Next month I get to help judge the 11th annual Back-to-School Essay Contest being sponsored by American Century Investments. The contest asks 7th and 8th graders to write about the goals they have for after high school and what steps they’re taking today to reach those goals.
I’m especially excited to do this because American Century is based in Kansas City and is the administrator of the Kansas 529 Plan, which is where my own kids’ college funds are invested.
As part of the experience, American Century has asked me to put together my own thoughts about the role higher education has played in my life and what I have told my kids about pursuing a college education.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been assigned an essay. I’m a little nervous!
Three Things I Want My Kids to Know About College
As I thought about those questions, I looked back to this blog post I wrote over a year ago: Three Things I Want My Kids to Know About Money (and Life).
Here’s what I wrote about college in that post:
- A college education is a tool and it’s only one tool in the tool box. (The others include a well-rounded resume, life experience, work experience, people skills, your willingness to keep learning after college, and good money management.)
- A college education is not a golden ticket to future wealth or a certain job. (Even majors that were once considered “sure things” as far as jobs go, like nursing and education, are no longer sure things.)
- There are other ways to get a college degree besides going into major debt. (See How to Send Your Child to College Without Student Loans and Are Student Loans the Next Housing Crisis?)
I still believe all of those things about college but – gosh – re-reading that section makes me sound really negative on college and nothing could be further from the truth. So I appreciate that American Century asked me to write this post, which allows me to expand on those thoughts a bit.
Three more things I want my kids to know about college:
1. College is more than career preparation.
It can be that of course, especially in very specialized fields like engineering and medicine. But the number of people I know who are working in fields other than those they studied in college is staggering and I’ll bet that’s true of you too.
In fact, many of the jobs I’ve held and roles I’ve played in my life haven’t required my college degree — mother and blogger both fall into that category – but I know that having my college education has allowed me to bring much more to those experiences.
The important thing is that college puts you on the path to being a life-long learner, in whatever form that takes.
2. College is more than a classroom education.
When I write about what college costs, I often break the expenses into two categories: education and experiences.
The education expenses are tuition, fees, and room and board. Those are at the core of why we go to college. And certainly if money is tight, they’re the most important expenses to cover.
But an entirely different set of expenses covers the experience of college: living on campus, studying abroad, and attending sporting events, just to name a few. These things are more than just fun; they allow you to learn about yourself and grow in important ways.
3. You need to study math.
I didn’t like math in high school. I didn’t like it any better in college, but as a business major I was required to take a certain amount of it. I got through what I needed to for my major, with the help of a tutor or two. And now I have a soft spot for math.
Many students – including my own kids – make complaints about math that sound something like this: “I hate math. When am I ever going to use this in life?”
The answer is that you may not, but math challenges you. It teaches your brain to think in different ways. It teaches you to solve problems.
And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that much of success and happiness in life – both professionally and personally — comes from having the ability to solve problems. So study math.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Was college a part of your education? What are you teaching your kids about college?