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How do you know what to do for college? How is college financially? And how will I know what to do?

I am an 9th grader and I'm still trying to learn more in school about what to know and do for college.#learning

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Subject: Career question for you

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Patricia R’s Answer

Tiana:
It’s good that you are thinking about college, but I noticed that you said, “…still trying to learn.” My goodness, (I know… old-fashioned expression) if you refer to yourself as still trying to learn, when did you start thinking about college?

Being in ninth grade and thinking about college – which is at least two or three years away – can put a lot of pressure on you before you have had many chances to learn about yourself through a variety of learning experiences.

Thinking about college now can also focus your attention on something that is far away (time-wise) rather than the present. For example, if you were conducting a research project, collecting data/information MUST come before interpreting and drawing conclusions or making recommendations. The same is true for your college prospects.

My advice is to spend at least the next year – maybe two – gathering information about yourself and what you like to learn. Use your high school to the max – sign up for a variety of classes, extra courses, and short courses that can build your skills and knowledge – yes – but also give you a lot of information about

a) What kind of knowledge you like – or don’t like – to study (historical, mathematical, literary, etc.);
b) What kind of skills you already have, or ones you need to improve (writing, expressing yourself verbally, organizing your time, etc.),
c) What you honestly believe you can accomplish. (I may like to learn about sports, and I may have some athletic skills, but I honestly know that being a professional athlete is beyond me. I could, however, be a sports writer, a physical therapist specializing in sports medicine, or any number of other sports-related career options.)

The greater variety of learning experiences you have, the more options you can explore, and one may open you up to something you didn’t expect. For example, maybe you have a chance to take a short course at an animal rehabilitation center where injured, sick, or abandoned wild animals are cared for until they can be safely returned to their habitat. During that experience, you find that you are especially interested in raptors – birds of prey – and want to learn more about falconry. You never know…!
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Lila’s Answer

When you go throughout your day in school, at home, or with friends try and see where your interest peaks. For me, I didn't realize how much I loved graphic design (and wish I'd paid more attention when choosing a career). I would make signs for the coffee shop I worked at and now realize it brought me joy. That being said, I went to school for one thing, went into that industry and pivoted to something else. It's not one straight path, but can curve and change as you grow.

If you are really unsure, go broad before you define further. Staying broad in your major or school choices, allows you learn and grow as you find that things may be different than you expected. Start exploring early. Start asking yourself questions about how you want to spend your day. Some don't want to be at a computer all day while others love it. Some folks want to help others, and some would like to build a business. Some people love writing or hate writing and use that as a first step. It's also important to look at what certain folks make in different industries. This should never be your ultimate decision maker, but knowing that some industries pay better than others might be motivating.

Also, it's always an option to go to community college and move to a 4 year college for your bachelor degree. You start out by going to a community college, its much much cheaper and still a great education, once you earn your Associates degree (2 years), you can transfer to a four year college and earn your bachelors for the second 2 years of your 4 years of college. I like this route especially for folks who are unsure of what they want to do - no point in waisting thousands of dollars when you are a bit unsure, plus the school you graduate with for your bachelors is what people will see on your resume. This route saves money, is less pressure on "what do I want to do with my life" and allows you boost your GPA if needed. Some 4 year colleges even partner with community colleges so its easier to get in.
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Sunil’s Answer

Ask yourself what your interests are. Start with your interests.
Then ask what the market is willing to pay for - what does the world need?
And finally, and equally importantly, ask yourself "what am I good at?"
Ideally, you want to find something to pursue that allows you hit the sweet spot between the three - think of a Venn Diagram - you're looking for the overlap of all three of the above questions.

As we all have heard, college is pretty expensive these days. Plan on about $70K per year "all in" at most colleges. This is of course, before aid, scholarships, etc. These costs can vary based on the college you go to - Community Colleges will be cheaper, and Private schools will be the most expensive typically. Now, if colleges are that expensive, you want to make sure that whatever degree you're walking out with at the end of 4 years of college will justify you spending anywhere from $200K to $300K during those 4 years to get your education.
learning

Sunil recommends the following next steps:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/your-money/college-costs-tuition.html#:~:text=The%20average%20annual%20published%20cost,according%20to%20College%20Board%20figures
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/03/your-money/college-tuition-financial-aid.html
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Daniel’s Answer

Hi Tiana!

While in high school, I highly recommend focusing on things you enjoy. If you enjoy something, it's easier to get better at it, and if you're the best at what you do, it's much easier to get college scholarships and make a career of it. At the same time, don't be pigeonholed by something that you're good at if something else strikes your fancy. Career paths are very fluid and that can be a great thing as you try to find something you both enjoy and can make money doing.

For me, I enjoyed writing code in high school. I got my first internship at IBM in high school (through Saturday Academy), and enrolled in a computer science program because I was sure I wanted to be a software engineer. While I enjoyed writing code (and still do!), I got tired of building software without a clear business motivation. I decided to switch to a more "serious" discipline and enrolled in a graduate program for electrical and computer engineering at Purdue. This was a mistake! I didn't enjoy the rigorous math involved, and soon dropped out.

About the time I dropped out of grad school, I got another software internship at a startup. They had a brand new UX team at the time, and I joined the team as a front-end prototyper. I soon realized that I loved UX design because it's all about making sure you build products that people need. I switched from front-end development to UX design and spent several years growing my skills in that new area.

Since then, I've continued to try out new roles that I'm curious about or see a need for. I spent a couple years doing product management, realized it wasn't for me, and switched back to UX design. I also went back to grad school a decade after my misadventure at Purdue, and earned a master's degree in software engineering from the Harvard Extension School. I'm thinking about going back to school for a Ph.D. in computer science in a few years. We'll see what happens!

From a financial perspective, college can be very expensive. I saved money by earning both of my college degrees online. It's important to choose an accredited program, but saving money on room and board can be very helpful if you have the option to stay at home. I used CLEP to test out of a quarter of the credits required for my degree, and graduated in three years. I paid for the remaining tuition with four internships at Intel and Nike during college.

Also, many of the leading universities have very generous financial need-based programs. For example, 20% of Harvard families pay nothing for their students to attend!
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