Colleges and Universities

The Minority Millennial: Culture Shock, Loss, and Overcoming Obstacles

Soggy puppy

Also, look at this adorable picture of a puppy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I haven’t written a post in forever, I thought it would be fun to open with a story:

Most of my friends and I come from a variety of different backgrounds, I’m sure we could fill the entire diversity spiel just by sitting in a group together. I have issues with the academic perception of diversity, but I’ll get to that another time. Regardless, nearly of all us have some difference via gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, race, or ethnicity. And one of the things that I’ve noticed from discussing issues of minority background with my friends is how dramatic it was to come to my college when we first arrived.

While I absolutely love my college now, it was painful both academically, socially, and emotionally to adjust to it even though I came from a school with similar demographics. Unfortunately, my college is not an activist campus. I wish it was, but it isn’t. I think if it had been, there would have been a greater sense of awareness and preparation not just for students of color, but in forming transitions to adjust to college life.

I’m saying this mainly to reach out to the student who struggles at college either due to their presumed minority status, but even those who come from an incredibly different background than the college they attend. The college experience is always shifting and changing. Sometimes it’ll be the “best thing ever”, but other times, it will HURT. A lot of it can depend on the cultural differences, but I promise, it will get gritty and dirty at some points. And that’s OK. I’m not saying you’ll overcome all of your issues instantly, but it’s OK to feel discomfort and shock. While it sucks sometimes – I know it did for me at a lot of points – you’ll leave with a greater sense of maturity, and a set of skills that will serve you well long after you leave college.

While I hate telling students that they’ll have to change for the world, I want you all to know: be open to change. You’d be surprised how many similarities will arise even in the things that you’d find different.

Creating the College Experience

If there was one thing that I wished my guidance counselors would have told my 17-year old high school graduate self, it’s the importance of making your own path in college. I naturally assumed that picking the ‘perfect’ college would magically grant that experience. Sadly, it didn’t. I later found the experience I wanted, but there was a lot of trial and error getting there. Regardless of your college situation, you can shape it into path that you want. Here are a few tips and situations to get you started:

College Relationships are Dramatic, and That’s Good. 

Fostering relationships is work, and at some points you may need to work at it as hard as your academics. Most will tell you that academics always come first and I definitely agree with that. But the truth is for many of us, college is one’s first extended time away from family and friends who are situationally close both emotionally and physically. College pretty much puts you at level one, and tells you to build yourself up from the start all over again. And creating connections is essential for dealing with college stress. So talk to people, join clubs, fall in love, and break a heart or two. Don’t let college get too monotonous.

Try Things and Take Risks (In Moderation)

I personally do not believe in the mantra of ‘sign up for everything at the activities fair, and then drop what you don’t like.’ I think a better approach is to start in your comfort zone, and join clubs that relate to things you already love. You’ll meet people with similar interests, and it’ll help you to manage your time initially as you’ll be following a similar schedule as you’re used to. After that, THEN I say take as many risks as you want. Your high school never had a karate club? Sign up for it then. But only after you’re comfortable. There’s a certain awkwardness that always comes with branching out, but once you’ve given yourself time to settle, you’ll feel much more at ease exploring new things.

Say Hi to Professors (Even The Mean Ones)!

If nothing else, this is a must-do (only second to fostering friend relationships). Your professors are a valuable source of information, and if you have absolutely no idea of your future plans, they could also be a source of interesting facts, opportunities, and career advice. Be eager to learn from them both in and out of the classroom.

Get a Job. Your Parents Will Thank Me Later. 

I personally think that some of my greatest experiences at college have been due to my jobs. I absolutely love working, and I discovered my talent for marketing and my love of librarianship through my jobs. And my jobs have helped me to learn how to interact with others and manage large groups, skills that can’t fully be learned in a classroom setting. Even if a job has nothing to do with your future career path, it can definitely get you into the working world mindset.

Overall, be proactive in finding the college experience that suits you best. There’s no one correct path, and many people have taken different avenues to get there. Just try not to spend all of your parents money and have fun with it OK?

On Disappointment, Anger, and Unemployment

Alternatively, why higher education promised us the sun, and gave us a rock.

