This is another guest post from a top commentator at Studenomics. Steve runs the fairly new blog Personal Finance Startup where he talks about his journey from entry level to financial independence.
Normally, I write about all aspects of my financial journey including investing, self-employed income, career plans and saving money. Seeing as this is a personal finance blog for college students, I’ll share the most important lesson that I learned while in college: make sure you have goals for life after college and that you find out what it takes to accomplish your goals.
As early as my sophomore year, I told everyone who asked that I wanted to stick around for my masters in engineering. At my school this tacked a fifth year on and you walk out with an MEng and BS all at once. When senior year rolled around, I had put myself in a great position to enter graduate school. I had the necessary GPA and even took two graduate level classes in my planned area of study. There was one big problem, I didn’t get accepted into the program.
I talked to the admissions team to try to figure out what was lacking with my application. They would not give me a satisfactory answer. I talked to fellow classmates who had been accepted into the program. From what I was able to gather, I didn’t have the necessary research experience and I didn’t have a really good connection with a professor. Apparently, having a professor going to bat for you during the application process is super important. Due to fraternity and athletic interests, I didn’t have time for research. Additionally, I never struggled to the point where I had to go to office hours, which was the only other way to get face time with a professor.
Fast-forward a few weeks and I walked off the stage with my BS and no job. I went back home with my parents without having submitted a single job application. I was mad. I hadn’t planned on finding a job and entering the workforce. I wanted to spend one more year in school. I even had a year of cross-country and track eligibility remaining and was voted as a captain for the cross team. I blamed my academic adviser for not stressing research. I blamed everybody but myself.
The bottom line is, I didn’t get to follow my preferred post-college route because I didn’t find out the real requirements. I had to watch classmates, who I helped pass tests, continue on my preferred path. If I had only sat my adviser down and forced him to tell me what I had to do to ensure I made it into graduate school. If I knew that research would have put me into graduate school, I would have found the time.
Now that I look back, I blame myself for not really thinking about my future. I knew that I wanted to get my MEng. I told everyone that I wanted to get my MEng. What I didn’t do was ask the right people the right questions. In the end, I found a good job very quickly (it was a much better economy then) and I don’t regret my mistake as much. I hope all of you can learn from my mistake. If you want to get a job with a top flight consulting company, make sure you prepare with mock interviews. If you want to work for Teach for America, start tutoring while you’re in school. If you want to get into grad school, make sure you know the real requirements and try to have a backup plan for life after your college graduation.
It is not good enough to just know what you want to do. You have to know exactly what it takes to accomplish your goal. Do you know what you want to do and how to go about doing it?