“Just about a month from now I’m set adrift, with a diploma for a sail and lots of nerve for oars.” ―
If you’re reading this, you may be a recent graduate. Perhaps someone saw this and thought you might benefit from the foresight of someone who has already made some mistakes so that you might not have to. You see, almost twenty-five years ago, I was in your shoes, simultaneously elated and terrified at the same time. I checked all the boxes on the sheet that schooling had given me, saying that I met the requirements to leave school and enter the adult world. The only problem was that nobody told me checking boxes wasn’t the end goal.
I graduated from high school in the state of Georgia. Georgia has a lottery-funded scholarship program that pays your tuition at any public school in the state if you maintain a B average. Because of this, there are a disproportionate number of high school graduates who go on to traditional public colleges and universities in the state. For me, college wasn’t mandatory, but it was expected. I expected myself to go.
When I attended high school, you could navigate two curriculum tracks: college preparatory and tech preparatory. Because the college preparatory curriculum was tailored to solid academics, there was an expectation that this was the course for you if you made good grades. Many of my peers who struggled academically were sent on a vocational/technical path. While this was seemingly painted as an inferior track at the time, in hindsight, participants received a leg up in career training.
The day after graduation, I had few plans for what would come next. I returned to my job as a lifeguard at the club pool for the summer. I enrolled in classes studying computer science at one of the local universities. I had no formal training in computers, programming, or engineering, but it seemed a prudent thing to do. It turns out I was a horrible programmer.
It didn’t take long for disinterest to set in, and before I knew it, I was spending all my time on my social life and taking extra shifts at work while ignoring my studies. Within a few semesters, I lost my scholarship to attend school, and not long after that, my grades had fallen so far that I lost my ability to take student loans to make up for lost scholarships. It would take me winning an essay contest for a free year of tuition at the local technical school and several years of grinding in jobs and classes to dig myself out of the hole I had dug myself into.
Around this time, catastrophe also struck in my personal and familial life, pushing me toward change. Having exhausted most of the remaining connections to my hometown, I applied and was accepted to the University of Georgia, my second time getting in after declining an initial acceptance out of high school. I packed up my things and moved off to Athens, Georgia, one of the top party scenes in the nation. Despite the allure of Athens, I was a man on a mission.
For the next two and a half years, I kept my head in the books, spurned most of my social life, and graduated with a 3.8 grade point average. Perhaps God knew that had I attended my first choice of schools right out of the gate, I would have landed in the party scene and lacked the discipline required to meet my academic obligations. Most importantly, perhaps God knew that I would have never met my wife if I had attended four years prior.
Having taken the long route through college and making my share of mistakes, I’d like to offer a few points of advice for recent graduates:
- Avoid my route. College shouldn’t take six and a half years to complete, but that’s how long it took to get from a 1.9 to a 3.8 grade point average. It takes twice as long to get your grades up as it does to crater them.
- College should be a matter of career training, but the University system will give you a piece of paper for anything you can imagine. Research in-demand job opportunities suited to your skillset and align your curriculum with your career goals. There is no shame in vocational training; you will be more in demand than ever should you choose that route.
- You can’t do everything simultaneously with excellence. Whether you prioritize your school, career, or family, do one thing with excellence and be okay with rationing most of your resources toward that one thing.
- Delay gratification and avoid debt like the plague. You’ll be shocked to make those credit card or student loan payments one day only to watch your balance be unmoved.
- Offer grace. I was in college when I figured out my parents didn’t have all the answers to life, and for the first time, I was left finding many answers on my own. You’ll appreciate your parents more when you realize they were winging it all along.
- It’s time to date. The field of eligible suitors dwindles quickly after college. Find a life partner in a reputable place like Church; a bar is rarely an ideal place.
- There is a God, and you’re not Him. In a world afflicted with narcissism, be a servant and invest in others around you.