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Grasping a Liberal Arts Degree and Practically applying Structured Education- Where to start?
December 8, 2011 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Grasping a Liberal Arts Degree and Practically applying Structured Education- Where to start? •What practical resources are available that will help me build a perspective and prepare myself for the work of structured education? •What resources are available that will help me sharpen the pathway I am attempting to find and pave? •What sort of experiences will be very applicable to immediate, real-life circumstances and livelihood? •How to "best apply" a Liberal Arts Degree, and other options? •Other tricks, tips, and hints for using college as a filter to a more enriched life?

I'll preface this by mentioning that these questions are obviously fairly specific to my personal disposition. However, I do find that what I am searching for can absolutely be helpful or insightful to a general demographic of others, who are probably wondering the same thing.

Some stats:
I am twenty two, and have never pursued college. I am filling out the FAFSA, tonight, and feeling pretty overwhelmed by deadlines. My family is completely supported by social security, and is currently facing eviction. I work two jobs; one full time, one on-call, and I started applying for a third, part-time, today. I moved from my home in Michigan to Oregon at age eighteen.

I was a stellar student for my first two years in high school, and maintain fluid skills in english/language. I held high marks in the courses that piqued my interests(Advanced/College English, Science, Art, generally all veins of Liberal Arts- etc.), but sadly due to family issues, my GPA likely dropped from somewhere near a 3.6-7 to a 2.7ish my junior year. I have never taken the ACTs/SATs. Within this month, I'll brush up using Khan's Academy and other resources, so with any luck, I'll be able to skip some courses after the Community College Aptitude test. I really would rather pursue University immediately, but with a low GPA, it may not be possible. However, I am exploring Student Support Services.

I am not sure how to feel about Federal or other Financial Aid - even on such simple grounds as how exactly it works, how to trust it, and how to navigate around elements of financial aid.
I have a loosely based understanding of what obtaining or working towards a Liberal Arts Degree really means, but I find it is likely the path I'll choose.
I believe I will be working toward a degree in Linguistics, but I am also interested in Library Sciences. I would like to work towards a major that will help me focus on philosophy, art, psychology, humanitarian aid, and enable me to travel.

Rather than gearing this thread to help me personally, I'm trying to keep it tailored so it at least falls in line with Metafilter's Guidelines and enables others to learn as well.

Everything seems so very broad right now - inverting the classic phrase, it's very difficult to see the trees in the forest for the time being. I feel like I have so many other questions, I'm just sort of starting the sketch of a very large piece right now - so if you're reading this, thank you for baring with me.

Books, blogs, articles, anything relative to the way to practically apply college and college courses to my life are all of interest right now. Free or inexpensive is always nice, but I would be interested in paid resources/counseling as well. Tips on grants, scholarships, timing and deadlines, aid.. Hints on discovering what sort of courses or subject matter will really work best for me. I'm of the perspective right now, that I need only take classes that apply to my major - which seems like such a shame, because I thrive on so many other interests that might enrich my life.

On a personal note, essentially what holds interest in my heart of hearts, is enabling myself to travel, traverse a myriad of cultures, involve myself in humanitarian work and a global understanding, and enable myself to become an illustrator along the way. It's such a vague, grand scheme, sure, but this is what I'm interested in. I would have loved to become an illustrator beforehand, but I find it's likely counterintuitive to how great my expectations are; while perhaps in some ways is impractical as a whole, it is mildly more practical to pursue the aforementioned path.


So Metafilter, what are some practical suggestions for using college as a filter for a more enriching life? And how to holdfast to college, help yourself learn, and use it practically?
posted by thewolfandewe to Education (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You may be able to handle three jobs and school, but even when I was healthy that would have ruined me. You're also going to have a slightly harder time getting back in the groove after a few years out of school, even if you really love it, and it sounds like you do. I would recommend not skipping courses you can test out of, because a couple of "easy" classes are a good way to ease yourself back into the system. I know time is money, but...

Talk to a financial aid counselor at your local community college. In my experience they're simply MUCH better at figuring out how to get older adults in. Even if you get accepted to a four-year university, it would most likely be useful to talk to finaid at the community college first. Do not put this off.

Whether or not you trust federal aid, you really should fill out a FAFSA. If you're working three jobs, you may make too much money to get a grant. Hard to say without knowing your income. But sometimes you can get state aid as well, and you won't know that until you fill out the FAFSA. It's quick, and easy and you do it online, here. Apply way before the deadlines for everything.

My local community college has a room with giant binders filled with printouts for scholarships. See if yours has anything like that. It's good to look at scholarships, even if some you won't be eligible for right away.

