Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You

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1 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You By the end of this section, you will be able to: Write an educational goal that identifies an area of focus and specific credentials sought Explain how your educational goal relates to career and personal goals Draft a project plan that includes resource requirements, time requirements, and target deadlines Identify factors that might require alterations to the educational plan M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 9

2 10 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You Adult students start or return to college for a variety of reasons, but it s fair to say that none of those reasons is random. Everyone is motivated to get an education for one reason or another: they have been told that it s essential to their job security; they know they won t get a promotion without one; they are looking for the satisfaction of completing something left undone; they need preparation for a career change; they want to provide a good educational model for their children. It is generally known that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than those without a degree, but there is also research finding that a college education leads to greater earnings and lower unemployment rates (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). There also is research telling us that children with parents who have gone to college have a better chance of being successful in college themselves (Thayer, 2005). But knowing why college matters is just the first step. In order to overcome the challenges you discovered in Part 1 and to get the most from your college experience, you ll need to think about what you want from it. It s not uncommon to hear adult students say, I just need the piece of paper, thinking that the credential is the only goal they need. But that goal won t help you make choices along the way and it won t remind you that the education is about you. In this section, we ll work on thinking through an educational goal and expressing it so it provides direction for you and for the people supporting you. Goals The Nature of Goals Goals are statements of intent that can inspire us to look forward and persist to achieve what we want. But they are also practical tools to be used while in school. Identifying a goal that works for you requires thought, sometimes a bit of research, and the patience to consider alternatives. The statement that expresses your goal should have particular characteristics so that it provides real direction. In Attitude is Everything, Paul J. Meyer (2006) explains that goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound. These elements apply to all goals, but what do they mean for an educational goal? Specific. What field, discipline, or career area do you want to study? What do you know about this field? How did you learn it? Measurable. What credential(s) do you want to earn? A degree? A certificate? A license? Have you talked with an advisor or done research to learn about options for credentials in your field? Attainable. Is your goal practical? Do you have access to an academic program that is reasonable in terms of location, cost, and duration? Do you know the specific requirements for your academic program and if they work for you? For example, can the program you re considering be done on a part time basis? Relevant. Is your goal related to your past experiences or your core values? Is it a step toward a life goal? Is your goal related to your current job or career? How does it relate to goals you have for life overall? Time bound. What is your target deadline for reaching your goal? Is it an estimate that you think is reasonable, or is it tied to other parts of your life? For example, if you want to finish college before your oldest child starts college, this might be a fixed deadline for you, rather than one that can be more easily adjusted. M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 10

3 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You 11 Activity 1 Is your current goal SMART? Fill in the following blanks and make notes about additional research you ll need to do. Specific (field): Measurable (credential): Attainable (practical): Relevant (other priorities): Time bound (target date): Take a few minutes to make a list of tasks you ll need to do to refine your goal. The Context for Educational Goals Before going further in refining your educational goal, take a look at the place it holds in your life along with other priorities. One of the reasons for going to college identified earlier is job advancement and security; a sense of accomplishment is another. In the pressure of everyday life, it s easy to think only of an immediate goal, like getting all of the bills paid this month. But it s important to know the larger goals that drive us and that make the struggles of individual days worth it. Think about the larger picture of your life and the things that matter to you. What are some of your personal goals? Here are a few examples offered by other adults: Personal Goals Raise a family and put all of my kids through college Become a model of physical fitness Create a work of art or literature that will live beyond me Devote 25% of my time and money to volunteer work and charity Live and work in another country for at least a year What are your personal goals? Career Goals Own and manage a catering company Become president of the union Become a certified meeting planner What are your career goals? As you look at these goals, think about how your college education can support them. You might earn a degree or certificate that helps your career, but you might also take courses that help you learn about other countries where you might live, or about influencing others to elect you president of the union. You ll get more specific in Part 3 about choices that can support goals like these. For now, be aware of how your personal, career, and educational goals can intersect and keep that in mind as you refine your educational goal in this section. M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 11

4 12 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You Expressing a SMART Goal Once you have all of the information you need and you ve thought about your choices, it s important to write a goal statement that is clear and concise so it will make sense to you and others over time. Your goal statement should be one or two sentences long. For example: I plan to major in early childhood education and earn a B.A. degree with certification to teach kindergarten within three years. This will capitalize on my work as a teacher s aide and enable me to work on my master s degree during summer breaks. Most people have to write several versions of their educational goal statement to end up with one that is SMART. The following paragraphs illustrate the goals of a couple of adult students. Amy returned to college after years of watching people get promoted with less experience and ability than she had. Her boss told her she would never get promoted without a degree, even though she had completed two years of college courses years ago. At her first visit with an advisor, she said that her goal was to earn a degree in business so I can get a better job. After more discussion with her advisor and lots of thinking about her choices, she wrote the following goal: I will study business administration with a focus on human resources to earn a BBA degree within three years. I can transfer all of my existing credits into this program and my experience as an administrative assistant in our HR department will help me succeed and, eventually, become a human resources specialist. With information about her background and her ultimate goal, this statement made it much easier for her advisor to make meaningful suggestions. It also helped Amy stay focused on what she would gain by finishing her degree. Karl recently decided that a college education would help him get a job in the field of health care, something that has always attracted him. Though he is single with no children, Karl helps his family a lot. As the only English speaker in the family, he often goes with family members to the doctor or helps them conduct business. He feels pressure to get an education and a new job, but also is committed to helping his family. He has decided to start a nursing program at his local community college. When asked about his goal for college, he told his advisor, I want to be a nurse. His advisor asked more questions and explained to Karl that the nursing program is a full time program that is 18 months long. Also, the advisor said that, with no science courses in his background, he would need to take those in order to get admitted to the nursing program. It would likely take him three years, assuming he did get admitted. Karl was discouraged, but the advisor suggested that he consider a different route. You can become a certified nursing assistant in 18 months going part time. That will enable you to get a job, then you can pursue the RN later if you wish. For his educational goal statement, Karl wrote I will earn a certificate in 18 months to become a certified nursing assistant and, after some work experience, will pursue a B.A. degree in nursing to become a registered nurse. M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 12

