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Open letter to parents, advisors and ‘first time in college’ students: Your career begins with your college choice

Begin with the end in mind.
Who wishes for her/his prospective college or university student to enroll in academic programs that produce results on the road to nowhere? I don’t. That is why I have spent a few decades helping to educate parents, academic advisors and on-their-own students about thinking through their decisions on which colleges and universities are a match for the students’ overall goals and objectives.
There are also economic reasons why it is important to get it right. The sad statistics about the college drop outs remains at an alarming high.

If financial aid loans are involved in the drop outs’ matriculation, repayment is a problem and that adds up on the default rate of loans. Ask CEOs like Ce Cole Dillon whose company, Student Loan 411, is helping countless numbers of ex-college students to wade out of their debt.

My focus in this blog is on the importance of ‘looking before leaping’ to achieve ‘happily ever after’ results.
Why you should care what happens after college graduation
Going to college is no longer a cheap buy: The average 2017-18 price tag was $25,290 for public and $50,900 for private higher education institutions, according to the College Board.

With that annual figure growing each year, an increasing number of parental and foundation funders are asking the ROI or return on investment questions about universities and colleges’ tuition, housing and food expenses.
As one who believes in the value and lasting benefits of attaining a well-rounded higher education degree and socialization, I sought the same questions when my children were preparing to attend college. I also learned that my recommendations were not always in line with what my children wanted to achieve. My bottom line is and remains: What will a college and university do to enhance one’s career opportunities?

1. Despite the pressure of parents and others for a student to become a “legacy” college entrant, if that student is unsure about her/his academic interests and career goals, consider a two-year program at a community college. It is a cheaper buy. While I served as a dean at a university in Florida, I actively recruited and welcomed students who wished to transfer into our bachelor’s degrees’ programs. Graduation and other success rates at four-year institutions by associate degree graduates is impressive.

2. It’s okay to choose a four-year program. It’s even smarter to graduate in four years. I chose a historically black college in Atlanta, Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University). Many in my family chose larger, majority institutions. We all meet at the finish line as my siblings and cousins, aunts, uncles and parents graduated and are happily engaged in various careers. Please make sure that the program’s results match the preparation expectations of the students and hopefully, her/his supporters.

3. Asking for the right data and getting answers to queries involving curricula vis a vis careers, are vital components in the degree selection process. I always make myself available for parents and students and others to ask questions of me about academic programs, career choices and graduate school. At a recent gathering of prospective graduate students of the Medill School of Journalism, a family member pulled me out of a small circle and quizzed me on whether the “expensive cost of attending this school is worth it.” I responded with a resounding “yes” with my story combined with career placement data that I could recall. I also matched him with our websites and included the names of famous alums who would aid in his pursuit of one of the most legitimate queries. Note that most public universities are required to report similar data. Also, accreditation agencies of university and college degree programs are also requiring graduation, matriculation rates, and career placement rates. Some academics “hate” the phrase “placement rates” yet will answer your queries another way.

4. Check the walls — the virtual and on-site. In most specialized programs, there are regular postings about career and internship preparation, announcements about alumni visiting campus, career and graduate school recruitment visits and more. Do this during the academic school year because the summer months and holidays may not yield as much content.

5. Email, text and call alumni to ask about their career choices and how your desired university or college program helped those alums along the career paths. In the majority of situations involving prospective students, alumni LOVE talking about their college days.

6. Talk to employers about the post-graduation and entry-level preparation and expectations of college and university graduates.

7. Read the ‘fine print’ that is right before each of on a daily basis. Listen and read and learn from the general and specialized media stories, marketplace trends and global developments regarding career choices for the college bound or university enrolled student. When I arrived for my first day of work as a dean of journalism and graphic communication, I was provided with a “gift” from our mass media funders. They wrote a collective letter to university presidents, provosts and deans to inform us that they would no longer support out-of-step programs.

8. It’s okay to change your mind. I did. My oldest son did the same. He did chose Florida A&M University over other options that included the Georgia Institute of Technology. During the hot summer days when I was 17 years old, I debated on which university or college to attend. I was accepted to three colleges. I paid my housing deposit to Howard University. Yet, just before I booked my travel from Chicago to Washington, D.C., a Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) alumna informed me that there was an equally strong communication program at Clark. When I placed both programs side-by-side, I chose Clark and became a “legacy” graduate. It led to my next important career preparation and that was at the Medill School of Journalism @Northwestern University. With my degree specialization in financial journalism, my career and later my doctorate in international business, have provided me with an outstanding the journey.

9. When final choices are made, consider the financial investment of travel to and from home to the college and university, the fees and tuition, location and whether the “helicopter” or “drone” parent syndrome is also involved in the decision-making.

It is not easy selecting which is the best college or university to advantage one’s career choice, yet it is worth the early investment.
If you are still unsure, request a year extension on attending a college or university also known as a “gap year.” Make sure your college or university offers such a program. You save your place in line while exploring a career, educational experience or a related adventure and perhaps gain some more research on whether the university will fill your career and life’s desires and needs.

Ann L. Wead Kimbrough is an accomplished educator, award-winning financial journalist, author, special events leader, mentor and prolific contributor to select global and domestic non-profit causes. Her blog topics include travel, history, humor, education, career, family, journalism and ‘thought you should know’ subjects.