Miss_S’s College Guide (Provided at request of @Hanna_Brassheart, Forum moderator)
Please keep in mind that I grew up in public school and transitioned to college from there, and so there might be some things about the homeschool/college transition I DON’T know about, like how your specific homeschooling program works (do you get a high school diploma or GED out of it or whether Advanced Placement classes and tests are offered, etc).
Preparation (in high school or homeschool)
There are several decisions you will need to make of huge importance going into college, but three important preparation items will make your decision-making (which can frequently be stressful and nightmarish) a lot easier.
Maximize your time
This means, take AP courses and CLEP tests if they are available to you, as they get you out of bothersome GE courses in college. But they will not save you any money, likely as not. Do not go into college thinking that you will graduate early. You won’t. I’ll explain why in a moment. It’s also my understanding that some homeschooling programs allow you to get out of high school early by taking the GED or giving you a diploma at 16 or 17 instead of 18. Take advantage of these opportunities.
The reason why you need the extra time is twofold: 1) you do not know how many college classes you can handle in a semester. My brother takes 5 classes in a semester. My max is 3. There is nothing wrong with that, because there is nothing wrong with me and how I learn. It also has to do with my major and career path and how complex it is, versus my brother’s which in terms of college is a no-brainer. I’m doing things while I’m taking classes. 2) The preparation that you actually need in college and in your life for your career might take longer than the time it takes to just plain graduate.
Maximize your monetary flexibility
This is critical if you suspect your parents will not support your chosen major or career path, but also just plain good in general because you don’t know what opportunities may come up in college. Getting a job in high school can evade the curse of student loans, but it does more than that – you can also evade missing that mission trip to Zimbabwe that would have really helped your degree in foreign missions, or that $50 JSP for web design textbook, or that book publishing workshop with that super-famous author. Whatever. You don’t want to be stuck when stuff is happening you need to know about. Give yourself that legroom.
You also don’t have to be stuck flipping burgers, either. You can freelance online – especially if you have computer coding skills or can write a decent blog post. You will need a work permit if you’re a minor and your parent’s permission, but you can probably get that. Probably.
Scholarship money is good, but often it can come with strings attached that can severely stress you out later. Take it if you can get it, but read the terms and conditions, and realize that it can vanish. Make a contingency plan in case you lose it.
Keep an eye on your relationships, and ask questions
No matter what you do, college will strain your relationship with your parents. Guaranteed. The amount of strain goes up in proportion to how much they are paying your bills and how much they disapprove of your career path. You should actually ask your parents what they think of the year off you plan to take between college and high school traveling the world with your pet cat and box of Pringles. Parents hate not knowing what is going on, so resist the urge to lie to them or hide things from them. Be prepared to be insulted over your choices and decisions – remember that your parents are not YOU and don’t understand the intricate workings of the inside of your head, and they are mad because they don’t. Don’t take it personally.
Also, the stuff that happens to you educationally speaking – class success or failure, grades – is not 100% your fault anymore. You can get bad professors, and God can plain flat close doors. It is not your fault if you fail a class or even a whole semester, if you tried your best and did your best work.
This whole recollection is a reflection of the three assets human beings have: time, money, and relationships. Relationships and people are the only thing you can take with you. Time and money are evil and (if you are a follower of Christ) you turn that into relationships that have impact for eternity. And remember, your relationship with God is your most important relationship. With that, we turn to:
Spiritual STUFF (OF EXTREME MEGAHUGE IMPORTANCE)
Mega Huge Massively IMPORTANT IMPORTANT Decision Making Principle #1: Make decisions not based on PREFERENCE (i.e. want you want) but based on what is TRULY IMPORTANT.
throws Bible on the table with an ominous thump Do NOT LET YOUR FEELINGS MAKE THE DECISIONS. That’s why God gave us a compass – the Bible. (That’s one of my favorite movie quotes – it’s from Last Chance Detectives: The Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa, which probably none of you know about, but it is an awesome movie. ahem)
The ironic thing is that if you make your decisions based on your feelings, you will feel crummy because you doubt the integrity of your feeling about whatever it is, and since doubt produces a feeling of crumminess of itself, you’ll be right. Your doubt will rob you of your satisfaction that you thought you were going to have.
