Archive for the ‘Choosing a college’ Category

When I was in college – yes, they had colleges back then, and no, we did not write with pieces of charcoal on the heads of shovels – I joined a fraternity. The term that was used at the time was “pledged.” One pledged a fraternity and if the brothers thought that you were acceptable, ie, take a good paddling on your ass and perform other, less vicious and idiotic tasks, e.g., going to the ladies room at South Station in Boston and present a detailed sketch of how the inside of that toilet appeared, then you were voted into the fraternity. The catch was that each of the brothers was given two colored balls with which to vote, a black ball and a white one. If you received all white balls, you were in; one black ball and you were out, fini, kaput, so long, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out! Somehow, this vote of no confidence was supposed to ensure that all brothers were fine, upstanding young men of similar strong character. We even had a fraternity house. It was a rather large Victorian, located off campus. Rather than staying in on-campus housing, a brother could stay at the fraternity house at a somewhat reduced rate. The expectation was that all residents would chip in for food and other household necessities. Since I was a commuter student, I’m not certain how that really worked out.

In my junior year, a freshman pledged ‘my’ fraternity. He had been asked to pledge by one of the upper class brothers from the same hometown. I knew the young man by name and community only. I knew that he had impregnated a high school classmate and that his parents had paid for the young woman to travel to another state to go through the nine month gestation period – abortions really weren’t approved of in those days, particularly if you were a member of the Roman Catholic church. How I knew all of this is quite immaterial, but you should be aware that this young man was considered to be something of a rich asshole who liked to play, “hide the pecker,” and he didn’t care which young lady was available. Did I mention that his parents were rich? Very rich? Very, very rich?

During the pledge period, I went to the brother who had been designated, “pledge master,’ that is, he was in charge of the pledge class and responsible for assigning the idiotic tasks and ensuring that the pledges were doing what the pledges were supposed to do. I told my “brother” of my concerns about this rich asshole and requested that he be washed out immediately. I was informed that if I wished him out, I could do so by blackballing him at the end of the pledge period, not before…veddy interesting! When the time came for the vote, I dutifully cast my black ball. Somehow, it never made it to the final count. My vote was not in the voting box when the balls were counted. Despite my protest, the rich asshole became a member of the fraternity and I left the organization. It was not that many years later that the fraternity lost its national affiliation, was forced to sell its house, and to the best of my knowledge, was eventually disbanded.

I’m not in the least surprised by what is supposedly going on at the University of Virginia or at any other college or university in the country that allows fraternal organizations on campus. Can they be good spirit boosters and create lasting bonds? Sure, of course they can. Is it possible for them to become the animal house of movie fame? You bet your ass it is and there will always be an element within the frat who believes that is exactly what they are supposed to be.

Understand something very clearly; every four or five years, the leadership of any campus organization undergoes a complete transformation. If leadership succession is not considered a major part of the organization, it can go from top dog on campus to the bottom of the heap in that short a period of time. And once the “good old boys” take over and every night is keg night, the organization will go straight to hell in no time flat. With the mentality that goes along with eat, drink, and make merry, come other attitudes which are far more criminal in nature, and which involve, eventually, taking advantage of young women by getting them drunk and doing things that neither party would ever consider when sober.

“You’re speaking from only one experience,” you may say. The answer to that is, “No. I spent forty years in higher education; on two campuses where fraternities were in place.” My experience goes far beyond my single personal episode when I was an undergraduate. I have seen young men and women drunk out of their minds at ten o’clock in the morning. I have seen couples screwing in stair wells and behind a tree – not in the trees – knowing full well that one of them had to be drunk…and you can well imagine which party it was.

This raises the question; are college campuses safe places to be? For the most part, I would have to say that yes, they are. They are safe enough for anyone who knows the reason they are there. They are safe for anyone who knows their limits when it comes to alcohol consumption. They are safe enough if you understand that you’re not in college or attending a university where getting drunk every night is tolerated. Every year, some magazine or more than one will come out with their rankings for “party schools,” and every year, school administrators who find their institution on that list attempt to clamp down…or not. Did my kids belong to a fraternity or sorority when they went to college? My oldest daughter belonged to one of the two sororities on campus. They were so busy competing with each other for good kinds of recognition, they rarely found themselves on a Dean’s carpet. Did she drink along with others? I’m certain that she did…but I was never told by anyone, “Hey, your kid’s a drunk,” and a great many people knew who she was and to whom she was related. My son belonged to a different type of fraternal organization; it was a team; a swim team to be exact. Between practice, a tough academic schedule, and meets, he still found the time to booze it up occasionally…and he’d be the first one to tell you that. However, to this day – and he’s damn near 50 – he’ll tell you that he never once intentionally plied a female visitor with booze for dishonorable intentions. As far as the youngest was concerned, she was too busy overloading her academic schedule and, like her brother, swimming on her team, that I have to admit, I’m not certain when she had time to drink…add to that, that she’s not much of a drinker today, and you sort of get the point.

