Not Another “Don’t Go To College” Post

Getting a college loan to go to school could be the best investment of your life. A degree can lead to a career, meaningful connections or a new way of thinking you would have been otherwise not exposed to. Also, degree holders earn more over their lifetimes on average than non degree holders, although that gap is closing. 

It can also be the worst. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25.5 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed, and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau says those grads are burdened with an average debt of $27,000 (up from $15,000 in 2000). Speaking from personal experience, that debt can be crushing when trying to find a job. 

There are literally hundreds of articles on the Internet about why going to college in this economy is a bad idea. I don’t think most of them are useful. Instead, I think prospective students need to take a careful and thoughtful approach to whether college is right for them. I’ve included a couple of things to consider below, hopefully they will be helpful.

Go to college if:

You Have a Clear Objective

Too many college students follow this formula:

  1. Get into college
  2. Pick a degree that sounds interesting
  3. Graduate
  4. Try to find a job

It doesn’t work, and it’s a major reason why students graduate with tens (hundreds in some cases) of thousands of dollars in debt without a job.

A much better approach is to come up with a plan that makes your degree actionable. For example, a small business owner may get an MBA to better understand how to run their business, a history professor may get a Ph. D in European History to teach at a state university, ect.

Don’t get a degree in Business Administration because the coursework is easy, and don’t get a degree in physics because it sounds like it will get you a job. Find a degree that will advance you in a career that you want, or at least find out how you can make your degree get you a job. Become a regular in your university’s career center until you know and can take action on how your degree will advance your career.

Your Ideal Job Require a Degree

I got my degree in public relations because most PR/Marketing agencies require a bachelor’s degree of their entry-level job candidates in PR, English, Journalism or a related field. Jobs requiring knowledge of the hard sciences (doctors, chemists, ect.) fall under this as well.

Many jobs, however, value relevant experience over college degrees enough that having a bachelor’s is not important. When starting out on a career, it may be worthwhile to see what relevant experience can be obtained without having any advanced education. Some careers that most would normally think require degrees, such as app developers/software engineers, actually value experience over a formal education. (If you make meaningful contributions to an open-source project on GitHub, that’s a major gold star on your resume that will beat out most degrees).

 You Are a Self Starter

If you do the above, you are likely already a self-starter. But I put this in here because nobody comes to you as a recent graduate and says “great job with your degree, please interview at my company.” In fact, job hunters are often surprised to see that a college degree is just one of many requirements to get an interview. Heck, sometimes a degree isn’t even mentioned.

Those who succeed after college are self starters, people who take action when presented with an issue before the issue becomes a problem. They identify where they want to go, find out how to get there, then take action until they get there.

You have tons of scholarship money

If you have a free ride to college, you should go. In fact, I say that if you’re going to make it out of college with less than $5,000 in loans, it’s worth it. Even with an unsubsidized loan, it’s possible to pay off within 5 years by doubling what you pay on your principal.

Every single cliche filled article on why college is great (the people you meet, the memories you make, the personal growth you experience, ect.) are true, but those experiences come at a cost. Go to college with a good plan, and don’t get killed by debt.

Coding

I’m re-learning how to program, and it’s a blast.
 
When I was younger, I studied simple programming. I bought introductory books on C and C++, and I took a BASIC class in Jr. High. But around 9th or 10th grade, I stopped once I learned that writing a game, which is what I really wanted to do, would take forever.
 
I’ve decided to give JavaScript a go. It’s easy to pick up and it’s pretty similar to C. What’s surprised me most is how many free resources are available for aspiring programmers who want to get fluent in JavaScript. Code Academny and Kahn Academy both have excellent free courses, and there are many YouTube channels devoted to teaching people how to code in JavaScript.
 
I don’t blog much so I won’t promise any updates on my progress, but I’ll try to link to any noteworthy programs I write in the future.
 

Did it

December 21, 2012.
 
3 years after I graduated college.
 