The second thing about making decisions based on your feelings is that it’s the fastest way for your sin nature to get in the door. You do not want to be making major life decisions on input from the devil.
Of course, if…
Mega Huge Massively IMPORTANT IMPORTANT Decision Making Principle #2: Your decision, whatever it is, will make you feel crummy for awhile.
That’s because, if you make decisions based on what is truly important, your sin nature will punish you and scream its head off and make you feel terrible about what you have just done. Worse, it may be able to get reinforcement from the other people around you who support its lousy decision making.
In college, you will feel more and feel worse than you have ever felt in your life. I guarantee it. You have moved to the forefront of spiritual warfare and you will feel it in your soul. In any event, feeling bad after making a decision and being tempted to second-guess it is normal.
Mega Huge Massively IMPORTANT IMPORTANT Decision Making Principle #3: People have a sin nature and distorted viewpoints as a result of it. They do not understand you as much as you understand yourself. And God understands you more than you understand yourself.
Do not use other people’s opinions as a source of your decision making. If something truly important is being opposed by the people around you, explain your position. But if they refuse to listen to your 14-page expert analysis with expert sources and a preface by the president of the university, you’ll have to find another way.
And there always is another way, because if something is truly important, God values it. If anyone tries to mess with God, they are going down. It will be on his timing, mind you, but it will happen. Keep looking for ways to keep going and trust God for the next step.
But how do you decide what is truly important, you may ask? That would be using the Bible. But for career and college decisions, here’s a quick guide:
People (how they are AFFECTED by your career, they do not get to decide it. It’s the relationships you build using your education and career that matter in this case, i.e. what you do for them using your career, telling God's truth or the devil's lies, etc)
Your abilities and skills (i.e. the way God made you. If you do not pick a career that best uses your skills for God’s glory and honor, you will end up hating how God made you and that will result in a lot more sinful behavior. It’s better to weather your parents’ angry bewilderment now than have to fix your crummy life later.)
Also keep in mind if you choose the “wrong” career path that God does not want for your life, God will correct it himself. He may use painful means to do it, but he WILL do it. Obviously there are some careers as a God-following Christian you should not go into, but for the most part, he will have his say and opinion. And you will have to deal with it. But, generally speaking:
Mega Huge Massively IMPORTANT IMPORTANT Decision Making Principle #4: You career has a spiritual impact and is spiritually loaded, regardless of what you do.
4A) If you are going into production work, the spiritual importance of your work is not what you do, but HOW you do it, HOW well you do it, and how you treat the people you are doing it FOR and WITH.
For example, few people will inquire into the spiritual condition of their plumber – they are more concerned about how well he does his work and not being ripped off. The same goes for engineers, mathematicians, graphic designers designing corporate logos in company basements, computer programmers, people working on manufacturing assembly lines, florists, hairdressers, and businesspeople. You should shape your career based on treating the people around you with respect, understanding their needs, and doing what you do well at a fair price for your work.
And welcome to the book of Proverbs.
You may run into obstacles in fulfilling these scriptures, and you may run into professors at college advocating principles that run against these truths. Do not agree with them or put them in your papers or reports. Also you may need more information on this – this is not my line of work.
4B) If you are going into work that is creative or explanatory in nature, God cares deeply about not only HOW you do your work but WHAT you do with it.
Artists, musicians, writers, moviemakers, actors, scientists, researchers, journalists, pastors – all of these careers require deep spiritual insight, prayer, and careful attention to God’s word. It is very important to consider the spiritual implications of your work, and your education leading up to your career should help you with that. This does not mean that you have to go to a Christian college or university, but it does mean that you should be challenging the spiritual assumptions of the people around you on a continual basis. Sometimes opposition to your faith shows you want song to write or what picture needs to be drawn to help bring others to the Lord.