So I come from a college that is pretty well known for engineering, or as most of you know, the only major that seems to be getting a lot of jobs at the moment. While my school is a great place, one of the things that I’ve noticed within higher academia is the heated discourse going on within different disciplines. Ranging from pushing students away at the arts and humanities, complaining that humanities majors should have to pay more or forget about attending college (, and the growing healthcare industry that doesn’t have enough qualified workers at the moment, it seems that American society at least is in a bit of a bind.

So where is the real solution in this situation?  And on the other hand, do we even know where the problem stems from?

While I certainly am not qualified enough to solve our economic woes, I want to take a stab at why these problems have occurred. As distressing as it is, Generation Y isn’t the first to suffer through economic turmoil, and it won’t be the last to deal with these kinds of issues. I believe our situation is unique part in thanks to the rise of computer technology and to an extent social media, which has led to the creation of jobs that were unheard of 20 years ago. But at the same time it has lead to the deterioration of certain industries, and the near eradication of many others. And right now, most of the skill sets we have are partially ones we grew up with, but the official jobs where our skills could be useful haven’t quite opened up yet, at least not to their full extent.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

But what does this have to do with universities? One of the more obvious answers is the inflation of education levels and skill sets. As my grandmother likes to tell me all the time, back in her day men and women could learn non-degree related skills such carpentry, bookkeeping, secretarial studies, etc. And nowadays, minus vo-tech schools (which tend to be poorly advertised and marketed as for students ‘who aren’t good in regular school’) those courses have completely been eradicated from a school’s curriculum. While I have personally lamented the dismantling of art programs in public schools, I also think that it is very important and disheartening that we’ve gotten rid of technical or skill based programs, as for many students who come from low income families don’t have the opportunity to attend college, and may end up graduating with little or no marketable skills (that’s if you consider a college education a marketable skill in and of itself, which I do to a certain extent).

Redefining Education

But more directly related to struggling college students and grads who are looking for work, I don’t really think that this is all of your fault. I believe a lot of this comes from colleges who marketed to us that qualities X, Y, and Z made them the best, and more often then not unless it was a specific career with a direct career path (accounting, engineering, etc.) many colleges twiddled their thumbs and pretended as though they had no idea what kind of jobs came with our degree. And while I won’t pretend that students shouldn’t research these things on their own, I do think most colleges do a poor job of prepping students for the career environment. At the very least, I would push for more courses on business/resume writing and personal finance, so at least the unemployed graduates these colleges create will have something under their belt. But I think 4 year colleges should also partner with community colleges, so students can learn a combination of of ‘career skills’ alongside a humanities education. As an economics major I can’t completely discount the value of a liberal arts education. But I think many of us college students need to push back against some of this backlash, and decide either to complement our liberal arts education with more technical based skills, or create our own paths that involve the humanities.

Another path is to remove the stigma against community colleges, which teach liberal arts classes and trades, and at a lower cost than many 4 year colleges. I know many of my friends were embarrassed to be at a community college, and most were only using it as a pathway to attend a more traditional university. Traditional is fine, but students who go to community college shouldn’t be ignored or demeaned. Personally, as a soon to be college grad, I’ve been lucky to escape some of the more perilous hurdles such as student loans, but if my high school career counselor had told me that I could make decent money as a mechanic or bookkeeper with two years and more than triple the cost (my school costs roughly $50-60,000 per year) I would’ve been sold.

So What Next

Overall, what I hope to get across is that there is a problem with our current educational system, and while there are no ‘right’ answers, there are certain things that need to change. Some parts of the college experience should be dedicated towards non-career related goals: being away from home for the first time, learning to adjust to a new environment, understanding academia on the university level, enjoying time with friends and meeting people from a variety of geographic and cultural areas, and so on. But in this economy, we’ve lost that luxury to a certain extent. And now we have to be pragmatic at 17-18 years old, and ignore the cheers of college and getting a education that may financially ruin us well into our thirties, forties, and further. It’s a hard sell, but I caution others to reflect on the college experience as they see it now, and on the bright side, this may turn Gen Y into one of the most pragmatic generations yet! We may not appreciate it right now, but the innovative skills we’ve gotten will last us a lifetime.

What do you guys think about the state of higher education? Feel free to combat my points as well!

The entrance to PCC

The entrance to PCC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)