Are all fraternities’ places of debauchery and indecency? Of course not, I’d be willing to bet that those where wild things take place on a reasonably regular basis are a very small group. As I have said, that can change in one four-year cycle. Fraternities, however, are supposed to have advisors. With a weak advisor or a weak Greek system – the administrators who are, theoretically, in overall charge – things can change rapidly. Just because there has been no trouble in the past doesn’t mean that just below the surface, trouble isn’t brewing.

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It’s already started for some. “One more term; one more semester; one more quarter…and I’m outta here! No more term papers; no more eight o’clock classes; no more listening to Mr. So—and-so’s boring astronomy lectures…my liberal arts requirement, but what a bitch!”

There are any number of college seniors who cannot think farther ahead than graduating and getting their degree. They seem to forget several things, among them…no more summer vacations; no more Christmas/Holiday breaks that last over a month; no more spring breaks wherever the ‘spring breakers’ are breaking this year; no more sleeping in if you don’t feel like going to that eight o’clock. All of these are gone, out-the-window, fini, kaput, nada, nyet, no mo.

If they haven’t signed up for interviews, they soon will. Companies and organizations will come to campus, conduct interviews, have a hard time not laughing at some of the idiots who believe they’re qualified to start off as a vice president and move on from there or perhaps they just shake their collective heads about how pathetically prepared the interviewee is to face the real world.

The good ones will get an offer or two; those who aren’t prepared will wonder why “he/she got an offer and she/he didn’t.” These people will congratulate their classmates but inside, way down deep in their gut, they get mad; then they begin to question themselves. “What did he have that I didn’t?” “I’m as good as she is so how come she got the offer.” With many, something will come along quickly to distract their thinking, which is, of course, part of the problem.

Then comes senior week or however long it might be. Most know they’ve made it. Some are sweating out a course or two, talking to the faculty member about the final exam…this, by the way, is when faculty members go into hiding [ not really, but it makes for a better story]. If grades are posted, there are cheers and dejection; laughter and silently drooping heads, hoping the course will be a summer offering so they can make it up and graduate…after their friends are gone.

Then comes the day when they put on the cap and gown. Some will adorn the cap with tape or white pain with messages like “THANX MOM + DAD,” or sometimes just one or the other.  Hell, the cap is only twelve inches square with a button in the middle, so there’s not room for much of a message. They’ll march in the academic procession to the tune of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and they’ll be looking around, trying to find their folks. Of course, if they are graduating from a humongous institution, they won’t even try to find their parents or grandparents. Depending on the school from which they receive their degree, they may wear a different colored tassel…blue for education; white for the liberal arts; orange for engineering, etc. If the school from which they receive their degree is smaller, the tassels on their caps might mean something else. Often, they will stand for level of honors received…red for cum laude; white for magna cum laude, and gold for summa cum laude, the highest of the three Latin honors.

Generally, there is a senior speaker or two. It will be midway through the first of these — often the valedictorian or person with the highest grade point average – that the light suddenly dawns on those wearing the black tassels, i.e., no honors, no job prospects, and a lot of OMG’s. The smile that was on their collective faces as they walked in the procession disappears. Their thoughts run along these lines: “I’m not going to have the summer off. I have to find a job. I’m not coming back here next year. Mom and Dad spent all that money. And finally, Holy shit, what do I do now?”

After working in higher education for over 40 years; after having planned and conducted over 50 graduation ceremonies, I’ve seen all of the things that I’ve mentioned actually happen. Graduation should be a time of great joy. For better than two-thirds of the graduates and their families, it is a time of great rejoicing. It’s that other third that sticks with me. All that money wasted; all that time…wasted; four or more years of your life…just shot to hell.