Good luck!
posted by thelastcamel at 8:55 PM on December 8, 2011


TLC - You're probably right on the jobs, part. While I still likely make less than 20,000 per year, it's probable that I will boil those down to one full time and the on-call when available. I would like to network, and have a life that flows well with school.. not one that is dictated by it. I will certainly look into a scholarship "directory", I haven't done that yet, and I've been made aware that it is possible for me to start community in the spring, and pursue dual enrollment in the fall. As well, according to hearsay from my peers, my local community offers to let me pay tuition in the future, even when aid is out. At any rate, thank you so much for the well wishes! I'll be sure to explore your advice -
posted by thewolfandewe at 9:00 PM on December 8, 2011


On a personal note, essentially what holds interest in my heart of hearts, is enabling myself to travel, traverse a myriad of cultures, involve myself in humanitarian work and a global understanding, and enable myself to become an illustrator along the way.

If such a job existed and paid the bills, that's what we'd all be doing. I find that the people who have the most opportunities to travel while doing good are in the health care industry. The reason more of them don't do it is because they make much better money staying put in the USA. Being in DC, I also see a lot of people with that kind of job who have an academic background in economics and work at the World Bank or IMF. But the fact is that the wide majority of people with that kind of dream job end up working in a menial position at a domestic non-profit.

I am filling out the FAFSA, tonight, and feeling pretty overwhelmed by deadlines.

The one thing that frequently differentiates college grads from non college grads is the college grads' ability and comfort with filling out forms and getting their paperwork in on time. The sort of this you're dealing with your FAFSA forms is the sort of thing you will deal with throughout college and throughout your professional life. But the benefit is that once you've finished college, it serves as proof you can do that sort of thing.
posted by deanc at 9:26 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whatever path you end up following to college, start getting work experience that's relevant to your future plans as soon as you can. I say this as a senior graduating in (yikes) six months with a liberal arts degree from a very good school- I don't want to be harsh, but liberal arts graduates who want the kind of future you're envisioning are a dime a dozen. A lot of them, though, have had the benefit of families who can support them while they work unpaid internships, pay for their school so they don't need three jobs and help them out when they get a job working at a non-profit after graduating that doesn't pay enough to live on. I don't want to say that your goal is unachievable, but the competition is fierce.

What are the jobs you're currently working? What skills are you learning there? Is there any way to apply those skills to the kind of jobs you want? Start researching actual job postings for entry level jobs in the fields you're interested in, and see what they look for. Try to find actual people who have entry level or mid level jobs at a place you might like to work, through people you know or alumni networks or whatever. Try to find out what they did, and figure out how you can do that.

I wish I'd gotten started on this stuff way earlier. The easy part is deciding what you want your life to look like in the distant future. It's harder to see what you can do right now that will maximize your chances of getting there someday.

I also want to second deanc: organizing this kind of project, understanding what's required of you and getting it done on time and in the right way, researching stuff- all of the skills you need to get into and finish college are also skills you need to do well in classes.
posted by MadamM at 9:54 PM on December 8, 2011


"Whatever path you end up following to college, start getting work experience that's relevant to your future plans as soon as you can. I say this as a senior graduating in (yikes) six months with a liberal arts degree from a very good school- I don't want to be harsh, but liberal arts graduates who want the kind of future you're envisioning are a dime a dozen. A lot of them, though, have had the benefit of families who can support them while they work unpaid internships, pay for their school so they don't need three jobs and help them out when they get a job working at a non-profit after graduating that doesn't pay enough to live on. I don't want to say that your goal is unachievable, but the competition is fierce."

I don't think it's harsh at all; this is real life, and honestly, I'm looking for folks to deliver the messages directly. I don't have parents to guide me or support me really, so it's up to me. I will likely not be swayed by competition and have undergone various stresses and waves of change to arrive at the point I'm at today, and I await the challenge. I have a few friends pursuing Applied Linguistics or other areas of- I'm trying to absorb as much advice as possible while networking and seeking out interests. I'm unsure of whether or not to begin by striving for a TEFL Program Cert or to just go entirely for linguistics, likely the latter. I suppose I hadn't noticed I illustrated my goals so idealistically; in general terms, "..enabling myself to travel, traverse a myriad of cultures, involve myself in humanitarian work and a global understanding, and enable myself to become an illustrator along the way. " I recognize that those feats don't sound practical, but really, I'm not seeking fame or necessarily things I find to be too unrealistically out of reach. I maintain relationships with folks who weave work well throughout the artistic community in my city, and I know of multiple folks who have aimed their ambition at pursuing ESL/TEFL Programs as a vehicle and apparently done well.

