College Planning and Unexpected Events

Last year I did a post on planning your four years. I used my older son’s experience and even attached his planning spreadsheet, so you could download it and adapt it. As both my sons are pretty different, it’s interesting to see it play out even more starkly for our son, Jake. Jake’s unexpected event is a little unusual, but there all kinds of unexpected things that can pop up all through life, so it’s good to develop the skills to maneuver around obstacles so you can preserve the end goal, even if the path isn’t quite what you imagined freshman year.

Jake goes to Denison University, outside Columbus, Ohio. (Columbus is that rare Midwestern city that is thriving and growing right now.) Jake’s overall a little more laid back when it comes to planning, and he selected Denison in part because they have a PPE major (common in the UK, not so much in the US). PPE is Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He quickly realized that being a PPE major was effectively a triple major. These were his three favorite subjects, but he’d have to forgo all other electives. Since he believed college is the time to try out new things, that seemed to defeat some of the purpose of being at Denison. So he dropped the PPE and went to a double major in Economics and Philosophy.

Like many students, he had an AP credit which let him waive a 100-level major requirement. The thing about not having a plan as you go along is that suddenly you find out something like he did. While he had waived the microeconomics class requirement with his AP credit, he still needs to replace it with another Economics class. Not a problem, he’s only a junior.

Here’s where the unexpected kicks in. It could be anything for most students—a health or financial issue, for them or a family member, but something requires that you change your college plans midstream. For Jake, who has been a competitive online gamer for years, it was an opportunity to turn professional. The Blizzard Overwatch team he captained was getting offers from professional organizations all through his first semester of junior year. At the end of winter break they signed contracts to play professionally. Six or seven weeks later the contracts were all bought out by another organization. No problem, Jake knew he had enough credits to graduate a semester early, as long as he dropped Philosophy to a minor, so his senior year could be just one semester. (Yes, parents, this is an actual career now.)

But Blizzard is in the midst of building a professional sports league from scratch, with plans to go live Q3 2017. As I write now, Jake needs four classes to graduate. I could argue that if the point of college was just to get a degree and run, rather than learn and grow and experience, Jake could have had a firmer plan at the outset and stuck with it. Maybe started easy with a major in Economics or Philosophy and added the other layers. If you wanted to hold down costs, thinking that way would make it possible for most students to pile it on and get out in three years, or leverage one or two years at a local community college or regional university at a lower expense into a four-year degree split over two locations. But Jake had the luxury of just exploring his interests in what we all expected would be four years of school.

Luckily Denison has a process for this, and there is a way for a student to petition to have their residency  requirement for senior year waived. It took a lot of work, but Jake got it waived. He still has to get each of the four replacement classes individually approved by the relevant departments, but luckily, since he jumped in to the deep end early on in his college career, what he has left are mostly basic general education requirements—the kind of classes he should easily be able to pick up in a new city, or perhaps online. That’s all still in process for him.

He’s going to a city with a big university. Even if he weren’t, increasingly there are strong accredited college programs online. Arizona State, Oregon State, and Penn State all have programs for degrees you can do online.

The point of planning out your college career is that the unexpected can happen. You may stop playing your sport, you may change your major, you may change your goals, you may hate the weather or the size of the school. Your grades may dip and cost you your big scholarship or you may hit your stride academically and want to leave for a more rigorous academic environment, you may need to move closer to home (or farther from home). Things can change over four years and if you have a plan, or sort of a plan, you’ll be better off. Try and have a map for the regular roads and you won’t waste time or money going down the dead end roads. And the earlier you see any potential roadblocks, the better your chances of success will be, in both college and career.


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