A recent article on the Harvard Business Review blog discussing the current state of college education. Their summary? It’s not looking pretty. A little over half of students are completing their four-year degrees within 6 years, and only 26% (!!!) of people getting two-year degrees finish within 3 years  . That means that a large portion of the second half of those students at four-year colleges aren’t even graduating and most likely still have some amount of debt and no degree.
I don’t necessarily think it’s that students are becoming dumber or lazy, but many college students are simply unprepared for such a decision. You have just turned 18 years old and high school didn’t really prepare you for this. All of a sudden you need to decide what you want to do the rest of your life, oh and by the way, if you make the wrong decision you will have to work anyways because you will have $35,000 in debt!
Students and parents need to become more involved in this process, do your research ahead of time! What do you enjoy doing? What are your passions? Figure out what schools you can go to, how much they will cost, and then how much someone in that field can expect to make after graduation. Will you be able to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time on that salary, or will you be stuck in debt forever?
If you are currently in college my advice would be: you definitely need to work your ass off. You are the one paying for your education, so don’t waste your money. GPA is also not the end all that some people make it out to be, but it can really be a determining factor in screening canidates to be selected for interview. Don’t freak out if you don’t have a 4.0, but many companies do set a threshold of say a 3.5 in order to be able to interview with them. After your first job though, GPA becomes largely unimportant.
Use your time wisely too, you don’t need to spend every waking minute studying or doing homework but you want to set aside enough time to be succesful. There will still be plenty of time to party – do you really need to wake up hungover every morning? More importantly, you need to network. Internships and co-op positions are extremely valuable experience and a good way to make connections. You could be the smartest person at your school but if you don’t know anyone, have no experience, and lack communication skills you may get passed over by an “above average” student that has been building their resume. Your college should have a ton of resources at your disposal, get to know your career development office very well and any professors that have industry experience.
If you are looking to go to college or know someone who is and they are unsure of what they want to do, don’t waste those years at an expensive 4-year college. Go to community college and save the money, take some classes there and figure out where your interests are first. It would be much better to “waste” that time there, especially because if your grades were good enough in high school many times community college can be free or close to free. Many states also have transition programs to state colleges afterwards that are similiar in nature. If you woul prefer something more hands on, you may be able to skip the college route all together – research some technical and trade schools in your area as well.