Will the third make it in the world? Heck, some of them will go on to be highly successful, maybe more successful than that valedictorian. Maybe the wake-up-hammer will hit them over the head while sitting in their chair at graduation. Maybe it won’t hit them for a year or two. Then again, maybe they will never be inspired to get off their collective butts and do something to pay back that two hundred thousand or more dollars.

College is not for everyone. College is not a place you go because ‘everybody’s doing it.’ College is not some four-year vacation or grades 13 through whatever. College is where you go when you have selected a field of study that you truly believe is what you want to do for the rest of your life. College is like a four-year trial marriage because you will be doing something for the next 40 or more years. Even so, the chances are unusually high that the final job of your working life may not be what you trained for in college. In today’s working world, the average college graduate  will change ‘careers’ anywhere from six to ten times…perhaps more. There’s nothing wrong with this. If you go to a college or university and your choice of career calls for advanced degrees, you’ll probably stick with that career. If what you view yourself doing for the rest of your life can manage with a baccalaureate degree, you’ll probably be a career-changer.

The most important point that I wish to make is that you not make foolish choices. Don’t go to college just to go to college or because that’s what your friends are doing. What fields are out there that really fascinate you? What will the future hold in terms of jobs that are far from the minds of others, but that you think might be required? Make your mind work for you before make a college or university choice.


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Oh wow, Congress put the boots to college students with their student loans. Doubling the interest rates on student loans might have some positive aspects as well as all of the negatives that have been raised. The most important of these is that it might allow parents to think twice before they, and let’s face it, the parents generally foot the bill, before they allow their underprepared children to attend college just because it’s the thing to do.

My parents forced me to go to college. At that time, tuition was less than one thousand dollars a year; that’s right, less than a grand. Today’s freshmen are fortunate if the fees they pay are less than three times that amount. Tuition is so far out of sight that making comparisons to the 1950s doesn’t make any sense. Nonetheless, my parents forced me to go to college. At that time there was also a draft and without a college deferment, high school graduates in my position were ready fodder for the North Korean and Chinese soldiers. Was it a way in which to avoid the draft? You’re goddamned right it was, and thousands of high school graduates jumped on the bandwagon to avoid the possibility of getting killed in a foreign land. Were we a bunch of cowards? No, I don’t believe we were. We were sufficiently intelligent to take advantage of an opportunity and we took it.

Today, there is no draft. Today we rely on a professional military as well as National Guard and reservists to defend us. The difference appears to me is that today everybody and his brother appear to believe that a college education is the be all and end all for high school graduates. With tuition being where it is, students can be guaranteed of graduating with a huge debt that will take years to pay off. Mum and Dad may foot the bill now, but it will be up to the graduate to pay off the loans that put the family in debt. With a doubling of the interest rate on student loans, the question must be raised once more: Is college the best move for the majority of students just out of high school? Get something straight; I am not advocating that people not go to college. I am saying that most high school grads don’t know their ass from their elbow about what they want to do with their life upon graduation from high school. Therefore, perhaps they should go to work in something menial until they can get the lay of the land and determine what exactly it is they wish to do for the next half century. Obviously, there are exceptions. If you have dreamed of entering the medical field since you were four years old, and if you have the grades that will allow you to make it, by all means, go for it. If your mom or dad is an electrical engineer and what s/he’s doing seems very, very cool, by all means, take a shot. These are very specific examples. For the most part, high school graduates enter college not knowing what the hell they want to do with their lives. If you believe that a B.A. is sociology, psychology, or art history is going to get you anywhere, you are wrong. Many undergraduates don’t understand that an advanced and sometimes even a terminal degree are required to allow you to have any kind of chance for real success.

Today, more than ever before, college is not for everyone. All of these studies that state a college education will, over your lifetime, put you ‘x’ far ahead of high school graduates are bullshit. Have you hired a plumber, electrician, carpenter, or any other tradesperson lately? Those are the people you sometimes have trouble finding because the good ones are away on cruises or have taken a week or so in Barbados or touring the museums of Italy. When they return, their business will come back to them and word of mouth is very powerful advertising. I don’t hire anyone today without checking first with my neighbors or second with homeadvisor.com. Both are free and neither has ever let me down.

