Not able to share her news with Jason and Terrell, Kate went back to her dorm and saw Olivia in the Common Room.
“Hey Olivia! I’ve got some news!” Kate looked as happy and she sounded.
“Okay, girl, tell me, but I think I know what you’re going to say.”
“I got the job!”
“I knew it. I knew it.” Olivia was thrilled. “I’m so happy for you! Now tell me all about it.”
Kate had met Olivia two years ago, when Olivia was a sophomore, and they soon became good friends despite the difference in their ages. Over time they talked a lot about what they would do after college, and Olivia looked to learn from what Kate was doing.
Kate said, “I received a text this morning from BioMed Research asking me to call them. Of course, I called immediately and they offered me a job as a research assistant. I did my best to stay calm and said yes. I can’t believe it! My first choice company!”
“Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. But you know what, you earned it.”
And then came the stream of questions from Olivia before Kate could even begin to tell her the details.
Kate had worked for four years in the university’s biology laboratory, helping set up labs for classes as a freshman and then moving on to assist biology professors and then, in her senior year, assisting three doctoral students in their biological research.
This work was related to her biology technology major in the university’s Honors College. (Kate would graduate with honors – cum laude.) Kate had studied hard, but she also kept time to play volleyball on her dorm’s intramural team and made a lot of friends through working on her class’s Activities Committee.
Kate told Olivia, “They said they loved my work as a lab assistant and thought it would help me as I started work at BMR.” (She was already speaking as an employee.) “References from the professors and grad students I worked for really helped, and I emphasized my lab work during the interview.”
“So, when are you going to start working? And where? You told me they have labs all around the country. What is the job really going to be like?” Olivia’s excitement couldn’t contain her questions long enough to get answers. And then she asked with the kind of hesitation you have when you know you shouldn’t really ask, “How much are they going to pay you? I mean, just generally.”
“It’s a good salary, a little above average for starting. But I’ll also get medical insurance and three weeks’ vacation. But here’s the best part, after six months, they’ll pay tuition for a master’s degree!”
“That’s fantastic! And what about where you’ll work?”
For the first time, Kate seemed a little unsure and a little less happy. “I’m not sure, Olivia. They don’t know for certain, but they said it would be in or near a medium size city and all their locations are near universities where I could take master’s degree courses.”
“Well, that’s good. Wherever you go it’s a great opportunity.” Olivia wanted to sustain the happiness of the moment but couldn’t hide her concern. If Kate had to go very far away, she knew she would not see her very often.
Kate sensed what Olivia was thinking and said, “Listen, wherever I go we’ll stay in touch. Even though I won’t be here, I don’t want to miss your senior year.”
They hugged each other without saying a word, and then Kate said, “I have to go and call my parents. I haven’t told them about the job yet.”
“Oh my goodness, go and call them!” Olivia was all smiles again. “They are going to be so happy. I’ll see you later.”
Kate’s Road to Graduation and Beyond
A great outcome for nearly all college students is landing a good job within six months of graduation.
Kate achieved this, so how did she do it? The answer will surprise most readers because her journey didn’t start in high school, and it certainly didn’t start in college. No, Kate’s journey to success started in middle school or earlier.
Kate’s application to college was good enough to earn her a $10,000 scholarship for each of four years. Very good grades in challenging courses, very good test scores and very good extracurricular activities made her the kind of student the college wanted to attract. A scholarship is one thing colleges use to attract the students they want.
At college, Kate continued her attention to her studies, earned good grades and stayed on schedule in her biological technology major. The result – she will graduate in four years with honors.
Kate supplemented her classroom studies with practical work as a lab assistant. This helped her to focus on her course work and help her to get similar work in good paying summer jobs. And, as Kate explained to Olivia, this practical experience, in addition to her excellent grades, was very helpful in getting her dream job.
Paying for College
Kate’s parents and Kate worked together to make college affordable without any loans.
Kate’s parents started a 529 Plan for Kate when she entered seventh-grade. While this was a late start, it certainly helped them pay the $10,000 expected family contribution (EFC) based on the information provided in her FAFSA form.
At about the time they started the 529 Plan, they started talking to Kate about how the family might pay for college or some other postsecondary education. Kate’s parents were also prudent in their aspirations for Kate’s plans after high school. While Kate was a good student in middle school, her parents understood that Kate might want to pursue an alternative to college.
However, if college were Kate’s choice, her parents also believed that an in-state public college with well-respected majors in fields Kate might choose was a better financial choice for them and Kate.
As for Kate, she did her part by doing her best as a student and by growing in her understanding of personal finance. A key point she understood was that the best choice would be to attend college, private or public, that would provide a good education and also be affordable.
Did Kate’s parents make any mistakes along the journey? Probably yes. But there are many things they and Kate did right.
As you look to the road beyond high school, you’ll find it has many turns and many forks. Which way do I go? What should I do? Kate’s parents helped her, but they had their own doubts and worries and often simply didn’t know the right answer.
Together they sought information, figured out answers and found their way as they travelled the long, uneven road that offered choices instead of promises. The straight and narrow road of yesterday was easy and safe, but it went to only one place.
The road Kate and her parents traveled – the road you and your parent(s) and family will travel – goes to many places, and it’s for you to decide where you want it to take you and how best to get there.