the most practical place to start your post-secondary education.

California alone has 114 community colleges, many of which are excellent institutions.  Admission to a community college is usually easier than a four-year school and costs less to attend.  They all offer two year associate’s degrees as well as vocational programs and courses of every description.  They are great places to develop your writing and other academic skills and explore different subjects and careers.  Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to continue to live with family and commute rather than pay for your own housing.

If you do well with your general education classes, you can usually gain admission to a four-year school of your choice to finish your bachelor’s degree.  When I was an adjunct history instructor at Bakersfield College for six years, many of my students fit this description.  Others were already working or had families and were returning to school after many years to finish their education.  The classes I taught were in the evenings or in summer to accommodate working students.

If a research university is beyond your reach or interest, you might decide to attend one of many excellent state four-year colleges.  The California State University system has 23 campuses and nearly 500,000 students statewide.  It is the largest producer of bachelor’s degrees in the United States.  New York and many other states also have excellent public university systems.  I explored New England and the Northeast while earning my M.A. at UMass/Boston (see image below).  I was offered a tuition waiver and graduate research assistantship there, even though I was an out of state student.  I never would have discovered this great opportunity if I had not applied. 

Mr. Finney in UMB Beacon gear!

There are also many outstanding private colleges and universities across the state and the country.  Many offer part-time extension programs at off-campus locations.  I earned my teaching credential at an extension program of the University of La Verne while I was teaching at a private school.  Many private colleges and universities have large endowments and offer multiple scholarship programs to a diverse range of applicants.  Some specialize in subjects or programs that may be suited to your particular needs or goals.

Research the schools you are interested in.  Find out if they have the programs you want.  Look up their ranking nationwide.  What are the graduation requirements for the degree you want?  What about library or computer facilities, campus jobs and services, athletics, clubs, parking, safety, housing, public transportation, and food services?  All these considerations and more will help you narrow down your decision on where to apply. 

Regardless of where you start or finish, it is always a good idea to apply for financial aid.  There are many fine scholarship programs for students with outstanding academic records and for those with special skills, backgrounds, or financial needs.  Other assistance can come in the form of grants, loans, or work study programs.  You might be surprised how much money is available.  Ask your school counselor or career center.  Take advantage of financial aid opportunities that are out there.

Location is obviously an important factor as well.  This is particularly important if you decide to go away to college.  Weather is a big one.  My move from the Bay Area to Boston in 1983 was rough when August humidity baked the city and December temperatures dropped below freezing, even though I had grown up back East.  Make sure you have the right clothing for the four seasons.  If you are the first person in your family to attend college, that in itself is a big deal.  Proximity to family might be something you seriously consider.  If you attend school in a faraway city or state, you will have to figure out housing and transportation there.  And even if you get financial aid, most of you will probably have to work part-time while you are in school.

That was the case with me.  I got a full scholarship for my freshman year that reduced to part-time thereafter, so I had to find a job.  I worked as a food server and dishwasher at the campus cafeteria during my sophomore, junior, and senior years at UCSC.  I also worked on my summer and winter breaks when I went home to Orange County.  In graduate school I worked for several professors as a research assistant.  During my years in seminary, I painted houses, entered data at a hospital pharmacy, served as a student intern pastor, and worked as a secretary for my school’s field education office.  There are a lot of online job services available now that were not around in my day.  Take advantage of them.

This is a momentous time in your life.  Don’t let all the details get you down.  Think of it as an adventure rather than a burden.  Seek help, get the support of family and friends, and keep your eyes on the prize.  An exciting future awaits you.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.