You work can be used to spread a million lies or one truth. God wrote one book; the devil has filled bookstores. The worth of your creative work is not measured by your monetary success or the approval of the people around you, but how well it presents spiritual truth to a dying world. Yes, the Bible is the best and only measure of truth, but people need to be interrupted. Unbelievers aren’t going to read a 2,000 year old book without a marketing campaign. You’re his marketer – get in line. Also, creativity makes it easier for us to understand biblical truth because it removes us from the yawn-worthy context of everyday life and transports us into a different way of thinking. It’s part of the sanctification process.
You’ll find that the more biblical truth you put in, the more you can show the reality of how it’s working in your life in your creative work, the more life it has and the better it will feel to you. It takes courage, it takes daring – especially in the face of snooty professors – but it is very worth it. Do not let profs scare you away from putting the truth in your essays or in your work! Such a tragedy. (And yes, they will try to scare you.)
And dressing it up is an act of love – meeting people where they are with biblical truth instead of being snobs toting around our Bibles and acting like we’re better than them and their petty art.
Some of you might be wondering “but wait Miss_S, this is about college?”. Yes. Because when you start college, you start building a career, and a career is the strongest way you will affect the people around you in your life. For good, or ill.
Mega Huge Massively IMPORTANT IMPORTANT Decision Making Principle #5: When contemplating a decision, consider all available data and all available options.
Which we will now do.
Upon graduating from high school or home school, you have the following options, regardless of whether you or your parents consider them or not:
- University (public or private): Living on campus in the dorms
- University (public or private): Commuting from home
- Community College
- Fully Online School (yes, you can just continue your homeschool career! How ‘bout that?)
- Going to work/taking time off
- Not postponing your life any longer.
The operating questions to decide between these options are “Do I need a college degree (i.e. a credential) to accomplish the important things in my life?” AND “What classes do I need to take to accomplish the important things in my life?”
These questions are NOT always mutually inclusive. What you need to CONVINCE people you can do and what you actually need to be able to do are NOT always the same.
For example, if you want to become a novelist, you will need to be able to write a novel, and you should have a creative writing (or English) degree to convince people that you can write a novel. However, you will also need to know about the business of publishing your work and marketing your books to make sure they succeed – if only to be sure that your agent and your publishing company don’t rip you off. Creative writing graduates often end up in advertising firms and writing blog posts for internet marketing. You need to know about this stuff – take marketing classes and business classes related to the field, and you’ll need to know your social media platforms, Goodreads and Amazon reviews and rankings.
If no publisher will take you, you need the option of going around the system and publishing it yourself, especially if you’re proclaiming biblical truth. The Christian publishers have a backlog – you need to know how to list your book on Christian Book Distributors yourself. Christian Book Distributors, you ask? They sell Christian books to more seasoned individuals. Even if your novel is for teenagers, the grandmas-buying-books-for-grandkids is part of your marketing scheme. Get over it – you need to eat to write your next novel. #paytheartists
If you’re really stuck as to what to do with your life next, you can ask my favorite question “What classes to do I need to take to accomplish project X?” This question will probably make your parents hate you, but if that happens, you can blame me. At least then you're doing something.
And now we get to the wonderful ice-cold dose of reality.
1. University (public or private): Living on campus in the dorms
When graduating from public school, most public school students get pressured toward this option. But is it really the best idea? Most of the homeschoolers in this crowd will be looking at me in horror of even considering this as an option. But we should be real: living on campus can make it easier to have a social life and have friends in college. If you’re going to a Christian school or seminary or even a place with a strong Navigators group and a good college cafeteria, this is doable.