As far as entry level positions go, they seem abstract without the basis of a bachelors or a work study program, but I'll check into what I can find.

And, as far as deadlines, organization, and focus go, I certainly understand that those things most pragmatic are almost to be done without much thought. Organization should become an intrinsic value. I suppose I am only overwhelmed, because the decision has not necessarily built to a point of readiness but arrived rather quickly, and I'm assembling things as the come in the best timeline I can manage.

Thank you all very much again for your insight and experience, and please keep the conversation going should you find more to say-
posted by thewolfandewe at 12:05 AM on December 9, 2011


One practical point that might help: the general standardised tests you need to take are not tests of your actual skills in anything - they test how much you prepared for the test. (That's why they are such good predictors of academic performance - the people who prep for the test are the people who are inclined to do their homework and prep for their classes, too.)

You should use Khan Academy to revew your math, to get you comfortable again with numbers and make sure that you are open to taking classes outside the humanities. If you feel confident about numbers and math, you will be able to choose from a wider range of course and career options, rather than feeling shut out of some of the options available - especially important since you've liked science classes in the past, and science classes at college are often very math-oriented.

That said, to actually prep for the tests, use a test-prep book from an actual test-prep company, one completely focused on test-taking strategy, question types, and how to increase your score. These books will tell you, for example, what types of math questions are likely to be on the all-important early part of the test, what to do if a question stumps you, how to solve some questions with shortcuts, and what types of wrong answers you should anticipate seeing on multiple choice questions. These are the best way to prepare for the SATs/ACTs. For any subject tests, make sure you combine reviewing the subject itself with this type of prep, as well.
posted by Wylla at 2:37 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's how many middle-class, ambitious kids are getting educated in 2011:

* Go to a liberal arts school for 4 years and get a degree in something like Linguistics or International Affairs

* Work in retail or food service for a year or two, possibly while being parentally-supported. If you're lucky, you can temp in a nice quiet office somewhere. If you can't find a job or get laid off, live with your parents.

* Then work in something meaningful but low- or non-paying for a year or two, like art, design, education, nonprofit work. Maybe travel for a year. Again, this is often parent-supported.

* Finally, go to graduate school for a couple of years in whatever you really care about. You might get a master's in International Affairs, if that's what you want to work in.

* Get a "real" job, sometime around age 28-30.

A lot of friends of mine from poor backgrounds did fine at the getting a liberal arts degree part. The problem is figuring out how to get food and shelter for the following 6-8 years on your road to getting that first "real" job.

This is a very, very difficult path. Almost everyone who goes down it has periods of unemployment and living with their parents. There will be huge loan payments, awful apartments with roommates who you don't get along with, and stressful moves around the country as you try to find a place where you fit in. It'll be twice as hard for you since you don't have the option of moving in with your parents.

You should know that's coming ahead of time and prepare for it. Don't treat your side job as a throw-away job; try to get promoted into management or something so you can live an OK life even without the college degree. Have a plan for not being homeless on graduation day.

The other option is to major in something that's very in demand, like nursing or computer science or actuarial science or statistics, and get a job right out of college. This is pretty antithetical to the whole liberal arts philosophy. On the other hand, financial security is a very nice thing to have, especially if you've never had it before. At least consider it, OK?
posted by miyabo at 6:28 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The other option is to major in something that's very in demand, like nursing or computer science or actuarial science or statistics, and get a job right out of college. This is pretty antithetical to the whole liberal arts philosophy. On the other hand, financial security is a very nice thing to have, especially if you've never had it before. At least consider it, OK?
This is good advice. Higher education in the liberal arts seems fine and dandy and prestigious from the outside, but in my experience, you can accomplish similar things on your own, on off-time from a good job. When I was a young thing, I wanted to be in a Great Books program at a prestigious liberal arts program, but my parents quietly convinced me to try out science and engineering. And you know what? It's been fine. I still had and have plenty of time to read the Great Books and discuss them with intelligent people, not being graded on regurgitation of a professor's ideas. And I have a job that also gives me intellectual stimulation but will pay really, really well once I get out of grad school.

I don't know what your current work experience has been in, but I would really suggest nursing as a possibility for a good job that pays the bills. You can get training in this at community college for a good price. Men can be excellent nurses, if you are a man, so don't discount it if you are that gender, and there's a lot of room for advancement in terms of masters degrees later on.

