13 Lessons PolicyMic Writers Can Teach You About College Graduation 2013


This week, PolicyMic is proud to host a week-long discussion about higher education. Whether you slipped into your uncomfortable, rented polyester robes just yesterday or your mortarboard has been collecting dust for months (or even years), we want you to join in the discussion! School may be out for summer, but learning is in for life. Brush off your (e)books, and get ready to read.

Here are 13 things PolicyMic writers can teach you about graduating from college in 2013.  

1. Don't take Mayor Bloomberg's advice.

Forget his controversial soda ban; this 18-year-old has a bone to pick with Bloomberg over his stance on higher education. Bloomberg has said that it's a waste of time for mediocre students to even consider going to college.

Shanzeh Khurram argues:

"A college education can be expected to pay back in the long term. On average, college graduates make 84% more over their lifetime than their high-school-educated counterparts. Unemployment rates vary greatly between people who have high-school certificates and those with college degrees. April’s national unemployment rate stood at 7.5%, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate for high-school graduates over 25 years old who hadn’t attended college was 7.4%, compared with 3.9% for those with a bachelor’s degree or more education."

Who's right? Weigh in: @shanzehkhurram

2. On campus ... now what?

Freshmen: Facing the next four years and finding yourself floundering? Don't worry. Mayura Iyer's been there, too

"It’s well known that our generation is said to be the most stressed out. So please, stop popping the Adderall and stop writing your paper for a moment, and breathe. Take a siesta. Catch up on your favorite TV show. Go for a walk. Get a meal to-go from a restaurant nearby that you haven’t tried yet. Call your best friend from high school that you’ve been meaning to catch up with but always can’t seem to find the time to. Heck, call your mom and ask how she’s doing. Just don’t forget to relax every once in a while."

3. Studying millennia-old subjects still makes sense today.

For those of us who wished we could pull a Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted 'Theodore' Logan in U.S. history class, a millennial history professor explains why a liberal arts education is still worth your time. 

Lauren Mostardi writes:

"Now, I understand that many students go in to college wanting a job when they get out. The media is filled with articles about the 'best' and 'worst' paying majors, making it clear to incoming freshman that the ultimate end game is a paycheck. This makes it tough for the arts before a student ever steps foot on campus. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that rocket science pays more than sociology. Add to this some political posturing, like Rick Scott's plan to make STEM majors cost less than the arts, and you have a national culture that is telling students that this is what matters, and everyone else is just 'useless.' Even if you decide to ignore your elders and pursue anthropology full-time, there is a good chance your graduate school will not pay you the same as a grad student in bio-mechanics. I thought making $11,500 as a teaching assistant in history was not half-bad, until I found out somebody in Polymer Sciences was making $22,000."

History is still worth it for Lauren; is it worth it for you? What did you really want to study in college?

4. New disciplines matter, too.

When identity studies are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.

Giuliana Cortese explains:

"In the United States, university administrations and scholars, such as Christina Hoff Sommers and Bruce Bawer, have called into question the necessity of the 'identity studies': Women's Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, Chicano/a Studies, and Queer Studies, to name a few. This skepticism is reflected in a lack of administrative support due to (I boldly argue) an inherently-biased structure that continues to value disciplines such as STEM over the humanities. Yet the reason for my outcry in the beginning of this article comes from a deep-rooted belief that the identity studies are crucial. They provide us with a critical lens that sees through power structures, identity formations and social constructs and can serve as a catalyst for positive change and societal growth."

Do you side with administrators, students, or educators? Engage in an educational debate with Giuliana: @goulz

5. Campus activism makes a difference.

Many a Boomer will tell you that in their day, you could hardly walk across the campus quad without tripping over a fellow student protesting the war in Vietnam, the draft, the women's movement, or any sundry topics-du-jour. The same is not true for millennials, they'll complain. Those were the days, they'll reminisce. 

But we know better. Student activism is alive and well, and current student activist Kirin Gupta is here to offer you her tips on making your campus a hotbed of activity

"[T]hese steps are about connection and cohesion. That’s what makes change. It is not the individual; it’s the movement, as much on college campuses as anywhere else. This is an easy time to get lost in the individualism of college atmospheres. Don’t do that. Be effective. La unión hace la fuerza."

How have you made your campus a better place? How did you do it? Share your own story with Kirin on Twitter: @macroaggression

6. And you can even protest at commencement.

Or at least, that's what New England college students have decided to do

Caitlyn Mattil reports:

"Kelly Ayotte will be the commencement speaker at my graduation this Saturday, at New England College (NEC). While many students were unsettled by this, one student in particular took a stance. Erin “Faith” Page organized students and faculty alike, with petitions, letters to the president of the college, meetings with administrative staff, and a video response published onYouTube, which has since gone on to be featured on several state media outlets. Faith’s concern is that Ayotte is more likely to represent the values of the NRA than the values of NEC, and that she does not stand for all members of the student body nor does she support the lessons that have been instilled with us while on campus."

What will happen? Keep your eyes out for updates...

7. 2 in 3 college students suffer from incurable idealism.

Do you have a brilliant plan to save the world in your first job out of college? Congrats, grad. So does the person sitting next to you. 

Professor Lisa Wade of Sociological Images observes:

"Despite the recession, the students at my (rather elite, private, liberal arts) school surprise me with their high professional expectations (thinking that they should be wildly successful, even if they’re worried they won’t be) and their desire to change the world (many strongly identify as progressives who are concerned with social inequalities and political corruption).

