College graduates have a larger range of career opportunities that can potentially pay a higher yearly wage. That’s the message that LIFE (recently renamed The Game of Life) pounded into my head every time I played. The game got that right. Eighteen to twenty-two year olds who successfully complete a bachelor program “earn an average of $20,000 more per year” than individuals who immediately pursue a job.
What did the game get wrong? The game does not give a sense of how hard it can be for students to successfully reach graduation. Graduation is achieved in two, three, or four turns of the wheel in the game. And failure to graduate is not an option. In reality college is not so easy: 44% of the individuals who pursue higher education in the United States never graduate. Unlike the game, if college students want to graduate, they must carefully steer clear of any potential pitfalls.
Pitfall #!1: Can’t Pay College Tuition
College is expensive. The Game of Life requires that college-bound players take out a $40,000 loan that they must repay by the end of the game. Surprisingly, the game came pretty close to simulating the tuition of a bachelor degree at a public college. Tuition costs for four-year bachelor programs at public universities were $40,917 for the 2013-2014 school year. Unfortunately, unlike the game, students who pursue a college degree will need to pay for dozens of smaller expenses. Today’s students will find themselves paying for housing, food, textbooks, school supplies, lab fees, field excursion fees, parking fees, health insurance and frat or sorority fees. With all the extra fees, college grads managed to accumulate an average college loan debt of $57,600 in 2012. Overwhelmed by the mounting debt, many students choose not to finish their education until they can afford to pay.
A prepared student can decrease their overall student debt to a manageable level. Students can:
- Spend their free time applying to as many company or school scholarships as they can.
- Submit their FAFSA early, to be eligible for the first come, first serve work studies.
- Check to see if their school has any government grants that they’ve been given to help students graduate. Ohio’s Master of Nursing program, for example, was granted $4,989,080 by the US Department of Labor to help unemployed nurses in Ohio who want to increase their education credentials. Many schools have similar processes for their programs.
Pitfall #2: Alternate Course Requirements
Often games, especially games as simplistic as LIFE, turn into a race to spin the wheel, speed your player to the next square, and then skim over any seemingly meaningless details. Such haphazard gameplay has minimal long-term effects, but students should not pursue their degree and individual classes with such a blasé attitude.
Why? Every program and class has slightly different requirements. Individuals should never skim through program descriptions, course descriptions, or the class syllabus. Failure to do so could lead to an assignment that they fail to perform or an event they cannot attend.
Here are a few course requirements to look out for:
- Dr. Althaus, the program coordinator of a healthcare master program at Ohio University, warns students that online programs or classes may require that they either make a campus visit or they attend class on an online platform (like Second Life) a certain time each week.
- Many foreign language or science classes will require a weekly lab that students must attend. The success of the course may often hinge on passing the lab portion of the class.
- Some introductory courses require that students volunteer for a certain number of hours at a non-profit.
- Often writing classes have mandatory writing workshops they must attend.
- Always check the program description to see if any courses are needed as a prerequisite.
In most cases, the failure to complete the required assignment will lead to failing the course. In some cases, professors will work with the student if they must miss one or two assignments. If you cannot attend the event and the teacher cannot offer an alternate equivalent assignment, you may need to drop the class. Just remember if you drop a class too late in the semester, it will be noted on your official transcript and you may lose your deposit.
Pitfall #3: Going It Alone
The successful completion of a college degree requires long hours studying, attending classes, and completing assignments. Often the long hour commitment that school provides can be an isolating experience. Students should ensure they plan some time to hang out with friends and family.
Why? Humans are social creatures. The social interactions they have on a daily experience can positively or negatively affect their ability to function efficiently. According to this infographic, the more work friends an individual can make in their professional environment, the higher their commitment to their vocation and their personal satisfaction will be. As a student, your education is your job. And like a job, the more time you spend with friends (either work friends, social friends, or school friends), the higher the chance that you will be healthy enough to complete assignments efficiently and meet class requirements regularly.
In 2011, 30% of college students surveyed by the American College Health Association, reported they felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” Friends can listen to you vent about stressful assignments, help you conquer a difficult subjects, and keep you mentally healthy enough to keep up with your rigorous college schedule. For the most fulfilling social interaction, attempt to converse with friends either in person. Students who obtain the majority of their social interaction via social media are more prone to depression.
College graduation is not assured. Unlike The Game of Life, real students must successfully figure out how they will pay for college, ensure that the classes and program they will attend does not have any requirements they cannot fulfill, and balance their social life and academic career. The failure to face any of the challenges they will meet in college, could lead to the unsuccessful completion of their degree. The worst thing about failing at The Game of College Life? Students that drop out will still need to pay back the loans they took out during their brief tenure as a student. As your adventure begins, navigate it carefully. Success or failure, college is not free.
This article was contributed by guest author Samantha Stauf.