My College Speech: School Plan / Selection

My GF would tell you that I have a pretty consistent speech that I continuously dole out to high school kids looking to get an engineering or technical field. It annoys her greatly but I still think that it is valuable to parents and teenagers ready to make that next step, especially those who are in financial dire straits wondering how to afford college for there child. I am going to break it down into three parts: school plan / selection, tips for students in school, and ideas for funding school.

The first step is to seriously consider a junior college for the first year or two. The reason, smaller classes, better teachers, a chance for the student to ease into the curriculum, and costs at around a 1/3 of the price of the state schools. It is important to note that there are okay junior colleges and great junior colleges, you need to look for the latter. How do you tell? Well whatever your son or daughter is interested in should be covered. For example, my career was engineering and in Kansas City, Avila College and Johnson County Community College have close relationships with the surrounding state schools. Their curriculum matches that of KU, MU, K-state, etc. Therefore all the credits transfer and their professors know the right material to teach. Another secret is that state schools tend to gather up to hundreds of students in classrooms or worse allow teaching assistants (not real accredited teachers) to lead the basic lower level classes. Considering that may be up to the first two years of your son or daughter’s life that can be a lot of frustration avoided, or worse discouraging them from their original field of interest. Junior colleges have small classes real professors in the core lower curriculum, which can really give students a chance to learn rather than sink or swim. Another note is that if a student wants to change their field interest it won’t be at such a cost as it would at a state school.

Once they get through the basics it is time to move up to bigger schools to get into the meat and potatoes portion of the degree, which can be hard. My best advice is to not overload on classes, no more than 12-16 credit hours per semester, unless your kid is just that smart or not the type to burn out. Engineering programs tend push lots of credit hours on their students these days, and reality is that a student can take classes at whatever pace really works for them and it will not penalize them. College is not a race, it’s supposed to be training. A quick tip is that summer school is a great way of catching up, the classes typically are focused on the basics of that subject, and the tests are more simple.

Last note for college planning is that for almost all engineering degrees there is a non-calc/physics based technical degree. Industrial engineering has industrial technology, electrical engineering has electrical technology, computer engineering has computer technology, etc. They are truly different curriculum but the two different degrees may lead to very similar jobs once people are out of school. Other than true engineering design, technology degree holders can be just as qualified or start just a step lower than that of the paired engineering degreed student. In my mind if someone likes engineering but can’t handle the calc/physics, they should not be discouraged out of their desired field until they try the matching technical program. They still may end up with the same job they wanted in the end. I have worked in several factories with people called engineers all around me that held only industrial and electrical technology degrees. Hope this helps.

1 comment:

Grant said...

Great post, MJ, and I can say that as a fellow engineer, I agree with every point you make in this post.

I'll offer the following as another benefit to junior college for the first two years:

While the credit transfers, the GPA may not. So, in effect, you may get a 'C' in a junior college class, and that credit will transfer to a traditional 4-year college, but the fact that you got a 'C' may not go along with the transcript. This means that when you start taking classes at the University, you start from scratch GPA-wise, which is a good thing... or it can be...

Also, summer school can be good for making up classes you didn't do so hot on the first go 'round...

Thermodynamics anyone??