You need your own computer. You need your own printer. It is highly advantageous to have your own car and refrigerator (the standard issue ones aren’t good enough). If you are in a dorm situation where you have roommates, bring your own roommate – otherwise you can run into spiritual issues that are horrific to even think about, much less post here. It’s better to have your own room with your own lock and deadbolt and using it liberally. Bike thieves are a thing about colleges. You need a U-lock and cables for both front and back wheels and your bike seat, for thieves will steal just the wheels or just the seat and leave you sans functional bike. True story happened to me.
Not only that, but you have descended into the fire of stress, especially if your parents are paying for your college. You take on the full pressure of university schoolwork (which is more intense than community college schoolwork), the full pressure of living on your own (with all of the logistical problems and spiritual pressure that entails) and the pressure of pleasing and appeasing your parents who are paying the bills so you can come back and do it all over again – and most of us end up doing it sans car and refrigerator. Now doesn’t that sound like fun. (And you’re doing it sans money, so you don’t get to enjoy most of the privileges that living on your own would normally offer you.)
My opinion is this: there is never any reason to live in a college dorm. In order to truly enjoy life on your own, you need a car, and to have a car, you need a job to pay for the gas and the insurance, and if you have a job, you can afford an apartment. Either move out or don’t – the college dorm “compromise” is no life at all and isn’t worth it. I’m preaching to the choir.
2. University (public or private): Commuting from home
This option is great until you get stuck in traffic (or have to sit in traffic) on the way to campus and can’t find parking. Also the commute and having to go home each night diminishes your attachment to the university and the people there. It’s kinda weird having friends when you’re always headed home to your homework. Which you will be.
University controls you. If you’re going to a 4-year college, they control what classes you take, when you take them, and what grades you get: “C or higher”. They do not care about getting you to the point where you can earn money at what you want to do. They do not care about what is truly important and what God wants you to do with your life, even if they are a Christian college. They care about squeezing you through their program and reshaping your life into their ideal of what you should be – while taking your money. Most engineers can look at that and not care – they just want their engineering degree. (If you're that person, you'll love university!)
Most creative people would look at that and say that sounds about as attractive as spending time in a pit full of rattlesnakes. Granted, a creative writing major can take marketing classes while at university – but it topples university’s delicately arranged four-year-plan your academic advisor (read: snake) will be telling you that you need to stick to (sssss). “If you take these classes (hiiisssss) you won’t graduate on time (rattle rattle) and everyone will be walking down the aisle without you (hisssss).” This is why you need those AP classes and CLEP tests so you have room to take the truly important classes you need while in college, at your pace. Because the university will fight you tooth and nail on your quest to have a meaningful life that actually accomplishes something for God’s glory and honor. “I’m so sorry, dear, but if you only take three classes a semester, you aren’t a full time student anymore (raaaattttlle) and you lose all of your benefits like the ability to live in the dorms.”
Remember: “graduating on time” and “living in dorms” are things that don’t matter. They are fictional stakes made up by the university to control you. It doesn’t matter whether you graduate in 2 years, 4 years, 6 years, or 10 years. Think about it this way: someone takes one more year in college to learn how to run their own publishing business. They graduate from college, publish their book, and market it to hundred of thousands of dollars in sales. Someone else graduates in 4 years, can’t publish their book and wastes the rest of their life working in an advertising company’s basement, and then when they finally get a publisher to take them, they get taken to the cleaners by their agent and publishing company and their book goes nowhere. “Graduating in 4 years” isn’t truly important – it’s an idol established by the university to control people and ruin lives. Focus on what is truly important. Otherwise the lies will take it away.
Other problems with university include the idea that if you don’t pass two full semesters, they kick you out, and a lot of people fail their first semester of university, end up on academic probation, and panic. Also, there’s the idea that if a class isn’t offered at your school, you can’t take it and it’s just a loss to write off – this is wrong. You can always go to another school to get the classes you need – you just have to pay them. Simply a matter of moolag.