5 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You 13 Activity 2 Your Turn After you ve gathered the information you need about academic programs, refine your educational goal... and make it SMART. Remember, your actual educational goal statement should be just one or two sentences: Now write a paragraph that provides a rationale for the goal. Describes how it connects to your other priorities and how you know that it is attainable: M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 13

6 14 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You Activity 3 Make It Real After you ve written your educational goal, share it with someone who will be supporting you while you re in college. This could be an academic advisor, friend, coworker, anyone who will be in a good position to encourage you as you pursue this goal. Who will review your educational goal statement? Now put this goal statement in a place where you will see it regularly. It might be beside your computer, in your calendar, on your bathroom mirror; wherever you can be reminded of the reasons you re investing in a college education. Where will you display your educational goal statement? Managing the Project of Completing College In Part 1 you were reminded that you already have skills that can help you succeed in college. Project management skills, the same ones you use to get work projects done on time or help your kids prepare to take the ACT, are invaluable when working toward your goal. Here are some key elements of project management that you ll use: Working backward from a due date to schedule specific tasks Estimating the resources you ll need at each stage of the project Knowing what else you ll be doing alongside the project Anticipating change that interferes with your general plan and being prepared with Plan B Troubleshooting as you go The following Project Planning Guide will help you map out your college education project and see the big picture. Then you ll focus on troubleshooting and ways to make the more specific choices as you move through the project. Take a look at Amy s plan to see how it works. For reference, here is her goal again: I will study business administration with a focus on human resources to earn a BBA degree within three years. Project Planning Guide Year/Term Courses Resources Personal/Work Year 3, Term 3 Graduate! Graduation fee Job search Year 3, Term 2 Internship $800 Adjust schedule Year 3, Term 1 2 courses $600 Heavy travel Year 2, Term 3 Online (3 courses) $900 Family reunion in Greece Year 2, Term 2 2 courses $600 Year 2, Term 1 2 courses $600 Heavy travel Year 1, Term 3 1 course $300 Katie off to college Year 1, Term 2 3 courses $900 Year 1, Term 1 3 courses $900 Heavy travel M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 14

7 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You 15 Activity 4 You Be the Advisor Imagine that you are Amy s advisor. She has sent her draft Project Planning Guide for you to review before she meets with you tomorrow. From previous conversations you know that her job involves a lot of travel in the fall to employment fairs and that Katie is her daughter. You also know that she has to plan finances carefully because she does not receive tuition reimbursement from her employer. You notice that she is planning to take only online courses in Year 2, Term 3, when her family is in Greece for two weeks in the summer. You also notice that she has planned to take only one course during the summer when she is helping her daughter get ready for college. What else do you notice about Amy s choices? About her estimates of the resources required? (Tuition at her college is $100 per credit hour.) When you meet with Amy, what questions will you ask or concerns will you raise about the feasibility of her plan? Feedback for Amy Amy s Project Planning Guide was her first attempt at looking at her college education as a project to be managed. Her advisor gave her a pat on the back for a good first attempt and made some observations: It s good to recognize regularly occurring events and plan for them. Because you know that you travel a lot in the fall, it was smart to make note of that. It s also good to include major commitments that will affect your plan. Spending two weeks in Greece will certainly influence how you manage school that term. When estimating resources, think of all of the costs involved so you won t be taken by surprise. Add the cost of textbooks or other educational materials as well. Be sure to have an alternate plan for the critical points in your plan. If your boss won t adjust your work schedule so you can do an internship, what can you do instead? You might be able to take other courses rather than an internship, so anticipate how that would affect your schedule. Let s take another look at the number of courses you re planning to take per term after you ve gotten started and have a better idea of how school feels for you. We ll put that on the agenda for next time. Your Project Planning Guide Use the same approach in creating a general plan for moving through college to achieve your educational goal. Even if you re not sure about personal or work issues that might arise, list them if you think they are likely to occur. And remember to list resources other than tuition that you ll need: money for books, transportation, child care, and the like. This plan is based on two semesters plus a summer term, but if you are attending a college on a quarter system, insert an additional term each year. Also insert additional years if you need to. M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 15

8 16 Part 2 Worth the Sacrifice: Making College Count for You Year/Term Courses Resources Personal/Work M02_BALD8642_01_SE_C02.indd 16

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