Dear J.T. & Dale: I'll be a senior in college this coming year, and I am scared to graduate. My parents, who couldn't afford college, keep telling me how lucky I am. If I hear, "Don't worry, you can be anything you want because you've got an education," one more time, I think I'll be sick. I have no idea what I want to do, the economy is terrible and I've got student loans that will kick in when I'm done. I'm stressing out! - Nate
J.T.: Yes, many well-intentioned parents just don't understand the fact that a college degree today is the equivalent of a high-school diploma 30 years ago ...
Dale: Whoa, as the overeducated son of a college professor, I have to stop you right there. In certain professions, and certain neighborhoods, it can seem that college degrees are a given. However, only about one in four adults in this country has graduated from college. And let's revisit those stunning statistics about education and average annual income:
Without high-school diploma, $19,000; with high-school diploma, $28,000; with college degree, $51,000; with advanced degree, $75,000.
J.T.: You understand that those income numbers are not simple cause-and-effect. If you have the background and money to go to college, you already have a great start.
Dale: True. And it's also true that if you can tolerate four years of that large bureaucracy called college, you have the makings of success in most organizations.
J.T.: Let me try making my original point this way: There were 2.5 million college grads last spring, so it isn't a differentiator for most jobs. Thus, Nate, you need a plan. First, work on your personal definition of career success. One great way to do this is to start interviewing people who are "doing it right" and look for ideas about how you might achieve your own success. I know you're thinking, "Easier said than done," but there are resources that can help. For instance, there's a PBS series called "Roadtrip Nation" that has teams of college students and recent grads touring the country reaching out to successful business and community leaders. If you go to jtanddale.com, there's a link to clips from their interviews, as well as a link to a very helpful career-interest evaluation test.
Dale: Those Web items will get you ready for personal conversations with successful people.
If you feel that you don't have a network of such individuals to turn to, you're wrong. One of the benefits of being in college is that your fellow students have relatives and neighbors doing interesting and admirable work. Many of those parents will be impressed that you are the first in your family to go to college, and that will inspire them to help you.
College is still a wonderful investment ... if you remember to cash in the dividends of your new network - your alumni group and your placement office.