Furthermore, a friend of a friend's mother was some kind of airline nurse? She would agree to be "on call" on flights, and then was able to travel at least domestically any time she wanted. Not sure if it also applied to internationally, but if the flights count for FF miles those would add up quick. That's something to look into re: your goal of travel and exposure to different cultures.
posted by permiechickie at 6:52 AM on December 9, 2011


The other option is to major in something that's very in demand, like nursing or computer science or actuarial science or statistics, and get a job right out of college. This is pretty antithetical to the whole liberal arts philosophy.

I'd argue that this is a liberal arts education. People who study the sciences and engineering also have a firm grounding in the humanities and social sciences, because it's part of the required curriculum.

A cousin of mine was an accountant and worked as an international auditor. He traveled all the time. It was a pretty cool thing for him to do for a while.

Also, seconding using your time to work at internships or summer jobs that create the job experience for what you want to do. I did this in college but didn't actually realize this was what I was doing-- I was just looking for jobs so I could get paid over the summer. What it resulted in was creating a lot of experience in my field that I could leverage into other school-year research experiences, future summer jobs, and graduate school opportunities. You sort of need to find a balance between the need for jobs in college that pay money and the need for jobs that lead you on a good career path. Yes, you can work your way through college by spending time during the semester and summers waiting tables or lifeguarding, but it doesn't place you on a good professional path once you finish. I've seen summer internships with international charities which probably puts you on a path to what you want to do, but the pay will be minimal and the competition is fierce.
posted by deanc at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's great you're thinking about going back to school. Don't worry about your major yet. Your perspective on a major will likely change and develop as you try different fields out(you'll get a reality check about what the fields are like), get a sense of what graduates in that field are doing, get a sense of whether your school has nice faculty members in that department or mean ones, etc. It's good to have general goals for what kind of job you want to have after school, and to tailor your educational program to those goals, what skills you need to pick up along the way. You will have academic advisors once you're in school, who will help you pick classes that will let you gain those skills, and you'll have access to a career center that will have some advice.

But to get started in college, you will need to do the same things no matter what you're aiming for - get the admissions requirements and financial situation sorted out.

Begin by going to the library and finding the college prep section.
-They will have books for SAT-prep (Kaplan and Princeton Review are two famous test-prep companies) which will include practice tests, so you can try out the test and see where your strengths and weaknesses are. Do practice tests - the more you take these tests, the better you get.
-They will have books about how to get financial aid.
-They will have books like "College for Dummies" or whatever. These books are often great starting places, don't be put off by the title. You need a book that will lay out the process for you, when are the deadlines, which forms should you fill out when, etc.

If your local area's community college has good classes, that would be an excellent place to start. You can always transfer to a 4-year liberal arts college later, taking some/many of your credits with you (which means your 4-year degree will end up being cheaper). But community college will be:
- cheaper than a 4-year degree
- more flexible in scheduling (they may let you take only one or two courses at a time when you're starting out, whereas most 4-year schools insist that you take a full course load),
- more used to adult students and helping you to get back into the swing of things, academically.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:10 PM on December 9, 2011


Since you have limited time and money, it may actually help you to define what you hope to get out of school in terms of a career before you start your education. What Color is Your Parachute is a great book to help you figure out what careers might be up your alley. (I can tell from your writing style you will not enjoy his writing style, but bear with it) The main point of the book is that you need to get out and actually talk to actual working people to get a sense of what you might want. Most people have these vague ideas of what that ideal job is, but fail to think about what day-to-day work will be like, how much they will be paid, or what their work environment will be.

Any career that seems awesome and glamorous from the outside likely doesn't pay much and may not give you much respect as you work your way up from the bottom. Just think about some of the less sexy possibilities because they may actually provide a better overall life.

Lots of jobs will enable you to travel, though I would caution that traveling for work is really not the same as traveling for fun. Perhaps it's better to make enough money so you can take awesome vacations? Or have a freelance career that allows you the free time to pursue volunteer activities?

Along the lines of the "in demand" career recommendations, this story about an actuary that I heard on NPR made her job sound pretty awesome.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:09 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lots of jobs will enable you to travel, though I would caution that traveling for work is really not the same as traveling for fun. Perhaps it's better to make enough money so you can take awesome vacations? Or have a freelance career that allows you the free time to pursue volunteer activities?


Couldn't agree with this more. I traveled a lot for the two years I was a sales rep, and the best part of it was the frequent flyer miles I accrued. Otherwise, it was a lot of boring, cookie cutter Marriotts (that painting of JW Marriott is in EVERY lobby of their hotels!). I just take awesome vacations now.
posted by honey badger at 5:30 PM on December 9, 2011


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