Or you could just skip the whole thing…
3. Community College
Community Colleges are a lot more flexible than universities. Unlike universities, who think they are entitled to control your entire life, community colleges do not give a flying alpaca about anything you do (or any grades you get, for that matter). They also are less expensive than Univ-Lie-Pressure-cooker, giving you more of that glorious financial flexibility I talked about. You can take any number of classes, any time scheduled over any semester for any reason. Many Community Colleges offer online classes as well, allowing you the flexibility of working from your home environment whenever you want – provided all of the assignments are turned in on time.
Upon reading this, most sensible people would say “community college is definitely the better deal”. However, Satan happily lurks in the shadows of these schools shouting “you can do whatever you want!”. And you can – but do you really need to take those classes in upholstery and glass blowing? Everything is designed – I mean, they have these micro-degrees called Certificates of Proficiency that might matter to the crazy employer designing upholstered Chairs in Cancun, but for the most part they are just there to give you the illusion that you are accomplishing something. At some point it just gets to be a distraction from what you are really trying to do.
If what you need is a few classes to learn stuff to accomplish something, Community Colleges are the place to go. The gold standard, though, is finishing what you set out to accomplish projectwise. If you want a focused track toward a sheet of paper, you’re better off going straight to university and finishing the job.
What really matters here is what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it is a credential or the completion of a real-life project or projects or both. If you need both, I recommend starting at a community college and taking a balanced approach between those projects and that degree – important for creatives who loathe pressure. But you need to monitor your progress toward your degree and actually get there, and not spend the rest of your life wandering the halls of your college playground chasing your latest new idea.
And if you’re in community college looking to transfer to university you’re just postponing the inevitable. The rattlesnake pit awaits. (sssssss)
4. Fully Online School
This has an appeal for the homeschoolers for obvious reasons. (why change lol?) I should point out that community colleges and even universities often offer online classes and even fully online degrees these days. Then of course, the Lumerit scholar Unbound ads.
The big deal is making sure that your credential will actually be recognized as legitimate. You got a degree from where? Of course if you don’t need a credential, welcome to the internet playground. Good luck convincing your parents you’re studying – I saw those cat pictures. You’re not fooling anyone.
Aside from THAT, it turns you into a hermit with no social life and you might have a rough time transitioning to your new job once you graduate. Unless you take a remote job…
…and now we wonder why everyone decides not to engage with the real world and live out of their parents’ basements. But seriously, if you can find a real program connected to a real college that actually exists, go for it. To an extent, you’ll run into either the uni-pressure or the community-distractions at whatever you get, and you may struggle with course availability and have to go to multiple schools to get what you need, but when that other school is a mouse-click away...
To be real, though, for some degrees this still doesn’t work. English majors need class room interaction and electrical engineering majors need their labs. That’s why your online program should be connected to a real school. Mostly fully online schools work for programming credentials and some forms of computational art – oh and business and marketing.
5. Getting a job/going to work/taking time off
Really, if you don’t have enough of the financial flexibility I mentioned and your parents are completely intractable, this is probably the best option. Insist on what is truly important in your life, build your money to make it happen, and let them seethe. Resist the pressure – it comes from lies anyway. You will be able to get into college after your break, even if it’s only at community college – but you will get to where you need to go.
6. Not postponing your life any longer.
Some of us don’t really need to go to college, and there are lots of other things you can do, like join the military, join the Peace Corps, join a band, travel the world, climb mount Everest. If you don’t need qualifications and you don’t need to learn extra stuff in a classroom to get there either, don’t even bother. Go live your life and forget that college ever existed. I promise you that it will be worth it.
And that’s all I have to say on this subject – that’s 4562 words lol. You can throw questions at me below. I have actually gone to university, and community college, and online school – and I’m going back in to community college to finish some projects (again) and finally knock on finishing my creative writing degree haha. Hope this helps!