It’s said that the average college graduate today will have between six and twelve careers before retirement…careers, not jobs. Back “in the day,” so to speak, my friends and I, for the most part, went into the fields for which we prepared. This is a different world. It’s a world that is changing so fast that sophomores in college have greater knowledge than graduating seniors. That may sound strange, but it’s true. Knowledge is expanding exponentially and keeping up with it is impossible. Think tanks are attempting to determine what will be required 50 years out and out pace is so rapid that in 25 years, their predictions are already upon us. We can’t really even take the time to determine what will be needed by the time your five year-old is ready to go to college. What he or she will learn in elementary school is what first-year college students are learning today…perhaps even second-year students.

Today’s wars are not only being fought on the battlefields of the Middle East and Asia, or with guns and other weapons that are being improved rapidly. Today’s wars are also being fought in classrooms and boardrooms as the world tries to get a jump on its competition in fields of medicine, electronics, manufacturing, and tons of other fields. Who can do what the fastest and least expensive and meet the greatest need?

Before a decision is made to send a child to college, do a little research and find out what is best for the child. Keeping up with the Joneses may be popular, but as some of us are so fond of saying, “Remember, the Joneses are in debt.” Doing something just for the sake of doing it, is still doing nothing.

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Ah, yes, it’s commencement time again…high school seniors spending their last summer at the beach before moving on to college or jobs or the armed services; college graduates searching for that special job so that they can show off just how brilliant they are; and commencement speakers spouting platitudes that are so much bullshit it’s a wonder anyone even listens.

The seniors who already have jobs will soon learn what the real world is all about. Working part-time bears little comparison, for the most part, to working full-time. Maybe you’ve entered a working world where promotions are dependent on hard work and intelligence, or maybe you’ve entered one where no matter how good you are, that’s it…you are where you are and how you break out of that mold is dependent on what you want your life to be. If you’re entering the armed services, thank you. You will probably work harder than you have ever worked in your life, both physically and educationally. You are part of a volunteer force, but if you apply yourself, your training will serve you well when you are discharged.

The seniors who move on to college will find that the pace is a bit quicker. There is no one to scream at you about getting your “homework” – you won’t hear that word at college – done. There will be no one to wash your dirty clothes or even to tell you to pick them up from the side of the bed. Many things will be different. You’ll probably be offered a fake ID to show you’re 21, even though every liquor store owner and club bouncer knows that you’re only 17 or 18 years of age. You may get carded, but the upperclassmen can tell you the places to buy or to drink or to score drugs; hell, that’s usually just one or two dorms or residence halls away.

Let me tell you something about your college education. It will not allow you to walk away from the commencement green or tent or hall or wherever and suddenly become a much-sought-after commodity on the job market. You will not become project manager on the building of the next Hoover Dam or nuclear power plant. You will not become artistic director for the New York Ballet or the Los Angeles Philharmonic. You will not walk in and become vice president for finance at some Wall Street giant or even some smaller organization; well, not unless Dad or Mom already run the place and have been holding a spot for you…oh, dream on dear graduate, dream on.

One of the reasons that you will not become an immediate hit in the world of the Warren Buffets or other giants is because your education sucked. You have not been properly prepared to do anything but the most menial of tasks. You see, a college education gives you basics. Sitting in a classroom is a far cry from sitting in a board room. The decisions you make in class earn you a grade; the decisions you make in a boardroom can cost your organizations hundreds of millions of dollars and end up as a complete failure. You know what the grade is for that? There is none; you’re gone, and you’ll probably have a tough time finding future employment.

Every organization is looking for something different in the people they hire. You may have been an accounting major but where you wind up has a different computer system that you must first learn. You then complain that college didn’t prepare you for this. Well, aren’t you just the unluckiest kid in the world. Yes, “kid, because if you are complaining, you didn’t learn anything in college. The purpose of a college education, unless it is in a professional field, is designed to teach you how to think. Oh, sure, there are the basics along the way that will set you on a course; that will allow you to talk the talk. However, your job is to show your employer that you can also walk the walk. Remember, a college education does not guarantee you a job and upward mobility. I love what President Calvin Coolidge had to say on this subject: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

So you see, everything depends on you…everything! The day you start that job right out of high school is the day you have the opportunity to show your stuff; you can go along and get along and watch the world whiz by because you don’t give a damn or you can kick ass and persist. If you enter the military, you can trudge thought your commitment and get the hell out, or you can demonstrate your leadership qualities as well as your God-given talent and fight your way to the point where they beg you to stay. If you graduate from college, you take that diploma, that license to hunt, and you hunt as though your life depended on it, because, quite frankly, it does.

