From the Editor
If you picked up this copy of Montana College and Career 101, that means you’re wondering what you’ll do after graduating from high school.
It’s a big decision. You will want to choose a field you’ll enjoy, yet you also want to consider what kind of lifestyle that career can afford.
Middle schoolers throughout Montana are starting to seriously think about this. There’s a great program that helps students figure out what kind of house and vehicle they hope to have and to see if that matches up with the salary their potential field will produce.
Of course, some middle schoolers, my daughter included, have no idea what they want to do. She has narrowed it down to a job that doesn’t involve blood.
She once went to the doctor with a schoolmate and her mom. Her friend was having a wart removed and carrying on a conversation. Then came the shots. Her mom looked over at my daughter, who had lost all color in her face. As she tells it, the room went black and she could barely hear her friend’s mom say, “Honey, are you OK.”
From that moment, she has ruled out a career in the medical field. Beyond that, she doesn’t have a clue. Luckily, there are plenty of students who enter college undecided and still become successful adults.
The stories on these pages will help guide you as you make plans for your future
Montana College 101 editor
College junior answers high schoolers’ questions
Q: Should I get an internship while in college?
A: No matter what you’re majoring in, getting some kind of part-time job or internship in your field of study can help propel you ahead in the job market after graduation. This could mean working at a summer camp if you’re an education major, getting a job as a research assistant in a lab if you’re interested in the hard sciences or desperately, frantically applying for every reporting internship you can find on the internet if you’re crazy enough to go into journalism.
In many programs, doing an internship is a requirement of graduation. In others, having some kind of work or volunteer experience in the given field is a requirement of being admitted into the major program in the first place. It’s a competitive world out there, folks, and you should take every opportunity that comes your way to beef up your resume. Don’t stand idly by as Sleeps-In-the-Back-Row-Johnny gets all the good gigs because he’s the only one who applied.
Not to mention, internships and jobs can help you figure out if you’re truly interested in what you’re studying or if you’re only majoring in journalism because you didn’t get into Yale and want to be Rory Gilmore pre-Netflix revival series. Internships can give you hands-on experience in your field and show you what kind of work environment you want to end up in. And if you’re getting paid for it, all the better.
Internships are also a good way to explore fields unrelated to your major. As a business student, you may find that entering data into Excel spreadsheets is slowly sucking away your soul and your true passion is dissecting owl pellets all day long. Conversely, an English major may find that essay-writing is the bane of her existence and doing other people’s taxes gives her sheer, unadulterated joy.
Even if you take a chance on a random internship or job and end up hating it as much as you thought you would, the experience still makes you a more well-rounded person, and admissions counselors for law school, medical school and other graduate programs will see that, too.
Q: Is it better for me to take a regular class and get a really good grade or take an AP class I might not get as high of a grade in?
A: Always take the harder class. Admissions counselors want to have people who challenge themselves at their universities because they tend to be more successful later on in their careers.
Taking AP classes isn’t the only way to show them that you like to challenge yourself, though. If you know you’d fail miserable in an AP calculus course, take an extra year of math beyond your high school’s requirements. Take a full course load your senior year even if you could afford to have a few open periods. And make it clear in your college applications that you went the extra mile.
Not only will taking AP and dualcredit courses help you stand out on your college application, they can exempt you from required general education courses. Many people come in with enough college credits to graduate a semester or two early and save thousands of dollars.
Taking AP courses can also be a good avenue for meeting like-minded people at your high school. The rigor and stress of taking harder classes creates a powerful bond, like that forged between Sam and Frodo in traveling across Middle Earth to deliver The Ring to Mordor. You come out the other end stressed, tired and donning a few disconcertingly premature gray streaks in your hair, but a smarter person.
Q: How many credits should I take?
A: As is the case with most of my answers, it depends. Some programs have very strict requirements for which classes you should take each semester. If that’s the case with you, then you should follow those requirements religiously.
But if you have a little bit of wiggleroom, I’d recommend playing it safe and taking fewer credits your first year. The rigor and time-management skills required of college classes are much different than what you took in high school. Even if you took a full load of AP and honors courses all throughout high school, 22 credits is rough.
At my institution, 12 credits is the minimum amount you can take to be considered a full-time student. As a journalism major, there are fewer classes required for me to graduate because it’s expected that I’ll participate in time-consuming extracurricular activities and internships. I’ve worked at my school’s newspaper, and I’ve been able to take only 12 credits for the past few semesters. But even then, it has been a lot to balance at times.
For most people, regardless of their program, the sweet spot seems to be around 15 credits. It’s a good number, and I’d recommend sticking to it your freshman year.
Q: Should I be roommates with someone I already know, or should I let my college pair me up with someone?
A: I’d recommend going through the system and letting the residence life program at your university assign you a roommate. People who are roommates with their friends from high school tend to stick with people from their hometowns and not branch out, missing opportunities to befriend new, interesting people.
If I would have roomed with the friend from high school I was considering, I would have missed out on so much: going to a Harry Potter-themed Yule Ball, getting a fish named Taquito as a peace offering, mattress surfing in the dorms, adopting a succulent plant named Steven. The list goes on and on.
Living in a 10-foot by 10-foot space with a stranger is a strange social experiment that changes and challenges you in important ways. It pushes you to communicate, conveying your needs and find compromises. If you don’t want your roomie’s friends wiping their grimy fingers covered in Cheetos dust all over your towel, you have to gather up the courage to speak up or else risk looking like the victim of a bad spray tan after your next shower.
It also teaches you about other cultures and lifestyles. Every place is different, and there is something to be learned from people who come from even just a bordering state away. If you can learn to respect another human being you have no other initial connection with besides sharing a small, stuffy room, then you can respect anyone.