Some call this entitlement, but I think it’s at least as true to say that today’s college youth (the self-esteem generation) have been promised these things. They’ve always been told to dream big, and so they do. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that we’ve sold our young people a bill of goods. Their high expectations sound like a recipe for disappointment, even for my privileged population, especially if they expect it to happen before they exit their twenties."

Have you beaten the odds? Are you the outlier? Or the statistic? Tell Lisa: @lisawade

8. But even entrepreneurs need to do their homework.

Rupert Murdoch's new tablet created for middle school students may have a shot at replacing the iPad as the flashy teacher's tool-of-choice, but can it hope to fix larger systemic issues in education? 

Barbara Kurshan, the Executive Director of Academic Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, and Cat McManus, a Ph. D. student at Penn's Graduate School of Education, argue that those hoping to shake up education must take their cues from classroom practitioners, reliable research sources, and research-oriented graduate schools of education if they hope to be effective. 

"Instead of simply bombarding the marketplace with product after product to see what sticks, innovators must lean on the extensive experience of classroom practitioners and research executed by reputable non-partisan institutes, and more importantly, research-oriented graduate schools of education. Innovators at all levels, from corporate and professional development experts to kindergarten and special education teachers to museum educators must demand that every proposed intervention, product or service have a theory of action behind it."

Agree? Disagree? Have your own theory of action? Let them know on Twitter: @bkurshan and @NESTCentral

9. Some colleges may care more about attracting wealthy students.

Financial aid is supposed to make college more affordable for everyone, but are ever-shrinking Pell Grants really doing the trick? Not according to some researchers

Camille Squires writes:

"In his paper titled, 'Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind,' Stephen Burd focused on the oft-ignored 'net price' statistic from the U.S. Department of Education — the total amount a student is expected to pay after grants and scholarships — to determine the real cost of college for low-income students. He found that at private institutions, two thirds of students whose families make less than $30,000 per year are still expected to pay more than $15,000 per year in tuition fees, even after all aid money has been distributed. At over half a family’s yearly income, this number obviously presents an enormous strain on families, and often forces students to take on heavy debt, extra jobs, or even drop out until they can afford the tuition." 

Does financial aid unfairly privilege the wealthy, or help those just getting by make it in college? Opine: @ellimac1667

10. Politicians profit off making broke college students poorer.

Senator Elizabeth Warren may be the crusading hero of student loan debt, but is the villain President Barack Obama

Following a recent report from the Congressional Business Office which shows that the Obama administration will rake in $51 billion in profits from student loan borrowers, Johnathen Duran writes:

"President Obama, for his part, wants 'the interest rate on federal loans to be pegged to market rates annually," according to Bloomberg Businessweek. That would mean current interest rates would decrease in the short term, but as the economy gains traction and climbs, the expectation that they stay low dissipates. Bloomberg notes, 'Interest rates will rise as the economy improves, so some consumer groups criticize Obama’s plan for not having a cap on rates.' Where's the cap, Obama? That's not right."

Have a cap of your own? Let Johnathen know: @JohnathenDD

11. Worse yet, your alma mater already wants your money.

If you thought you were done pinching pennies, watch out. Your university is still interested in picking through the contents of your pockets ... even if your pockets only contain some lint and a worn-out stamp card from your local coffee shop. 

Proud Temple graduate Gabi Chepurny writes:

"I understand the concept of giving back to where you came from. I understand that as a public university Temple has had a few rough years recently with threats from Gov. Corbett (R-Pa.) of cutting funding for Temple by $96 million, which was the case in 2011. I understand that without state and other forms of funding Temple would not be as great an institution as it is today.

I understand that there have been pay and hiring freezes in effect at Temple. I know that an economy which has brought unemployment as high as 23% to areas in the United States has made it financially hard for everyone.

I also understand that as an unemployed, 22-year-old recent college graduate I am a statistic, and one of many, who will be moving back in with their parents only to be forced into finding a retail job as the grace period from college loan debt shrinks day by day."

Are you as outraged? Or are you one of the people asking for donations? Chip in your two cents: @GabiChepurny

12. No one knows what they're doing after they graduate.

No, not even that friend who landed a three-figure-salary job at a prestigious firm which does something you don't understand at all. No one. Repeat, no one

Heather Price-Wright reveals: 

"Your life is totally in your hands, and it’s OK, and even advisable, to stray from the plan a little bit. Life doesn’t have to go college-possible grad school-career-retirement-death. Save up from a crummy job and buy a ticket around the world. Try writing or painting or making music or doing the thing you always wanted to do, but were never brave enough to try. Fall in love — maybe every day. It may sound either cheesy or downright irresponsible, but few choices are irreparable, and few paths will lead you wildly astray. Your new life is yours, and yours alone, at least for a little while. Let it lead you somewhere amazing."

Oh, the places you'll go. What were yours? Compare notes: @heatherwpw

13. Remain calm.

If all the uncertainty has got you down, go with the flow, and just keep swimming. 

Recent grad Talia Lavin has five tips to help you calm down. 

"My advice for finding yourself in a flurry of doubt about which path to take? Engage yourself with something productive. It’s easy to get paralyzed by not wanting to “lock yourself in” before you’ve figured out exactly which direction you want to take. But the skills, experiences, and relationships you will create if you throw yourself into something wholeheartedly will undoubtedly give you clues about where you want to head. Engaging with something — whether it’s volunteer work, temping, or a job that might be in a different field than you’d hoped for — will also give you a sense of purpose that might quell this residual anxiety."