Open Letter to a High School Gradutate

Dear Graduate,

Congratulations on your monumental achievement!  You’ve survived and will now get to reap the benefits of life as an adult. I’m here to share my wisdom with you.

Ten years ago I graduated from high school.  In school, I was a quiet, shy, nerd-type with lots of interests and great friends.  I worked hard, studied a lot, volunteered in my community and fit in a lot of fun between all that.  When I left high school, I chose to set out into the world by going to a private school a distance from my hometown – close enough that I could come see my family and friends when I wanted, but far enough that I could break out and expand my horizons a bit.  I was probably average enough, and certainly a lot more ambitious than I am today.  I wanted to be a writer, of all things.

Now, ten years later I am looking back at my life and I have a few things to tell you.  Life isn’t exactly what I expected, but I am definitely happy.  Listen closely, as these are some of the most important things I’ve learned in the past ten years.  I’ve paid money to learn these things, and I’m telling them to you for free.  Heeding my words could change the course of your life.

If you are at all interested, learn another language.  It is an incredibly useful skill.  Never turn down the opportunity to travel.  I’ve never gone on a trip that I’ve regretted, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned.  I’ve always come away from traveling with some new insight on myself and the world.

Find something you love, and learn to do it well.  It’s very fulfilling.

If you are choosing college, remember at all times that COLLEGE IS A BUSINESS.  It is about MONEY.  When you skip classes or take classes that have no meaning to you, you are wasting money.  The same type of money you are begging your family for so you can afford to socialize on a Friday night.  The same type of money, or lack thereof, that has you eating Cup-o-noodles, which is essentially comprised of sodium and water and bits of Styrofoam and not at all nourishing.  In the case of private college, a lot of money.  Since you are probably not making a lot of money, do everything you can not to waste that money that you are not making.  See what classes you can test out of.  Talk to teachers or advisors and see what’s necessary and what’s not.  Summer school at community college can possibly save you thousands of dollars.  Take advantage of that.  Which brings me to my next tip.

Community college is just as good as private college for the first two years.  The first two years at college are the same almost anywhere.  Random humanities and sciences carefully selected for a well-rounded education.  The magical secret is that your first year at a private college can cost $20,000, or you can spend your first year at a community college and spend $2500 and get the exact same thing.  After your second year, if you are still set on your dream private school, you can transfer over and you’ve saved yourself $35,000 in frivolous costs (if you’re lucky enough to have your dream school only cost $20,000 per year.)   No college financial aid office will ever tell you this, because college is a business.  The caveat is this:  When you transfer, make sure the school accepts your credits.  If you have a dream school, talk to them before you sign up at community college.  Find out their particular policy for transfer credits.  This is a good idea if you have any schools in mind.  If you just want a private four-year college, go to the school that gives you the most credits.  Tell them this is what you are doing.  Fight for your credits.  Remember, they want your $40,000.  They want your business.

Lastly, don’t take a student loan.  Low interest rate or not, a loan is still a loan.  If you don’t have the money to go to college, don’t go right away.  Work for a year.  You can get the money by saving for it.  Why is this important?  Because if you get a loan, it will take you years to pay it off.  It sucks money out of your not-yet-received paycheck.  You are giving away money you don’t have.  Not a big deal?  Everybody does it?  You don’t have to.  You’re selling your financial freedom for what?  A degree that will guarantee you a job?  The only thing that guarantees you a job is the drive to work hard.  Pursue your interests with passion, and that will get you a job that you love.

Hubby and I spent five years aggressively paying our school loans.  In the end, we’ve paid off almost $100 thousand dollars in school loans, most of it being mine.  I initially received scholarships, and I even went to community college for part of my college career, which I paid for in cash.  This means that my degree could have cost even more.  Jose and I scrimped and saved to pay off the loans as early as possible.  And how do I feel now that it’s all over?  Free.  Independent.  Like the world is our oyster.  It’s the same feeling I had when I graduated high school, like I could do anything I wanted with my life.  The time when I had no obligations to anybody but the people I loved.  You don’t have to go through the years of working a job you don’t love to pay off a loan that costs almost as much as a Maserati.  You can save up enough money to go through college, or work your way through.  Do this and you can come out of college with an oyster world.

I don’t at all regret going to college.  I made life-long friends, garnered lots of fun memories, learned irreplaceable lessons.  One of which is that I could have made smarter choices to begin with.  That’s what life is all about right?  Learning from your mistakes is key.  Learning from other people’s is a wisdom I hope for you.

So if college is in your path, I wish you well.  If not, don’t worry!  College does not automatically equal success.  Either way, I have a few book recommendations – these books have provided a lot of wisdom for me at this stage in my life, and it’s all wisdom I wish I had known when I had graduated high school.  I’m sure I would have underestimated its value back that, but I can hope that you will be smarter than me.

Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey. This is all about financial stuff I wish I had known from the very beginning of being an adult. Learn early.

No More Mondays: Fire Yourself — and Other Revolutionary Ways to Discover Your True Calling at Work by Dan Miller. Do what you love. That’s what you’ll be good at.

Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less
by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree. It would have been helpful to know some simple housekeeping tricks to save money. I’m glad I know them now.

Delaying the Real World
by Colleen Kinder. Think outside the box, and you don’t have to do what they tell you to. You know what I always say? Damn the Man.

Happy Graduation!  I’m so proud of you.  You made it through high school, now you can make it through anything.

Love, Jing

  • Benjamin

    droppin’ knowledge. on point jennifer.