6 months as a freelance writer, 2 teaching jobs, 2 internships and a short stint as a hotel receptionist.
 
I’m finally employed full time at a PR agency.
 
It was one hell of a journey.

Up-and-coming PR practitioners: Learn Tech

When we think about the technology revolution, we think about Bill Gates’ vision of a computer in every home. But the revolution extends far beyond that; technology has so radically changed business that David Kirkpatrick believes that every company is a software company. Beyond that, technology has changed the way that businesses can impact society for good.

Areas in technology such as Big Data, SaaS and and Information Technology may not have the same appeal as consumer tech, but the need for good PR in these areas are just as big. Up-and-coming PR practitioners need to understand these areas because these areas are becoming less about technology and more about life.

As the lines become more blurred, the stories we tell our audiences become less “tech” and more “human.” We stop talking about what the cloud is and start talking about how companies such as MobileWorks are increasing the accessibility of technology to low-income households. We stop talking about the amount of data we can store and access remotely and start talking about how doctors are using  information from other hospitals to save people’s lives. These stories are not “technical” stories; they’re human interest stories that have appeal to everyone. As practitioners, we need to be able to know tech well enough to tell these stories to our audiences.

How to Start Over [Career]

Your career is in shambles. You have no money. You’re living with your parents. Where do you go?

Step 1: Make a plan

Head to a coffee shop and write out the steps you need to take to be successful. Too broke for a coffee shop? Brew a pot at home and write out how to get where you want to go. You need a plan for when depression hits. Plus, a plan will make you feel a lot better.

Step 2: Perform Step 1 of your plan

It sounds simple, right? But it’s strange how procrastination, depression or other external factors can get in the way of starting over. Build up your courage, psyche yourself up, kick yourself out the front door; whatever you have to do, make sure you do perform the first action item on your plan. You’ll be surprised the amount of confidence you gain from making the first step.

Step 3: Create a side-goal

Odds are that your plan will take some time to come to fruition. So set a side goal that will fill the time between steps. Finish a book, set a fitness goal, or make it a priority to finish your spring cleaning. Don’t let yourself mope about where you’re not, and don’t let yourself daydream about the future too much.

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KONY 2012: Social Media Blitz

Joseph Kony is a warlord in central Africa who forces the children he kidnaps to become child soldiers or sex slaves. And NGO Invisible Children wants to make him famous for it.

Invisible Children believes that simply making people aware of Joseph Kony will cause people to take action and bring him to justice. Their tactics include utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube in combination with underground media (posters, fliers and campaign lawn signs).

What’s exciting about them, however, is that they’re finding lots of success in the social media space. They’re succeeding where so many marketing, PR and social media firms fail. As far as I know, their success is a result of their message and their relationship with key influencers such as Rihanna, George Clooney and Justin Bieber.

I hope more details surface about Invisible Children’s success in social media. I’m sure whatever they did to gain recognition in the space will be the subject of case studies by PR professionals and others making their living in social, and I’m excited to see how an NGO can leave its mark on an industry I’m involved with.

For more information about the campaign, check out their website, Twitter feed and YouTube channel. Also, give their Facebook page a visit and pay attention to how they used Facebook’s timeline feature.

**UPDATE**

The Washington Post has an excellent article breaking down how Invisible Children connected with key influencers to help make their campaign viral.

Street Photography: Portraits

Street photography can be intimidating. You’re out on the street with a camera trying to capture interesting moments, but at the same time you’re trying to blend into the background and not look like a creep with a camera. After all, it would be disconcerting if you were taking a stroll downtown and saw someone trying to snap your picture without you knowing it.

I think the best way to get over this fear is to do street portraits. In street photography, you’re trying to capture moments without anyone noticing. With street portraits, you have to confront the issue of consent directly.

Getting up the nerve to do this can be difficult (Danny Santos has an awesome post on how to overcome your fear of approaching someone for their portrait). But once you do get up the nerve, you will get some pretty unique photographs.

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