With graduation around the corner—isn’t that horrifying?—something called “the real world” is waiting. That’s right, college seniors, I’m looking at you. Have you applied to graduate school? Have you applied for jobs? Both? If so, then odds are you have no idea how to pick between them. And that’s okay. A little mystery in life is never a bad thing, but to help relieve your stress and potential stomach ulcers when faced with the decision of continuing your education or getting a job, consider the following:
1. What are the short-term and long-term benefits of each choice? If you think entering the workforce is your best bet, then by all means: go for it. On the other hand, if you think that in the long term you’ll be better off if you have a graduate degree, then, well, by all means: go for it. It’s a judgment call that only you can make. The important question you need to answer, though, is whether you want to stay in school for a reason or just because. If an advanced degree in your field leads to an increased income over your life, for example, it may well be worth it.
2. Can you manage more debt or do you need income? Practically speaking, you need to consider your wallet. You don’t want to be living in your parents’ basement for the rest of your life, do you? If you need to take on more loans in order to attend graduate school, then you might want to think twice about enrolling. It’s also important to remember, should graduate school prove to be the route you take, that many schools offer fellowships, tuition waivers, and stipends to graduate students. That’s why it’s important to apply to schools with adequate funding.
3. More schooling or work? Before deciding on which path to take, ask yourself some honest questions. Did you apply to grad school because you felt like you had to? Similarly, did you apply for a job for the same reason? Think of it this way: if you think grad school is for you, it might be, but only if you truly love school and have a reason for being there. Really, graduate work is an extension of college, except more focused and more advanced. If school is not for you, then grad school definitely isn’t either.
4. Both are possible. If you’re an impatient type, and if you want to have the best of both worlds, then make it happen. For instance, you can work a job and also attend a graduate school part-time, or else attend a school that has classes only at night so you can work during the day. True: your schedule will be packed, and sleep will be hard to find, but no one said the real world was easy, right?
What number defines Valentine’s Day the best? The fact that we buy 8 billion candy hearts? The 196 million roses we grow, then give away, then throw in the garbage? The almost $16 billion we spend? Check out those numbers and more–and decide for yourself.
It’s no secret: college is a place where there’s a near-infinite course catalog, and if you play your cards right, you can take classes in music, English, biology, philosophy, history—anything you want. What you might not be aware of, though, is that classrooms and textbooks are only the beginning. In order to take advantage of all the opportunities college has to offer, check out these options:
- Public lectures. No matter where you go to school, chances are there’s a lecture series with more shtick than you can shake a stick at. Usually, each academic department brings in speakers from across the nation to give specific talks on topics they’re passionate about, which is a great chance to gain insight into the deepest corners of both the professional and academic world.
- Art galleries. One of the best things about college is that most are dedicated to supporting the arts, whereas in the real world, well, you know the drill. So the moral? Take advantage of it all while you can, and stop by your campus’ gallery, or its student gallery so that you can support your friends and peers. If there’s no gallery on campus, then try heading off campus to the nearest museum; often, museums have awesome deals for students.
- Film screenings. Like to catch a good movie once in a while? Then head to the campus movie theater and check out all the offerings. There will probably be the typical blockbusters, and also those artsy indie films that you don’t want to admit you actually like.
- Local explorations. Whether you go to school on the east coast, west coast, or no coast, no doubt your local community has a lot to offer. If you’re close to nature, head out for a hike. If you’re in a city, walk around and explore. Not only is it good to connect with the area around you, but you’ll likely find an off-campus spot you love that can serve as a place you go when you just want to clear your head from college stress for an hour or two. Think of it as finding your own secret spot.
- Readings and concerts. Similar to lectures, it’s likely that your college hosts a number of on-campus readings by distinguished authors and also concerts by elite musicians. Even if you think these renaissance activities aren’t for you, try them out. After all, college is all about trying new things. And just think: though these types of opportunities might not always seem like the most exciting, they’re usually free.
Most high schoolers, transfer students, and college graduates that want an even higher education should admit it already: you have a dream school. While you might not want to name it for fear of getting your hopes up, then that’s okay. But even if you have it in your head that you’ll get into your dream school and that you’ll go there, it’s always best to plan for the worst (just ask Lindsay Lohan’s career). So in case you apply but are deferred by admissions, here’s what you can do:
1. Don’t be bitter. Okay, well, maybe you can be a little bitter. If you’re honestly qualified and if you did everything right when it came to the application, then it’s only natural. But don’t dwell there. Instead get ready to get working. Writing the admissions office and stating your case is only step one of many.
2. Call in reinforcements. If you’re set on attending your dream school even after you’ve been deferred, then pull out all the stops. Ask more teachers, coaches, employers, or community service organizers for recommendations, and ask your college guidance counselor to make a phone call or two on your behalf. (But whatever you do, don’t let your parents get too involved. It’s one thing for a college admissions office to hear out a plea from a student, but another case entirely to have unruly parents beating down their doors.)
3. Keep them updated. If you’ve won any awards or if you’ve accomplished anything major since initially applying to your dream school, then update the admissions office with what you’ve done in the meantime. That way they’ll know for sure that you’re a serious student and that you just didn’t pad your resume with college-application-appropriate activities.
4. Research the school’s alumni pool. If you’re serious about getting in, check out some notable alumni of the school. Try reaching out to them in order to explain who you are, and why you want to attend their alma mater. Or, ask your parents if you have any family friends who are alumni. Either way, the alumni of any school tend to have some pull, so seek their encouragement.
5. Change your mindset. If your deferral doesn’t end in eventual acceptance, and if you’re ultimately rejected from your dream school, then it’s not the end of the world. Really. (Proof? 2012 has already come and gone.) Instead of dwelling on your supposed failures, fully embrace the school that you do get into, and guaranteed: you won’t regret a thing. Plus you can always apply again to your dream school as a transfer student next year.
Commencement is a special time, as it’s every graduating senior’s last chance to savor their time in college, and to embrace their futures ahead. It’s also a chance to hear a great speech, and here are some of the better ones throughout the years:
1. Steve Jobs. Speaking to Stanford University’s graduating class of 2005, the legendary mind behind Apple talked about the importance of ambition and bravery in everyday life.
Remarkable quote: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
2. Ellen DeGeneres. Always getting a laugh, Ellen spoke to Tulane University in 2009, and urged them to embrace their individual passions.
Remarkable quote: “Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.”
3. Stephen Colbert. Colbert is one of the funniest personalities in the media today, but that doesn’t mean he can’t impart some wisdom every once in a while. The proof? This 20 minute long speech at Northwestern University in 2011.
Remarkable quote: “Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along…And we didn’t have cell phones. If you made plans to meet someone in a snow storm, and if they didn’t show up, you just had to assume they were devoured by wolves and go on with your life.”
4. Amy Poehler. In 2011, Amy Poehler gave a heartfelt speech to Harvard University’s class of 2011. Though she’s typically light-hearted, she gave some stern advice, urging students to be completely present both in their lives and in the lives of others.
Remarkable quote: “I cannot stress enough that the answer to a lot of your life’s questions is often in someone else’s face. Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s faces.”
5. Barack Obama. Just this past year, President Obama gave a rousing speech at Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts school in New York, and because he’s, well, the president, it was nothing short of great.
Remarkable quote: “Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service…I’ve seen a generation eager—impatient event—to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.”