Recently, a study was released that listed the ten worst colleges and universities in the country. It had nothing to do with the quality of education, more with the quality of the graduates. The measurement was the return on investment (ROI). Where did these graduates stand 30 years after graduation in terms of the salary they were making versus the investment they had made? Let me tell you what I have told hundreds of parents and a few high school seniors along the way: If you’re going to college because it’s the thing to do, don’t. It’s a waste of your time and your parents’ money. If you’re going because you’re highly motivated and know exactly what your life goals are, go…go and throw everything you have into what you want. Don’t sleep in; don’t get drunk; don’t indulge your sexual fantasies just because the opportunity presents itself; don’t do anything that will jump up and bite you in the butt 10 or 15 years from now. Having some fun is a part of the college experience; having it 24/7 is not walking the walk! There is a balance. It’s up to you to find it. It’s up to you, as Coolidge has said, to persist and to be determined.

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It’s an interesting topic and one that has been posed by WordPress. If you were to go back and change something about your education, wouldn’t you first have to return to your childhood and change something about yourself? “Oh, if I only knew then what I know now,” doesn’t really hold water, because how would it be possible for you to know then. My god, can you imagine a 15-year old knowing what 30-35 year olds know. To quote a friend of mine, “That would be so wrong on just so many levels!”

Given the fact that I am being allowed to make changes in me in order to change the one thing in my education, perhaps the first thing I would change is the manner in which I would regard my eduction. Dad left school in the ninth grade. His family was rich and he could do that. No one ever said that the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed would wipe out that wealth completely. Mother left school in the sixth grade. I don’t really know if her folks completed high school. It just wasn’t as important back in the latter part of 19th Century as it has been for the past several decades.

My parents pushed hard for us to get a good education; to stay in school, and to soak up everything we could. They recognized the importance of being educated to one’s fullest potential. The interesting thing is that the “push” was never all that overt; it was just there. Going to college was a luxury. I don’t even know how many of my own class received a college education; I know for a fact that it wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent. Today, things have changed drastically. Today, you not only “have to go to college” (which is pure unadulterated bullshit), but you have to go to the “right” college. Not only that, but you should probably get a master’s degree. In certain fields, you won’t get anywhere (they say) unless you have a terminal degree.

The joke about education, at any level, is that it has nothing to do with the education itself and everything to do with the individual who is receiving the education. So many people have asked, “Is such-and-such a good school,” as though being in higher education qualified me as some kind of expert (‘x’ being an unknown quantity and spurt being a drip under pressure). There are very few, if any, bad colleges or universities. I went to a commuter university in Boston. I could have received a much better education if I had applied myself. How does that reflect on the school? Whether or not a school is good or bad has nothing to do with the school and everything to do with the student. If you manage to get yourself into the school of your choice, what you receive for an education is still dependent on you. Will you go to every class or will you sleep in because you were out drinking the night before (using that false ID you got from your roommate)? Will you ask questions in class, go to the instructor’s office during his or her ‘hours’ and discuss or argue points made in class, or will you be out on the lawn playing frisbee and listening to your I-pod? Will you find people like you who want to suck every bit of knowledge from every faculty members’ brain or will you be a party animal who winds up on academic probation at the end of the first semester? Now imagine what it will be like if you don’t get into the school of your choice. Suppose you have to settle for a fall-back school. How will this affect your behavior…generally on your parents’ dollar? Think about it.

“Name the one thing you wish you could go back and change about your education” is wrong. It should be something like, “Name the one thing you wish you could change about you as it relates to your education.” Personally, I would love to change my seriousness of purpose. To this very day, I do not believe that high school graduates should be allowed to attend college immediately after graduation. Most of them are not ready. Unless they have a very, very clear view of what they wish to do, e.g., nursing, medicine, law or law enforcement, they don’t have a clue. I knew a young woman who wanted to go into nursing but fainted every time she saw blood…wrong career choice…big time! Some people choose their college based on where their friends are going or quality of the athletic programs. That’s stupid. Before you go back and change your education, give some thought to how you should be changing you. You’ll receive a much better education, and you’ll probably find it just a bit more palatable as you pay back those student loans.

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