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Advice to New Grads

Advice to new grads

Six months after I myself graduated college, I wrote a post giving my advice to new grads. I essentially said “the thing you do right after you graduate is not as important to Your Future as you think it is”.

Not bad, but I’ve had a few years now to contemplate what advice I would share with those graduating high school and college in the near future:

A four year degree is not always the answer

Advice: You might not need a 4 year degree
From Flickr

When I was 18, I was under the impression that a four year degree was my only option. But degrees from four year universities are not the magic golden tickets they once were. Everyone in middle class America and their brother’s mother’s uncle’s sister has a bachelor’s degree in something. It doesn’t make you competitive in the job market, unless you have chosen your degree with some strategy (see below).

I don’t think you need a college education to live a fulfilling/successful/happy life.

I’m not saying you’re going to drop out of college, sit in on some calligraphy classes, have some revelations, and be the next Steve Jobs; I’m saying you can get a two year associates degree at not-an-expensive-big-name-school and live an extremely fulfilling and happy life.

Examples of jobs you can pursue without a four year degree: MRI technician, registered nurse, dental hygienist, WEB DEVELOPER (more on this later), something administrative (e.g. secretary or assistant), something in construction, real estate, farmer, air traffic controller…I mean the list goes on. Give it a Google.

For more on this: Surprising Findings on Two Year vs. Four Year Degrees


Advice: get a technical degree to become a Dental Hygienist
From Wikimedia

School right after high school/college is not always the answer either

By the time you graduate high school you will have spent the majority of your life in school. About 13 years. Going and having some experiences instead of marching straight back to where you came from can be eye opening.

If you have money saved, you can take a year and travel (this is the expected course of action for graduates in many other Western countries); if not you could try a work exchange somewhere or do the working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand. You could be an au pair somewhere. There are so many ways to go abroad!

If you don’t want to travel, you can stay home and work part time and see what that’s all about. Just go do something different from school and, most importantly, explore what’s out there.

Advice: Teaching English in Thailand
I went to go teach English in Thailand when I graduated college but I always wonder how my decisions would have been different re: college and my future if I had done something like this even earlier, after high school

If you decide to get a bachelor’s degree, have a strategy

Don’t get a liberal arts degree unless it’s going to directly translate into a job.

For example, don’t get a degree in Psychology thinking it will “apply to any job”; get a degree in psychology if you want to be a psychologist or you want to be a professor of psychology.

If you want a four year degree that costs a bazillion dollars (which is most of them unless you get lucky with special in-state tuition or scholarships) then have a freakin plan about what you’re going to do with that degree. Furthermore, if you want a degree that costs a bazillion dollars and you are going to have to take out loans to get that degree, be absolutely certain that you will be able to get a well paid job in your field with lots of room for job growth and advances in your salary. Otherwise dude, you will be paying those loans off for 10 years or more. Or you’ll run away to Europe to evade the federal government and you’ll never be able to come back for the rest of your life. Either way.

(But do your damnedest not to take out loans. You will be much happier in the end, I promise.)

Advice: don't pay for school unless you have a strategy
I was extremely lucky to get the HOPE scholarship at UGA and graduate without student loan debt. I was a bit less lucky on the student debt side during my master’s degree though… HELLO 10 years of debt!

An example of a strategy would be: I’m going to get a degree in computer science and become a software developer (I don’t know anything about computer science but you get the idea).

Focus on skills not knowledge

Jasmine, an old friend from my TEFL class in Thailand, originally taught me this one. It applies to any time point, no matter where or what you’re doing.

Get you some skills!

I’m talking a second, third language, a certification in something (the only one I have is in ESL for example), learn a computer program used in your field (for my public health friends, this could mean SAS, R, SPSS, STATA, Atlas.ti, Nvivo, etc.), learn how to code…Skills will take you far!

Get in with computer/tech stuff

Advice: Learn to code

Speaking of coding, get computer/techy – it’s The Future! This is one of those things that wasn’t big when I was coming of age, but the youth these days already kinda know how powerful coding can be. Having that skill is a pretty sweet spot to be in, and you can probably learn it all on your own if you’re motivated enough.

But it’s not just coding and web development/web design; I think what we’re seeing with startups and tech jobs is The Future. I don’t know much about what it takes to work at a startup so I’m just going to casually navigate to the careers page on Airbnb’s website and see what we have…

Software Engineer

Data Scientist

User Experience Designer

Language Specialist (German)

Online Marketing Specialist

I would recommend picking a startup you use and enjoy, looking through their careers page, and noting down the requirements they ask for of their prospective employees in roles you would be interested in. Then you can strategically aim to acquire those skills and make yourself a very attractive candidate for jobs in the future.

Don’t take out student loans

Advice: Don't take out student loans
One way I’ve brainstormed to try to pay off some of my loan debt :/

Like I said, I got this right the first time around: I went to a state school for undergrad and had all of my tuition costs covered by the HOPE scholarship.

But for grad school, I went to a private school and paid half of my tuition using federal student loans.

It’s easy in the beginning to make debt feel very practical – “I need this degree to advance my career, make more money. It’s an investment blah blah blah”. It’s also easy to rationalize debt – “It will just be another monthly payment on top of the ones I make every month anyways blah blah etc. etc.” This is what you will tell yourself to make it okay to take out loans and put yourself in debt.

But what you can’t predict from the beginning is how it feels to be in debt.

Debt is so much more than a monthly payment; it’s an emotional burden. It’s living in a financial hole, both physically and emotionally, and it take immense effort to not become anxious/obsessed/depressed over the tens of thousands of dollars you now owe and have to pay back. WITH INTEREST. The amount you owe grows every. single. day.

It hurts, it really does.

From an economics standpoint, sure getting that extra degree may mean you make a bit more than you did without the degree. But the debt you have now incurred decreases your lifetime earning potential by over $200,000. (See figures 7 and 8.)

Not worth it.


Well, that’s all I got for now! Do you have any advice you would give to your younger, freshly-graduated self?

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